This House would subsidise the translation of academic work in the languages of developing countries

Developing countries have in the past two decades made progress in the global academic and scientific community, contributing more and more research as their economies and infrastructures improve. But they are still far behind, and as the pace of academic and technological development seems to be quickening they run the risk of being left behind or in a state of constant lag behind the more developed western nations. One of the clearest problems is language, with English being the clear lingua franca for all scientific disciplines with more than 90% of journal articles for some disciplines being published in English.[1] In Germany it has been suggested that the solution is simply to “wait for Germany to become a genuinely bilingual society, using English as the global language of science and German as the local language spoken and read by health professionals and patients.”

This is clearly not a good solution for every country as English is not as widely taught in most countries as it is in Germany leading to the problem that many researchers in non-English speaking countries find it more difficult to get their work recognised.[2] Another suggestion to correct this problem is to subsidize the translation of academic work into the native languages of developing countries, or to have journals publish in more than one language. There are already some Spanish medical journals that do this publishing in both Spanish and English. However at the moment the work seems to mostly be the other way with journals that originally published in another language providing English translations of their articles for example Springer is taking the best articles from more than 1,700 Chinese university journals and publishing English versions. The Public Library of Science journals are encouraging their contributors to not just give an English version of the work if it was originally written in another language.[3] This clearly provides some benefit to those without the necessary English language skills but does not give them access to the most recent developments in the west. To do that there would need to be much greater investment in translation from English. Such a translation project would allow developing countries to participate on a more equal footing in global academia. Opponents contend that such translation efforts will only serve to reverse the positive trend toward the universalization of a few languages for academic research; they contend that such convergence allows for a fuller globalization of academic work and to allow for the eventual full equal everyone desires.

[1] Lovgren, Stefan, ‘English in Decline as a First Language Study Says’, National Geographic News, 26 February 2004, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0226_040226_language_2.html

[2] Vasconcelos, Sonia M.R., et al, ‘Researchers' writing competence: a bottleneck in the publication of Latin-American science?’, EMBO reports, August 2008, Vol.9, No.8, pp700-702, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515218/

[3] Meneghini, Rogerio, and Packer, Abel L., ‘Is there science beyond English? Initiatives to increase the quality and visibility of non-English publications might help to break down language barriers in scientific communication’, EMBO Report, February 2007, Vol.8 No.2, pp.112-116, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1796769/

 

Title 
Translation allows greater participation by academics in global academia and global marketplace of ideas
Point 

Communication in academia is necessary to effectively engage with the work of their colleagues elsewhere in the world, and in sciences in particular there has become a lingua franca in English.[1] Any academic without the language is at a severe disadvantage. Institutions and governments of the Global North have the resources and wherewithal to translate any research that might strike their fancy. The same is not true for states and universities in the Global South which have far more limited financial and human capital resources. By subsidizing the translation of academic literature into the languages of developing countries the developed world can expand the reach and impact of its institutions' research. Enabling access to all the best academic research in multiple languages will mean greater cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge. Newton is supposed to have said we “stand upon the shoulders of giants” as all ideas are ultimately built upon a foundation of past work.[2] Language is often a barrier to understanding so translation helps to broaden the shoulders upon which academics stand.

By subsidizing the publication of their work into other significant languages, institutions can have a powerful impact on improving their own reputation and academic impact. Academic rankings such as the rankings by Shanghai Jiao Tong University,[3] and the Times Higher Education magazine[4] include research and paper citations as part of the criteria. Just as importantly it opens the door to an improved free flowing dialogue between academics around the world. This is particularly important today as the developing world becomes a centre of economic and scientific development.[5] This translation project will serve to aid in the development of relations between research institutes, such as in the case of American institutions developing partnerships with Chinese and Indian universities.

