SURESH CANAGARAJAH: September 2008 Archives


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. . . !