World Englishes in Academic Journals

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As I have been arguing that it is possible for multilingual students and scholars to use their own varieties of English in academic writing, critics have been asking me an embarrassing question. They want to know if I will permit an essay that uses a localized/nativized variety of English in any of the journals I edit. That used to be a frequent question when I was editing TESOL Quarterly.

 

I always point to my critics that TQ has already published an article with a variety of English that varies from Standard Written English (SWE). This is a brief contribution by Geneva Smitherman long before I became the editor (volume 32, Spring, 1998). Unlike other essays where Smitherman uses African American Vernacular English more extensively, she is sparing in her use in this article. She uses AAVE in only two contexts: in the title, '"Dat teacher be hollin at us"--What is Ebonics?;' and once inside the essay when she refers to "many of my homiez back in the day." She has a footnote for homiez, which glosses the word as "Friends from one's neighborhood." She probably assumed that she has to be more conservative in her usage in this journal, as TQ has the reputation of being a more data-driven and quantitative journal, where the discourse is considerably formal compared to other journals in the humanities. In making the decision to use AAVE sparingly, Smitherman has taken into serious consideration her audience and context.

 

The editor of TQ at that time (who is not a World Englishes scholar) probably let the deviations go because Smitherman's usage was suitable for that context. In that essay, Smithermas was responding to the implications of the Ebonics debate for TESOL. As a scholar who believes that students' languages can be used in the classroom to build bridges to academic discourse, she is "performing" her own identity and position through her usage. Furthermore, she is very thoughtful and cautious about where she is using AAVE items. She goes further to help the reader comprehend her usage by providing a gloss.

 

The lesson behind this example is that whether to use nativized English or not is a rhetorical decision. It may or may not work for rhetorical reasons. What will help me decide if those choices can be permitted in a published article is whether they are appropriate in that text and context. Did the author think through the use of this choice? Does the usage enhance communication and voice? Is the choice rhetorically well motivated? Does he/she take into consideration the dominant discourse and readership of the journal to choose the extent to which he/she can introduce variant language and discourse?

 

How do I distinguish mistakes from conscious uses of World English (WE) items? I look for consistency of usage. If a writer is inconsistent in the usage of vocabulary or grammatical items, I can assume that the usage was a mistake. Also, I look at the context carefully to see if the author is using the variant consciously for an important rhetorical reason.

 

Unfortunately, I didn't receive such experimental and creative essays when I edited TQ. Many second language authors are certainly conservative in their usage. Therefore, I didn't have an opportunity to publish an article that used WE during my editorship. However, I have myself published an article where I use some Sri Lankan English. I published this article in the journal College Composition and Communication (see Canagarajah, A. Suresh.  "The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued." College Composition and Communication, 57/4 (2006): 586-619.) I tried to practice what I outline above as careful and motivated use of WE. Interestingly, in that article I do a close analysis of the way Smitherman uses AAVE in her academic writing for voice. I assumed that the readers will expect me to practice what I preach and use some of Smitherman's own strategies. And that's what I did.

 

Recently, I have heard of a couple of examples where editors of collected articles in books have edited for intelligibility rather than accuracy. The WE scholar Jennifer Jenkins mentioned in a conversation recently that she and her co-editor looked for intelligibility and overlooked issues of idiomatic peculiarities in the articles they published in a book featuring multilingual authors. The reference of the book is: Murata, Kumiko, Jenkins, Jennifer (Eds.) 2009. Global Englishes in Asian Contexts. Palgrave, Houndmills, Basingstoke.

 

Another WE scholar from Finland, Anna Mauranen, has also adopted this practice. Mauranen explains the justification for her editing practice as follows in a recent book she co-edited:

"Some of the papers in this book have been written by native speakers

of English, others not, but all have been written by expert users of

English. No policy of having the L2 authors' texts checked by native

speakers for linguistic correctness has been applied, because this was

regarded as an irrelevant practice in a book presenting international

scholarship. Whether English has been the first or an additional

language to the writers, they have been addressing an international

audience, not primarily ENL (English Native Language) communities.

Their contributions thus reflect the kind of language use they discuss:

effective English as an international lingua franca."

 

Readers can check how successful this strategy is. The reference to the book is:

Mauranen, Anna, Ranta, Elina (Eds.) 2009. English as a Lingua Franca: Studies

and Findings. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle. Mauranen has adopted this editing strategy also for a special issue of a journal she edited. The reference to that work is: Mauranen, Anna, Metsä-Ketelä, Maria (Eds.) 2006. Nordic Journal of English Studies 5 (2). Special Issue: English as a Lingua Franca.

 

Interestingly, in all these cases, it appears as if World Englishes scholars feel increasingly under pressure to practice what they preach!

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2 Comments

Mike Medley said:

You may already be familiar with the 2004 book published by Duke University Press for the American Dialect Society by Samy Alim entitled _You Know My Steez: An Ethnographic and Sociolinguistic Study of Styleshifting in a Black American Speech Community_. If not, you'll enjoy looking at it as a wonderful example of effective use of AAVE in scholarly discourse.

I have been reprimanded at least twice in my life for writing "as if submitting an academic requirement". I believe that there are certain areas of the Internet which need to be largely "conversational" in tone, and there should also be areas which need to be in a more formal or serious one. The more important thing which has to be considered may be summed up in this question:

"Have I conveyed my message to my audience that the latter understands it?"

Just my two cents.

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This page contains a single entry by SURESH CANAGARAJAH published on October 19, 2010 2:49 PM.

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