[1] Meneghini, Rogerio, and Packer, Abel L., ‘Is there science beyond English? Initiatives to increase the quality and visibility of non-English publications might help to break down language barriers in scientific communication’, EMBO Report, February 2007, Vol.8 No.2, pp.112-116, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1796769/

[2] Yong, Ed, ‘Why humans stand on giant shoulders, but chimps and monkeys don’t’, Discover, 1 March 2012, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/03/01/why-humans-stand-on-giant-shoulders-but-chimps-and-monkeys-dont/#.UaYm_7XVB8E

[3] ‘Ranking Methodology’, Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2012, http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU-Methodology-2012.html

[4] Baty, Phil, ‘World University Rankings subject tables: Robust, transparent and sophisticated’, Times Higher Education, 16 September 2010, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2010-11/world-ranking/analysis/methodology

[5] ‘Science and Engineering Indicators, 2012’. National Science Foundation. 2012, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c5/c5h.htm

Counterpoint 

Translating academic work for the developed world will not succeed in creating a dialogue between developed and developing world because the effort is inherently unidirectional. The developing world academics will be able to use the translated work, but will lack the ability to respond in a way that could be readily understood or accepted by their developed world counterparts. The only way to become a truly respected academic community is to engage with the global academic world on an even footing, even if that means devoting more resources to learning the dominant global academic languages, particularly English. This is what is currently happening and is what should be the trend for the future.[1] So long as they rely on subsidized work, the academics of the developing world remain subject and subordinate to those of the developed world.

[1] Meneghini, Rogerio, and Packer, Abel L., ‘Is there science beyond English? Initiatives to increase the quality and visibility of non-English publications might help to break down language barriers in scientific communication’, EMBO Report, February 2007, Vol.8 No.2, pp.112-116, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1796769/

Title 
Translation gives access to students to learn valuable information and develop their human capital and to become academically and economically competitive
Point 

The ability to access the wealth of knowledge being generated in the developed world would greatly impact the ability of students and budding academics in the developing world to develop their human capital and keep abreast of the most recent developments in the various fields of academic research. Lag is a serious problem in an academic world where the knowledge base is constantly developing and expanding. In many of the sciences, particularly those focused on high technology, information rapidly becomes obsolete as new developments supplant the old. The lag that occurs because developing countries' academics and professionals cannot readily access this new information results in their always being behind the curve.[1] Coupled with the fact that they possess fewer resources than their developed world counterparts, developing world institutions are locked in a constant game of catch-up they have found difficult, if not impossible, to break free of. By subsidizing this translation effort, students in these countries are able to learn with the most up-to-date information, academics are able to work with and build upon the most relevant areas of research, and professionals can keep with the curve of knowledge to remain competitive in an ever more global marketplace. An example of what can happen to a country cut off from the global stream of knowledge can be found in the Soviet Union. For decades Soviet academics were cut off from the rest of the world, and the result was a significant stunting of their academic development.[2] This translation would be a major boon for all the academic and professional bodies in developing countries.

[1] Hide, W., ‘I Can No Longer Work for a System that Puts Profit Over Access to Research’, The Guardian. 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2012/may/16/system-profit-access-research

[2] Shuster, S. “Putin’s PhD: Can a Plagiarism Probe Upend Russian Politics?”. Time. 28 February 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/02/28/putins-phd-can-a-plagiarism-probe-upend-russian-politics/

Counterpoint 

While the world is globalizing, it is still in the interest of states to retain their relative competitive advantages. After all, the first duty of a state is to its own citizens. By translating these works and offering them to academics, students, and professionals, the developed world serves to erode one of its only advantages over the cheaper labour and industrial production markets of the developing world. The developed world relies on its advantage in technology particularly to maintain its position in the world and to have a competitive edge. Giving that edge up, which giving access to their information more readily does, is to increase the pace at which the developed world will be outmatched.

Title 
Translation expands the knowledge base of citizens to help solve local problems
Point 

It is often the case that science and technology produced in the developed world finds its greatest application in the developing world. Sometimes new developments are meant for such use, as was the case with Norman Borlaug's engineering of dwarf wheat in order to end the Indian food crisis. Other times it is serendipitous, as academic work not meant of practical use, or tools that could not be best applied in developed world economies find ready application elsewhere, as citizens of the developing world turn the technologies to their needs.[1] By translating academic journals into the languages of developing countries, academics and governments can open a gold mine of ideas and innovation. The developing world still mostly lacks the infrastructure for large scale research and relies heavily on research produced in the developed world for its sustenance. Having access to the body of academic literature makes these countries less dependent on the academic mainstream, or to the few who can translate the work themselves. Having access to this research allows developing countries to study work done in the developed world and look at how the advances may be applicable to them. The more people are able to engage in this study the more likely it is that other uses for the research will be found.

