Under-representation of non-native English speakers in philosophy

Gabriele Contessa has written a series of thought-provoking posts on this important, yet underdiscussed topic. Most recently, he has proposed a Languaged Philosophers’ Campaign.

Okay, I know—‘Languaged’ is not a word in English, but so what? :-) I think we should start a campaign to highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of many (supposedly international) conferences and edited volumes. The campaign is, of course, modelled on the (very effective and much needed!) Gendered Conference Campaign promoted by the Feminist Philosophers blog. And, like that campaign, this campaign is not about blame; nor is it about identifying the causes of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in analytic philosophy. It only aims at raising awareness of this systematic phenomenon (especially among philosophers who are native English speakers who seem to be mostly oblivious to it). Analytic philosophy aspires to be universal in its scope and yet it is surprisingly provincial and insular when it comes to including people whose native languages are not English. As I have argued elsewhere, I think that this phenomenon hurts not only EFL philosophers, but analytic philosophy in general. I hope that the LCC will start raising awareness about this issue.

27 thoughts on “Under-representation of non-native English speakers in philosophy

  1. I’m a non-native English speaker working in philosophy though my experience is that a breakdown by 1st language (instead of lumping us all together) would prove far more fruitful. My 1st language is not a language that is recognized as philosophically relevant (Spanish) and as a graduate student I could not parlay my native language ability in anything like the way my French or German-speaking peers were able to do. This was fairly alienating and is part of the larger problem in the discipline of representing philosophy as a Western/Northern European intellectual tradition (not counting the Ancients!).

    Now…what should we make the campaign being proposed? I’m not sure. I’m worried about how to identify speakers. Whereas most people will make their chosen gender-identity clear to others, how are we to do the same for EFL? It would be presumptuous (and potentially hurtful) to go by surnames or country of origin. I guess I’d like to hear more. I agree with the spirit of the campaign but am worried about the methods.

  2. As a non-native speaker of English, I am not sure what this campaign’s motivation, goals, and methods are supposed to be. That there are a lot of native English speakers at conferences in US and UK seems to me to be expected. That there are some – quite a few – whose first language is not English but something else but speak English at a native level (since born in US or UK) seems also to be expected. So how about people like me who are immigrants – for me English was the 5th language, for example (my native language is none of the “big” languages – neither German, French, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, or Hindi and certainly not one of the philosophically relevant languages ( which would, I take it, besides the ones already mentioned include Greek, Latin, Russian, Hebrew, and Arabic, at the very least)). As far as I know there are about 6 philosophy speakers of it in US and Western Europe altogether. So should I now call out any conference that has no speakers of other than the big languages? Or just those that has none in my language? And why exactly? And how do we find out – on the basis of names?

  3. This campaign worries me as a non-native English speaking, feminist, female philosophy grad student in the US. Sure, as managing editor of a journal (Louise Chanarý is a pseudonym) I have worried several times about Asian authors who submit papers that are written in such bad English that their papers are hard to read and therefore will not even be considered for publication. I also find it difficult to express myself properly in discussions and writing excercises, even though my English is not that poor. But the thing is, language is immensely important to philosophy. Not having good language skills is to doing philosophy as not having good math skills is to doing physics. That because of this native speakers have an advantage is unfortunate, but it is to be expected, whereas an advantage of white men is very surprising given that being male and white are not skills that influence someone’s ability to write good philosophy. The best way to do something about it seems to be to offer specialised language courses to non native English speaking philosophy students and to urge native English speakers to not be put off by some ugly sentences, and have a bit of patience when speaking with a non native English speaker. But I’m not sure tis isn’t already done.

    Contessa provides some numbers in another blog post:

    “[S]ubmissions from philosophers based in the US were 3.5 times more likely to be accepted than submissions from philosophers based in non-English speaking countries and submissions from philosophers based in other English speaking countries were 2.3 times more likely to be accepted than submissions from philosophers based in non-English speaking countries. Of course, the measured variable in this case is not perfectly correlated with the quantity of interest (there are EFL philosophers who work in English speaking countries), but I assume the correlation is strong enough to make the data significant.”

    The papers by philosophers living in non-English speaking countries may well have been rejected because these were very hard to read.

  4. I’m a non-native English speaking, female philosophy grad student too, though not studying in a English speaking country.
    I appreciate that the issue of native language has been raised, but, as regards the campaign, I’m unsure whether it’s a useful move or not. One important step forward would be to have more awareness and discussion of the issue among the philosophical community. This alone may well have an impact on the way a non-native speaker is treated, understood and, if necessary, supported in their effort to master the common language through which their theories can be discussed out of their native country. Knowing that your interlocutor is dealing with an extra difficulty can be a precious background awareness at conferences, during common projects, in professional interactions more generally.

