Rejected Authors Fight Back!

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I guess it's the excessive pressure to get published that is motivating more and more rejected authors to write angry letters to the editor when they are rejected. I don't want to get angry but put on my analytical cap as a discourse analyst and study the different strategies adopted by the authors to fight their way back into publication. I have just started this study. I have identified only two strategies at this point. I hope I'll get more data displaying other strategies before I finish my editorship.


Strategy #1: Cite the other great journals you have published in.

This strategy was adopted when a senior scholar in the field found her article rejected by the referees. When she received the rejection letter, she wrote back an insulting email. She claimed that she had published about 20 articles in refereed journals, some of them more prestigious than  TQ. What audacity did the referees and I have to reject her article?


There are many reasons why this is not a winning strategy. It doesn't matter how many articles one has published. Each article is taken on its own merit by referees who don't know the identity of the author. It is not surprising that senior scholars are not sometimes successful in refereed  publication. The very attitude that one is sure to get published because he/she has published before is bound to make one careless and complacent in writing. And then, what is the cutoff point for an impressive list of publications? It is not uncommon to find scholars publishing more than twenty articles in their career these days. (The proliferation of academic journals provides ample opportunities for publication.)


Strategy #2: Claim you are the authority on the subject.

To go to the other end of the continuum, this strategy was adopted by a novice author--an American teacher of English who seems to have worked in a foreign country for many years. He wrote an article boldly titled: "The accent myth: A response to attacks against the native speaker model." Though everyone is free to have their opinion, in this case the opinion was not backed up by good evidence or argumentation. My decision letter will show that I tried to offer constructive suggestions to the author:

"Your article raises an important question: What level of English proficiency is optimal? However, it might fruitfully be argued that the preceding question is
incomplete--that a better question for the field of TESOL would be "What
level of English proficiency is optimal for the particular learners in such
and such a particular context?"

For instance, the article seemed to assume that students should be made to
conform to native-speaker norms because their interlocutors will be native
speakers of English from Kachru's "inner circle." In many parts of the
world, however, English is being used as a lingua franca between
individuals who might never actually speak with a native speaker of English
from "inner circle" areas such as North America, Britain, or Australia.
While good reasons for teaching native-speaker norms might still be argued,
your article seems to take insufficient account of the complexity of
English usage in the world today.

Another area that seemed insufficiently developed was the treatment of
research literature. At a number of points, the article relied on anecdotal
evidence to support its arguments. Such evidence is often helpful in adding
interesting narrative examples, but over-reliance can be problematic. In
addition, at some points, the literature seemed to be portrayed in overly
broad strokes, such as in the statement "There is, however, no evidence
supporting the assumption that children actually learn more easily, than
adults." While there may be some evidence against the critical period
hypothesis, there also is an established body of evidence in support of it,
so a more nuanced discussion would seem to be in order.

We hope that these comments are helpful to you, and again we would like to
thank you for sharing your article with us."


The author shot back with this email (there was no salutation or signature):

"If a non-native speaker of English cannot make himself understood by a
native speaker (who has had a lifetime of experience listening to and
understanding English) then how can he make himself understood by a
non-native speaker from another culture?  That such a thing can happen goes
beyond common sense and thus carries the onus of proof (as does the notion
that young children learn languages easier than adults).  It is not
scientific for people to accept ideas in the absense [sic] of either evidence or
common sense backing them up."


I am not sure I was being accurate in labeling this strategy "claiming authority on the subject." What we find in this case is that the author claims authority based purely on his status as a native speaker. He wasn't claiming authority based on research or scholarship. In effect, his identity was enough to give value to his argument. No proof needed. It also appeared as if the author was being sarcastic toward me, knowing that I was a "nonnative" speaker. Was he asking what right I had to evaluate his argument in the article as I didn't have the background to understand his position?



Perhaps some authors think that they can fight their way into publication. . . !  


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Rashi said:

I sense your anger in writing this blog entry, and can understand it too, but from the convenience of my being an observer to the episode in your blog, I found myself grinning.
It's funny when I read things like
"If a non-native speaker of English cannot make himself understood by a native speaker (who has had a lifetime of experience listening to and understanding English) then how can he make himself understood by a non-native speaker from another culture"
Was that gentleman serious? 'hard to believe that despite having lived in a foreign country for many years his blinkers are still so firmly in place.

For two years I worked as a front-desk graduate assistant in the Business School Undergrad Studies office. Although the bulk of questions came from undergrad American kids and their parents, every once in a while, someone who was simply looking for direction to some place in the building would wander into our conveniently and prominently located office. One day, a gentleman (from an African country, I'm guessing) walked in with a question. Usually, the undergrads helping out in the office would take queries, and I would step in only if there wasn't anyone else around, or we were short-staffed, or there was a question that the undergrad couldn't handle. Well, the African gentleman asked a question, and I saw that the undergrad was having difficulties, so I walked over, introduced myself, and listened to the question, answered it, and bid a friendly 'you're welcome' in answer to his smiling 'thank you'. The gentleman left, and I turned and saw this undergrad with eyes wide open, "I couldn't understand a word of what he said!" I laughed (thank god for a whacky sense of humor) and said that the conversation had taken place in English, but I had an easier time understanding the man because I've had more opportunity to hear different kinds of 'pronunciations'.
Another time, someone called from India about a question about the business school programs, and after a moment of listening to the caller, the undergrad student worker promptly handed over the phone receiver to me. I was happy to oblige. It was nice to have a conversation with someone from home :)
These weren't isolated cases. I often found myself helping out with situations were the 'native English speakers' who had grown up listening to only one kind of English most of their lives were unable to understand other kinds of Englishes.

So much so for 'non-native' speakers of English not being able to make themselves understood to other non-native English speakers; and for people of 'lifetime of experience listening to and understanding English' being able to understand the Englishes that there are!

Thanks for bringing out some of the ironies in that message, Rashi. Certainly, there are many more inconsistencies in that author's message.

Rashi said:

I found a fascinating article by Ayo Bamgbose published in the World Englishes journal (1998, Vol.17, No.1) titled "Torn between the norms: innovations in world Englishes". Here's what Bamgbose has to say,

"Today...we know that intelligibility is a complex matter, that a native speaker is not necessarily the infallible judge of what is intelligible nor is he or she even necessarily more intelligible than a non-native speaker, and that what is called 'intelligibility' is perhaps a complex of factors comprising recognizing an expression, knowing its meaning, and knowing what that meaning signifies in the sociocultural context." (p.11)

This seems to address so nicely the question that the was raised by the American teacher of English ["If a non-native speaker of English cannot make himself understood by a native speaker (who has had a lifetime of experience listening to and understanding English) then how can he make himself understood by a non-native speaker from another culture?"]

Nate Shenk said:

But I've published hundreds of articles on my blog, why can't I get published!? I enjoyed reading this! It's interesting hearing the side of the story coming from the rejector.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by SURESH CANAGARAJAH published on September 20, 2008 10:33 PM.

The Question of TQ’s low impact factor was the previous entry in this blog.

Resubmitting an Article to another Journal is the next entry in this blog.

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