[1] Global Health Innovation Blog. ‘The East Meets West Foundation: Expanding Organizational Capacity”. Stanford Graduate School of Business. 18 October 2012, http://stanfordglobalhealth.com/2012/10/18/the-east-meets-west-foundation-expanding-organizational-capacity/

Counterpoint 

This translation effort does not pave the future with gold. Intellectual property law still persists and these countries would still be forced to deal with the technologies' originators in the developed world. By instead striving to engage on an even footing without special provisions and charity of translation, developing countries' academics can more effectively win the respect and cooperation of their developed world counterparts. In so doing they gain greater access to, and participation in, the developments of the more technologically advanced countries. They should strive to do so as equals, not supplicants.

Title 
It is better to have fewer languages in common use in global academic and economic interrelations
Point 

A proliferation of languages in academia will serve to fracture the interrelations of academics, not unify them. As more and more academics and innovators interested in new academic developments find it possible to obtain information wholly in their native languages, then the impetus toward unification in a primary language of academia and commerce will be slowed or entirely thwarted. Through history there have been movements toward this sort of linguistic unity, because it reduces the physical and temporal costs of information exchange; for example scholars throughout Early Modern Europe communicated in Latin.[1] This policy serves only to dampen this movement, which will, even if helpful to people in the short-run, serve to limit the capacity of developing world academics to engage with the developed world. Today English has become the definitive language of both international academic discourse and commerce. In France for example, a country known for its protective stance towards its language, journals have been changing to publishing in English rather than French; the journal Research in Virology changed in 1989 as almost 100% of their articles were submitted in English compared to only 15% in 1973.[2]

The trend towards one language is a positive one, because it has meant more movers and shakers in various countries have all been able to better and more quickly understand one another's desires and actions leading to more profitable and peaceful outcomes generally.[3] Also important is the fact that while academics and other interested parties in the developing world may be able to grapple with academic work more effectively once translated for them, they now have a greater disadvantage due to the enervating effects this translation produces. Without the positive impetus to learn the major language or languages of international discourse, developing world academics will never be able to get posts and lectureships at institutions in the developed world, or to take part in joint research in real time. The convergence of language ultimately serves to promote common understanding, which means people from the developing world can more effectively move between their home country and others. It also helps build a common lexicon of terms that will be more robust for international use, as opposed to translations, which are often imperfect due to divergences of linguistic concepts and thus susceptible to mistake.

[1] Koenigsberger, H. G., Mosse, George L., and Bowler, G. Q., Europe in the Sixteenth Century, London, 2nd Edn, 1989, p.377

[2] Garfield, Eugene, ‘The English Language: The Lingua Franca Of International Science’, The Ceisntist, 15 May 1989,  http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/10374/title/The-English-Language--The-Lingua-Franca-Of-International-Science/

[3] Bakopoulos, D. ‘English as Universal Academic Language: Good or Bad?’. The University Record, 1997, Available: http://www.ur.umich.edu/9697/Jan28_97/artcl18.htm

Counterpoint 

If it is true that people cannot easily get jobs in the developed world for lack of language skills then there will surely still be a pressure to learn the language or languages of international discourse. What this policy offers is access by a much wider audience to the various benefits that expanded academic knowledge can offer. It will expand the developing world's knowledge base and not in any way diminish the desire to learn English and other dominant languages. It should be remembered that it is not just academics that use academic papers; students do as well, as do professionals in everyday life. Clearly there cannot be an expectation that everyone learns English to be able to access research. While there may be fewer languages in academic use there is not such a narrowing of language for everyone else.

Title 
The West has no particular obligation to undergo such a sweeping policy
Point 

Governments and academic institutions have no special duty to give full access to all information that they generate and publish in academic journals to anyone who might want it. If they want to make their research public that is their prerogative, but it does not follow that they should then be expected to translate that work into an endless stream of different languages. If there is a desire by governments and institutions to aid in the academic development of the developing world, there are other ways to go about it than indiscriminately publishing their results and research into developing world languages. Taking on promising students through scholarships, or developing strategic partnerships with institutions in the global south are more targeted, less piecemeal means of sharing the body of global knowledge for example the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funds junior scientists from the developing world working in their labs.[1] States owe their first duty to their own citizens, and when the research they produce is not only made available to citizens of other countries but translated at some expense, they are not serving that duty well. It will prove to be a fairly ineffective education policy.

