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.

Publication of Multilingual Matters’ First Open Access Book: A Milestone for Pronunciation Assessment

This month we are publishing our first open access title, Second Language Pronunciation Assessment, edited by Talia Isaacs and Pavel Trofimovich. In this post, Talia tell us about her experiences of researching the once unfashionable topic of pronunciation as well as the importance of open access publishing.

When I started doing dissertation research on pronunciation assessment in 2004 during my Master’s degree, this topic was drastically out of fashion. Pronunciation in language teaching had had its heyday earlier in the 20th century, culminating, from an assessment perspective, with the publication of Lado’s seminal book, Language Testing, in 1961, which is viewed as signifying the birth of the language testing field. There had been little sustained research on the topic in the years since. In my early days as a postgraduate student, when I stated that I was researching pronunciation assessment to members of the language assessment community, I remember thinking that reactions from some, however polite, were similar to how some passersby might respond when looking at an odd relic in a museum through protective glass—that this topic may have had some use or merit once in a misguided way but is now decidedly passé. Pronunciation carried much baggage in assessment circles and within language teaching and applied linguistics more generally as a symbol of the decontextualized drills targeting linguistic forms that had been left behind during the Communicative era.

I could not have foreseen, at the time, that pronunciation would gradually begin to embed itself in some of the discourse and have growing visibility in scholarly fora (e.g. Language Testing Research Colloquium), at least on the periphery. Spurred by trends in researching pronunciation in other areas within applied linguistics, where developments happened earlier (e.g. SLA, sociolinguistics), modern work on pronunciation shifted to a focus on intelligibility and listeners’ evaluative judgments of speech and was at the heart of developments in automated scoring of speaking. Assessing pronunciation was, thus, informally rebranded and was able to establish some contemporary relevance.

Second Language Pronunciation AssessmentFast forward to 2017, with the publication of Second Language Pronunciation Assessment. This book breaks new ground in at least two respects. First, it is the first edited collection ever published on the topic of pronunciation assessment. Although the volume is far from comprehensive, it begins to establish a common understanding of key issues and bridges different disciplinary areas where there has historically been little conversation.

Second, it is Multilingual Matters’ first “gold” open access book. Tommi Grover shared his thoughts on open access in a recent blog post, and it is exciting that our book is at the forefront of what we believe will be a growing trend in monograph publishing in time.

When we first learned that our external research funding could pay for open access costs for a monograph to a maximum amount pre-specified by the funder as part of a post-grant open access scheme, we broached this with Tommi and Laura Longworth. It is a luxury to have a world-renowned applied linguistics publisher practically on my doorstep in Bristol, UK, where I currently reside. Tommi mused about some of the pros and cons and the likely logistical challenges aloud over coffee, and I am sure that the flies on the wall were intrigued. It was clear that pursuing open access entailed a degree of risk for the publisher, as the open access maximum payment from the funder alone would not cover the full production costs and overheads. We were delighted that, ultimately, the Multilingual Matters team decided to treat our book as an experiment and go for the open access option to see how it would work.

Thus, with the publication of our book, a scenario that once seemed hypothetical has now become a reality, and our contributors were also very happy about this development. The push for open access within the academy is to ensure that publically-funded research outputs are also publically available free of charge where possible. From the readers’ and authors’ perspective, it is generally preferable to be able to access the official versions with professional typesetting than to have author-approved unofficial versions with different page numbers floating around. We believe that, through the availability of our publication for free download, it will reach a much wider readership than it would have had the access costs been levelled onto the consumer. The print version has also been sensibly discounted for those who still wish to purchase a softback copy. In this way, it will hopefully reach the interdisciplinary audiences of researchers and educational and assessment stakeholders that we feel would benefit from knowing about this book and inform further research and practice.

My co-author, Pavel Trofimovich, and I could not have envisioned a more positive experience working with the Multilingual Matters team from start to finish. As Pavel wrote in an email, reflecting on the publication process, “I cannot think of any publisher who [is] so professional, hands-on, and also human in their interaction with colleagues.” We are extremely grateful for the tremendous help and advice in navigating all aspects of the publication of our book, including dealing with the unexpected. This process has been enriching and the production tremendously efficient. We would highly recommend that any prospective authors in applied linguistics, new or experienced, consider Multilingual Matters as a venue for publishing their book. If you have internal or external funds available or could budget for open access costs for a monograph into a grant application, it might be worthwhile pre-empting a conversation with Tommi about open access. This is an option that the team is clearly open to and which may, in time, revolutionize the publication of monographs, as it already has with academic journal articles.

Talia Isaacs, UCL Institute of Education, University College London, UK
Pavel Trofimovich, Department of Education, Concordia University, Canada

For further information about the book, please see our website. For more information about open access please read Tommi’s blog post or contact him directly at tommi@multilingual-matters.com.

To download the open access ebook please go to the following link: https://zenodo.org/record/165465.

Open Access publishing: A positive step for research?

