A Case for Multilingual Open-Access Academic Publishing

An open access Farsi translation of our 2016 book Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan was recently made available. In this post the author explains why the publication of this translation is so important. 

The English and Farsi editions side by side

Although English academic writing has facilitated communication between scholars from different parts of the world, it has at the same time contributed to complex forms of academic imperialism, which harmfully interferes with knowledge creation and dissemination in languages other than English. In 2016, I published a book with Multilingual Matters about dominant discourses regarding mother tongue-based multilingual education in the Iranian context. The book, entitled Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?, was written based on interviews with influential scholars of multilingual education and language rights in order to contribute ideas to the mother tongue education debate in Iran. The open access publication of the Farsi translation of the book recently became possible thanks to Multilingual Matters – who provided the copyright – and University of Dayton – who published the ebook. In this blog post, I briefly write about the significance of the publication of the translation of the book.

Academic publishing in English has created a global community of scholars who share thoughts and experiences about a wide range of topics including global issues that occur outside the English speaking world. Academics working in the Anglo-American world write about other people’s cultural practices, languages, literature, art, and education. Western scholars even write the histories of non-western populations in English, the de facto academic lingua franca. On the other hand, non-English speaking international researchers are also pressured to publish in English for promotion, a trend encouraged by university ranking dynamics. This trend, on the bright side, has been a blessing in that we become aware of issues and conversations in many parts of the world. There is, however, a darker side to this status.

The journal industry and academic publishing apparatus are practically at the service of promoting a commercialized higher education, which uses researchers’ work for marketing purposes as well as knowledge dissemination. Academics’ publications in this sense become the window of the higher education marketplace in the West for potential shoppers. This approach has serious consequences for knowledge creation and consumption. Most accessible knowledge today is packaged in English, which has practically made non-English academic texts be perceived as less reliable. Also, university libraries have become the main customers of publishers because the books are sold at high prices, alienating public audiences – including non-English speaking populations. For researchers, this means investing their lives into books and papers that would only be read by a small number of readers, or even not read at all. At the same time, academics are pressured to publish more and more, resulting in a focus on quantity and repetition rather than quality and originality.

When it comes to international scholars the situation is even worse. International scholars whose research focuses on local contexts beyond the English speaking world are typically required by their institutions to publish in English. International scholars have to write in a language other than their mother tongue and compete with English speaking scholars who are often already connected with the English academic publishing and journal industry. Just as problematically, international researchers’ work often involves local issues, but because their findings are published in English, local populations have almost no access to the results of the research that was conducted for studying their cultures. This phenomenon raises serious epistemological questions about knowledge dissemination and the positionality of researchers as well as significant conversations about ethics of academic publishing.

The Farsi translation of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? bent this model in favour of the population that the book was written about and, to a large degree, written for: Iranian educators. With the situation of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran in the background, the book brought together prominent scholars of language policy and linguistic rights in different parts of the world to respond to the doubts and questions of Iranian educators and ethnic mother tongue activists. Although the outcome of this conversation was an analysis of sociopolitical discourses that are meant to undermine the role of minoritized languages all over the world, the catalyst of our conversations was the challenges minoritized students are facing in today’s Iran. Thus, one ideal audience among others for this book would naturally be Iranian teachers eager to learn about effective policies and practices in other parts of the world. Nevertheless, the academic publishing industry has not been designed for interaction with native populations.

Iranian language teachers – especially those in disadvantaged provinces where minority languages are suppressed – would never be able to afford the English book. In some cases the price of one copy of the book would equal an Iranian teacher’s monthly income. Even if an enthusiastic teacher decided to make such an investment, he or she still would have no access to the book. A combination of western sanctions and the Iranian government’s strict censorship policies has practically made the distribution of the book in Iran impossible. Most foreign publishers have no active presence in Iran; online retailers such as Amazon do not provide service in Iran; and western credit card companies have no reach within the country and its banking system, which makes online shopping impossible. In these circumstances, the educators who practically own the conversation which the English book presents have no access to the text written about their lives.

The English version of Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? was not funded in any form. The book was not connected to the participating scholars’ sponsored research. The publication was the fruit of personal commitment and interest of researchers who deeply cared about minoritized students. The translator of the book similarly decided to pen the Farsi version out of personal passion without our knowledge. He had finished the translation months before he contacted me to share news about his work. When I approached Multilingual Matters and the University of Dayton about the possibility of open access publication of the book and highlighted the fact that such a move could break the current mode of elite academic publishing, they did not hesitate to support the free online publication of the Farsi version and worked hard to guarantee the high quality of the publication. Multilingual Matters generously provided the translator with the rights to the Farsi version and offered moral support. The manager of University of Dayton’s E-scholarship also worked hard to release the book in the best possible format as soon as possible.