[1] ‘Building Research Capacity in Developing Nations’, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 114, No. 10, October 2006,  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1626416/

Counterpoint 

Wealthy states do feel an obligation to less fortunate countries, as is demonstrated through their frequent use of aid and loans to poorer governments. This is a way to help countries stop being dependent on aid and hand-outs and instead develop their own human capital and livelihood by being able to engage with the cutting edge of technology and research.

Title 
It is prohibitively expensive to translate everything and difficult to prioritize what to translate
Point 

Ultimately any policy of translation of academic work must rely on a degree of prioritization on the part of the translators since there is no way that all academic work of any kind could be translated into other major languages, let alone into all the multitude of languages extant in the world today. In 2009, for example, the number of published research papers on science and technology exceeded 700,000.[1] That is a gigantic amount of research. Translating all of these articles seems to be an obvious waste of time and resources for any government or institution to pursue and increasingly so when one considers the more than 30,000 languages in current use today. Translations today currently exist for articles and research that is considered useful. Any blanket policy is infeasible. The end result will be only a small number of articles translated into a finite number of languages. This is the status quo. Expanding it only serves to further confuse the academic community and to divert useful energies away from positive research to the quixotic task of translation.

[1] ‘Science and Engineering Indicators, 2012’. National Science Foundation. 2012, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c5/c5h.htm

Counterpoint 

In the status quo there is already some translation, due largely to current demands and academic relationships. Even if translation of all academic work the world over could not be translated into every conceivable language, expanding the number of articles and number of languages is certainly a good thing. While cost will limit the extent of the policy, it is still worth pursuing to further open the world of academic discourse.

Bibliography 

‘Ranking Methodology’, Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2012, http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU-Methodology-2012.html

Bakopoulos, D. ‘English as Universal Academic Language: Good or Bad?’. The University Record, 1997, Available: http://www.ur.umich.edu/9697/Jan28_97/artcl18.htm

Baty, Phil, ‘World University Rankings subject tables: Robust, transparent and sophisticated’, Times Higher Education, 16 September 2010, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2010-11/world-ranking/analysis/methodology

‘Building Research Capacity in Developing Nations’, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol 114, No. 10, October 2006,  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1626416/

Garfield, Eugene, ‘The English Language: The Lingua Franca Of International Science’, The Ceisntist, 15 May 1989, http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/10374/title/The-English-Language--The-Lingua-Franca-Of-International-Science/

Global Health Innovation Blog. ‘The East Meets West Foundation: Expanding Organizational Capacity”. Stanford Graduate School of Business. 18 October 2012, http://stanfordglobalhealth.com/2012/10/18/the-east-meets-west-foundation-expanding-organizational-capacity/

Hide, W., ‘I Can No Longer Work for a System that Puts Profit Over Access to Research’, The Guardian. 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2012/may/16/system-profit-access-research

Koenigsberger, H. G., Mosse, George L., and Bowler, G. Q., Europe in the Sixteenth Century, London, 2nd Edn, 1989

Lovgren, Stefan, ‘English in Decline as a First Language Study Says’, National Geographic News, 26 February 2004, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0226_040226_language_2.html

Meneghini, Rogerio, and Packer, Abel L., ‘Is there science beyond English? Initiatives to increase the quality and visibility of non-English publications might help to break down language barriers in scientific communication’, EMBO Report, February 2007, Vol.8 No.2, pp.112-116, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1796769/

‘Science and Engineering Indicators, 2012’. National Science Foundation. 2012, http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c5/c5h.htm

Shuster, S. “Putin’s PhD: Can a Plagiarism Probe Upend Russian Politics?”. Time. 28 February 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/02/28/putins-phd-can-a-plagiarism-probe-upend-russian-politics/

Vasconcelos, Sonia M.R., et al, ‘Researchers' writing competence: a bottleneck in the publication of Latin-American science?’, EMBO reports, August 2008, Vol.9, No.8, pp700-702, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515218/

Yong, Ed, ‘Why humans stand on giant shoulders, but chimps and monkeys don’t’, Discover, 1 March 2012, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/03/01/why-humans-stand-on-giant-shoulders-but-chimps-and-monkeys-dont/#.UaYm_7XVB8E

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