“There are errors in the English – have a native speaker check your paper.” As a starting point, the presenters used this frequently made comment from reviewers to question deceptive notions such as “English”, “native English speaker” and “error”. Whose English? Choosing one English over another is a sociopolitical construct. Who counts as a native speaker? This membership category is neither fixed nor complete – members can be partial or atypical. Meanwhile, an error is not the same as non-standard usage.
Just as being a native speaker is not enough to be a good translator, being a native speaker is neither necessary nor sufficient to review academic texts. Many of us would die on this hill.
Yet English is the lingua franca, and an increasing number of scientists whose main language is not English must publish in it. But if we reject native speakerism as a go-to measure of competence, what’s the alternative? How can editors help authors writing in their nth language? Effective linguistic expression and scholarly communication must be redefined. On the other hand, necessary pragmatism should be combined with a critical author-allied approach to lessen the burdens on multilingual authors.
The presenters explained some theory behind their “access allies” stance. The first approach is genre analysis, according to which texts share features and functions, so authors can be asked to make texts “fit for” the genre – though prescriptivism should be avoided. Knowledge of genre gives authors more agency. The second approach is social constructivism, according to which authors should have equal access to resources because it provides access to more life choices.
To help authors, guidelines should ensure that decisions are based on the quality of the science and not on language. Ultimately, the question is not whether to be pragmatic (apply norms) or critical (fight conventions). We must be both. Instead of allowing users of minoritised languages to be deemed incompetent, linguistic diversity should be hailed as an asset. Echoing MET’s own Sally Burgess, the presenters encouraged us to stand in the shoes of non-native speakers. To be their allies, we must shift from siloed communities of practice to allied author-editor landscapes of practice.
Access allies can help create workspaces where authors and language practitioners work together a) within the text, b) one-on-one, and c) on a social scale. These allied workspaces should enhance reflexive dialogue between authors and editors to allow for better solutions by discussing text-specific aspects (stance, style, audience) and personal considerations (goals, struggles, career aspirations).
Other helpful practices include creating spaces for mentorship where co-revision allows for reflexive dialogue, or creating social, writing-oriented spaces inhabited by text-producers to discuss struggles and solutions. Writing groups, structured retreats and reading-to-write clubs are examples of such spaces.
The presenters are not alone in combating native speakerism. From writing conventions, to associations, to language professionals, the gates are open and inclusive practices are rising. For example, the European Journal of Applied Linguistics stipulates that “manuscripts need not conform to native English norms”, while the CIEP style guide asks authors not to use the terms “native” and “non-native”. Calling attention to other inclusivity ambassadors at METM23, the presenters mentioned the sessions led by Alicja Tokarska and Begoña Martínez-Pagán. We’re all in this together.
In an almost continuation of last year’s panel discussion on language, memory and identity, this year Kate, Theresa and Wendy rebelled against the hegemony of the elusive native English speaker and stood up for multilingual and transnational authors.
This METM23 panel discussion was chronicled by Aleksandra J. Chlon.
Featured photo by METM23 photographer Leonardo Rizzato.