I am grateful to Multilingual Matters and University of Dayton for supporting the open access publication of the translation of my work. Apart from my personal interest in the project, their decision, I believe, has had important ideological, sociocultural, and economic implications. The translation resists the English-only stance of mainstream academic publishing industry. It provides access to local educators who are the real owners of the book content and invites them to share their thoughts about the debate. In other words, the conversation is no longer about them but with them. Additionally, the free online distribution of the book creates access for native teachers who are often financially disadvantaged. It is fair to see this experience as an example of how we can democratize the academic publishing industry and perhaps remedy some of the effects of the current academic colonialism.

Amir Kalan

 

For more information about Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? please see our website. You can access the Farsi translation of the book here.

Language Policy and Mother Tongue Debate in Iran

This month we are publishing Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan which explores multilingual education in Iran through a series of conversations with leading multilingualism scholars. In this post, Amir explains why the language situation in Iran is so unique.

Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?More than 70 languages are spoken in today’s Iran, yet by law all school textbooks are written in Farsi (Persian). Farsi is also the only language of instruction throughout the country, even in non-Persian areas with vibrant linguistic lives and solid cultural identities. My new book, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education?, tries to discover how ideological discourses in Iran have allowed the dominance of monolingual schools despite empirical evidence that advocates otherwise. The book examines arguments that doubt the effectiveness of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran and, through conversations with four respected international scholars, it compares the Iranian situation with global experiences with challenges of establishing multilingual educational systems that regard students’ plurilingualism as a valuable resource rather than an obstacle.

A focus on multilingualism in the Iranian context is worthwhile due to a number of reasons. Despite the current official systematic resistance against the demands of Iranian ethnic minorities for classroom instruction in students’ mother tongues (which has left Iran well behind India and even China, Iran’s civilizational cousins) Iran has a long history of multiculturalism and multilingualism. Diversity has always been an integral part of social life in the Iranian Plateau since the very beginnings of the formation of greater Iran (through Iranian empires) up to the contemporary Iranian society. On the other hand, minoritized Iranian populations – to the best of our knowledge – have not experienced the violence similar to what has been imposed on minority cultures in the West through colonialism and imperialism, such as attempts to eradicate aboriginal cultures and racial segregation in education systems. Up until the early 20th century, when the Iranian government of the time imported Western educational models along with European nation state ideologies, Iranian languages organically mingled and interacted in learning centers as well as everyday social interactions. Who is Afraid of Multilingual  Education? asks what discourses advocating mother tongue-based multilingual educational have rendered a heresy over the past 100 years in Iran despite the multilingual fabric of the country. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Jim Cummins, Ajit Mohanty and Stephen Bahry critique these discourses in the book drawing upon examples of the experiences of minoritized students in different parts of the world.

The arguments against mother tongue-based multilingual education discussed in this book include nationalistic one-language-one-nation discourses that deem the dominance of a single language a necessary factor in creating a national identity; political visions that advocate that imposing one single language on minorities would empower them by providing them the ability to communicate and to trade their skills and products in larger markets and thus “succeed” in life; linguistic theories that attempt to prove some languages are naturally wired to be superior to other languages and thus are to be shared by all the members of society regardless of their linguistic backgrounds; economic speculations proposing that mother tongue-based multilingual education is an appealing and perhaps moral idea but too expensive to put into practice; and finally, post-colonial and anti-imperial anxieties that help the state treat legitimate demands for receiving education in the medium of students’ mother tongues as separatist desires.

Unfortunately, empirical evidence supporting the benefits of multilingual education for students and society at large is often comfortably ignored by politicians and mainstream media. Traditional academic publications also often fail to find their way out of closed professional circles and remain unread by the public, typically fed by more popular but less accurate forms of dissemination such as TV shows and mainstream news websites. As a result, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education? reviews the issues that the international language research community has struggled with in a more accessible interview format. Hopefully, the inter­views offered in this book and the analyses that follow them can open new horizons in the mother tongue debate in Iran, establish better communication between Iranian and international educators, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about multilingualism in the inter­national research community.

LDLR covers 2016For further information about this book please see our website. For other books in our Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights series take a look at the series page on our website.