The issue of Open Access (OA) has been an important and sometimes contentious subject in academic publishing for at least the past 10 years. Arising from a desire to see research (often publicly funded) made accessible to the widest possible audience, it has very worthy ideals. Although the main concentration of Open Access publications has been in the journals field, where the prices charged for subscriptions by larger publishers has been taking an ever greater part of the library budget, books are increasingly coming under pressure to be Open Access. In light of this, I thought it would be useful to clarify our position on OA and to discuss what I see as the possibilities and constraints of Open Access monograph publication.

OAlogo

Channel View Publications Ltd / Multilingual Matters is an academic book publisher, and we believe that, traditionally, it is our job to do the full work of the publisher. This includes full copyediting and typesetting of all the manuscripts that come our way, running all of the administrative processes involved in the editorial creation (and where necessary playing a part in the creation of the book), paying our authors and series editors a fair royalty on every dollar that their book earns, and financing a full and proactive global sales and marketing campaign. We also pay reviewers of proposals and manuscripts. We invest somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 dollars in every book that we publish, the exact amount depending on the size and complexity of the book. In some cases the investment is even higher than this. We recoup that investment by selling copies of the book, and in the majority of cases we will not make a profit for at least the first 3 years of the book’s life, when staff and overhead costs are taken into consideration. Many of our books never make a profit, and when they do, those profits are overwhelmingly re-invested in future publications. We also believe in providing a healthy and happy workplace for our staff and paying them a living wage, a cost that is often hidden by some cheaper OA publishers, who rely on volunteers and academics working for free.

Channel View Publications Ltd / Multilingual Matters has always been committed to publishing important research in often under-researched and under-funded fields. We do our very best to publish books at a price that is accessible, whether that is by producing a paperback immediately on publication, or where that is not possible, producing a lower price ebook so that individuals might buy it. We will gladly collaborate with any author or appropriate funding body (and have done so in the past) to either produce and distribute subsidised versions, or to make books entirely Open Access, where we can reach an agreement on how to cover the costs of publication.

Tommi
Tommi contemplating Open Access!

What we will never do is compromise our editorial integrity. Even where we publish a book Open Access with an agreed publication fee, we will still commit to running the editorial process of peer review and manuscript revision with exactly the same rigour as if we were taking the financial risk of publication ourselves.

The main advantage of publishing Open Access, so long as it is done with a reputable and responsible publisher, is that you immediately remove all barriers of access to that publication, so long as the reader has access to a computer and a reliable internet connection.

The main disadvantage of publishing Open Access is that the author or funding body is taking on the financial cost of that publication which would traditionally be borne by the publisher. If the publication is done properly, this is not (and should not be) an insignificant sum of money.

Open Access publication, when done properly and adequately funded, can be a very positive step for research. We do not believe it is the right answer for all books or all fields of study. I have a fear that there will be babies thrown out with the bathwater, and that if all publications are moved to an Open Access funding model, it will only be a matter of time before university funding bodies faced with the next cash crisis are forced to make a decision between whether they fund the law school publications or the minority language revitalisation publications, and I don’t think any of us need a crystal ball to know which way that decision would go.

That said, we remain committed to working with our community to make all of our publications as accessible as possible, whether that is through Open Access or traditional models of publication where the customer pays. Our ultimate intention is that publication by Channel View Publications Ltd / Multilingual Matters continues to be a mark of quality, no matter how the publication is funded.

If you would like to discuss the possibility of making your next publication with Channel View Publications Ltd / Multilingual Matters Open Access, please send me an email at tommi@channelviewpublications.com and we will come back to you with an indication of how much this would cost and what we would offer.

Tommi

Copyright: Enabling or Restricting Creativity?

Yesterday I went up to London for the annual Publishers Licensing Society Copyright Briefing and Open Meeting.  While the topic of copyright is perhaps not the most exciting, the day proved to be really interesting and it was particularly helpful to meet other young publishers who also work on rights and contracts like I do.

Richard Balkwill gave a thought-provoking presentation on the topic “Copyright: enabling or restricting creativity in the digital age”.  A few of the points raised and subjects to ponder on included:

  • Technology is roaring ahead and legislation is struggling to keep up.
  • Copyright is based on national law, but most information exchange is international.
  • The music industry is not an example to follow where digitalisation is concerned.
  • Google wants to “unlock the knowledge of the world”.  This paints publishers as janitors.
  • If publicly-funded research should be free, then why aren’t the London 2012 Olympics free?

Talks in the afternoon included David Lancefield explaining the economic importance of copyright and Hazel Woodward speaking on enhancing collaboration between publishers and librarians.  David spoke about how copyright is often perceived as a barrier to growth and how people want free content, but they also want quality, and the two often do not go hand in hand.  He backed up his argument that copyright payments have a big impact on low-paid content creators with several interesting statistics based on educational publishing.

He stated that secondary copyright fees represent 18% of an educational author’s income, but only 0.03% of a school’s cost base. A 20% fall in income for educational authors might result in 2870 educational works lost per year (Source: ALCS survey).  Educational publishers in the UK employ 9400 workers and make £1.2 million exchequer contributions each year.  The proposed copyright reforms could put the long-term sustainability of a value industry at risk.  We need to consider access versus innovation and investment.

While a lot of the topics covered during the day were not necessarily linked to what I do in my job, it was interesting to get a broader picture of the copyright issues that affect all sorts of authors and publishers.

Laura