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.

The Widely-Cherished Myths of Language Equality and Language Diversity in Europe

This month we published Towards Openly Multilingual Policies and Practices by Johanna Laakso, Anneli Sarhimaa, Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark and Reetta Toivanen. The book explores language policy and use of minority languages in Europe. In this post, the authors discuss the many misconceptions about language diversity in Europe.

Europeans know languages. Being highly educated means speaking many languages, being a well-integrated immigrant means having a good command of the national language. Being a good member of an ethnic minority means mastering both the state language and the ‘ethnic’ language – which, of course, is never subject to discrimination in a democratic European state. On the contrary, lots of taxpayers’ money goes to supporting it.

In brief, Europeans have firm and clear opinions about languages, language learning and language use, about which languages should be promoted, supported, taught, used, or tolerated and in what context. That’s why, from time to time, these issues provoke emotional and heated debates.

Often, the debates reveal that Europeans also firmly believe in linguistic fairness established by the law. It’s true that most European countries have language laws or general legislation concerning the use and promotion of the national language and the protection of minority languages, or at least their non-discrimination. There are even attempts to create general European language policies, which try to implement the Council of Europe’s treaties protecting minorities, their languages and cultures. However, there are also several questions which are seldom asked in the debates. How accepted and empowered do people speaking minority languages feel in Europe? How successful is language-related legislation, after all? How well-informed are citizens and decision-makers about the law and how justified are their firm opinions on language issues?

In brief: Do we really know enough about how well the widely-praised and even legally-established commitments to minorities’ linguistic rights are fulfilled in Europe today?

Picture the following examples – all authentic, by the way:

  • A is a hospital patient with Alzheimer’s disease at an advanced stage who no longer understands what the doctors and nurses are saying. He reacts with nervousness and speaks back to the staff in a language nobody at the hospital understands. It turns out that the hospital staff is not even aware that A’s mother tongue is spoken in their country and that it is a distinct language which is not intelligible to the speakers of the majority language. This is what recurrently happens, for example, to speakers of Karelian in today’s Finland and Finns in today’s Sweden.
  • B is a healthy and lively child, who at the age of five could already read and write fluently in her language. When she is six-and-a-half, her parents take her to a paediatrician for a standard school maturity test. The family comes home with a recommendation to take B to a neurologist because of her low test scores: according to the paediatrician, “B didn’t even seem to understand the questions we asked her”. Things like this happen to members of numerous minorities and migrant groups in Europe all the time.
  • C and D, a young couple, wish to transmit their heritage language to their child. However, their own parents have always spoken the majority language to them: C and D have only learnt their heritage language in childhood contacts with their grandparents. Speaking the heritage language to their own child feels ‘somehow artificial’, it feels ‘like a joke’. And even when relatives and friends praise and enthusiastically support the young family’s decision, nobody can tell them what they should do to make parenting in the heritage language ‘feel right’ and they get no support in the local daycare. This we have heard from Karelian-speaking parents in Finland and Meänkieli-speaking parents in Sweden.
  • During a coffee break, E receives a phone call from her mother. She talks in a low voice in order not to disturb her colleagues. However, it is not the tone that disturbs – her colleagues tell her that speaking a language which the others don’t understand is discriminatory and offensive and is therefore forbidden at all premises of the workplace. Such regulations have been reported, for instance, by Finnish speakers in Sweden and by Hungarian speakers in Austria.
  • F teaches extracurricular heritage language classes in a European city. His pupils come from different schools and backgrounds, and some of them don’t speak the heritage language at home on a regular basis and are not very confident language users. F cannot find really suitable teaching materials for his classes – all available textbooks have been created either for native speakers in a traditional speaker community or for foreign language learners. Although F is a trained teacher, during his education he was never prepared for or confronted with the special needs of a heritage-language learner. This is what teachers of innumerable minority and migrant languages struggle with daily everywhere in Europe.

As the examples above reveal, the reality of how Europeans use and experience their possibilities to use minority languages is much more complicated than the smooth and glossy surface of European language policies and the numerous measures to support language teaching and learning, the proclaimed non-discrimination and the copious lip service paid to ‘multilingualism’ and ‘diversity’ let us believe.

Despite all existing research, the multilingual reality is still not widely known, especially as it concerns the multilingualism of Eastern European and non-Indo-European-speaking minorities or migrant groups. Most notably, laws and policies do not cover all the dimensions of the real, multilingual world and citizens are surprisingly poorly-informed even of the existing laws and institutional arrangements.

Towards Openly Multilingual Policies and PracticesReporting and analysing the results of a large-scale European research project, our new book, Towards Openly Multilingual Policies and Practices, dives under the glossy surface. As the project investigated the forms and prerequisites of multilingualism among twelve very different language-based communities from the Barents Sea coast to the Mediterranean area, the book offers insights into a wide variety of geographical and socio-historical contexts and will, hopefully, make you re-evaluate your own beliefs about the European myth of linguistic equality and fairness.

We invite you to read the book and follow our quest to create a tool for assessing the maintenance of a minority language by way of its speakers’ personal experiences!

Johanna Laakso, Anneli Sarhimaa, Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark and Reetta Toivanen

For further information about this book please see our website.