    On the other hand, publication of written papers may need to be addressed differently. I personally think that writing in English and struggling to achieve proficiency at least in scientific English has been good for me. It actually helped me clarify my theses and aim at more concise and well-structured arguments. I dare say language doesn’t come alone: there is a style associated with English – arguably, a style that is useful if not necessary to incorporate in your papers if you want them to get published in good journals. Some may find it even more difficult to write in English beacuse the academic style associated with their native language is quite different. Now, when I say that my experience with gradually changing my writing style has been positive, I am not suggesting that we should all be happy to conform to what I perceive to be an “English style”, over and above writing in comprehensible English. I understand not everyone will recognise themselves in this style. Also, I can be wrong in believing there is a general style associated with academic or philosophical English: this has merely been my experience in my area.

    A point we may bear in mind in this discussion about written non-native language. Let’s not forget that even if you write correctly, there will probably be expressions or ways of formulating certain phrases that will be recognised by native speakers as unusual or bizarre. By experience, there will also be more or less confident ways of stating one’s thesis, more or less sharp ways of conveying your central point, more or less brillant and more or less boring writing syles. While we cannot accept incomprehensible and grammatically incorrect papers, we may avoid easy dismissal and be more patient and charitable with clearly non-native English written styles.

  5. If one approves of the Gendered Conference Campaign, one ought to approve of Contessa’s “Languaged” Conference Campaign.

    (1) Implicit bias against non-native speakers and writers of English is a real phenomenon, although it is still less studied than analogous phenomena concerning other social groups (see e.g. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2013-28924-001/ and http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2010/07/19/foreign-accents-make-speakers-seem-less-truthful-listeners-research-shows ).

    (2) One should be very careful not to over-emphasize the importance of language in philosophy. Philosophy is not literature. If, as Contessa points out in his first post on EFL philosophers, it is pretty darn clear that a good number of analytic, Anglo-American philosophers have achieved prominence in virtue of the fluency of their English and its stylistic charms. This is a bad thing. Fluency of language and style can distract from philosophical quality, at least as much as self-confidence, speaking or writing tone etc. etc.

    (3) The world has been becoming globalized, and analytic, Anglo-American philosophy too. Ignoring the issues faced by non-native speakers and writers of English in a., A.-A. philosophy is increasingly less justifiable.

    (4) In my experience, the overwhelming majority of the time conference organizers (at least in analytic, Anglo-American philosophy) know whether speakers they invite are non-native speakers of English. Philosophy is a really small world, and in any case when you invite someone to speak at a conference, you’re bound to at least have read some of their work, or more frequently have met them, spoken to them, emailed them etc. etc. Non-native speakers and writers of English are pretty obvious to spot if you speak and write English. Non-native speaker status may be a little trickier for the organizers of something like the “L”CC to check, but mistakes can be, and have been, made with all analogous campaigns. I personally trust Contessa will do a careful job there, but if anything should slip through his net people will be able to let him know by e.g. commenting on his public blog.

  6. “Non-native speakers and writers of English are pretty obvious to spot if you speak and write English.”

    And this is why I think this should not be called a non-native speaker campaign. It should be called a “lacks a mastery of English” campaign or something to that effect. As a non-native speaker (I’m the author of post #1), I’ve never had anyone question my ability to read or write in English. The focus of the attention here is therefore NOT an the native language of a group of philosophers but instead on their command over the English language.

    This is exactly why it would be a backhanded compliment to be invited to speak on the basis of a campaign like this.

  7. There are a great number of very prominent non-native speakers of English in philosophy (Paul Benacerraf, Frank Arntzenius, Gisela Striker, or Jaakko Hinitikka come to mind immediately, but there are, obviously, others). So I am not sure why you think non-native speakers are obvious to spot. I make mistakes when typing fast on blogs (mostly because I do not check the grammar or spelling at all before pressing “post”), but I am not obvious to spot at all in my written work (in fact, I write better than most of my students) and although I have an accent, I never found that an impediment to either teaching or anything else. Of course, it is more difficult for non-native speakers to express themselves appropriately or with style, either in writing or speaking, but that’s just what being in a different country with a different language than one’s own comes with. You have to learn the language in a way that enables you to function in academy and in humanities which is, in general, a field with a lot of emphasis on language skills. That is damn hard, but it won’t be made easier or better by a campaign…

    I also disagree with the post above – philosophers are a kind of writers – unless you think Plato’s, Montaigne’s, Sartre’s, or de Beauvoir’s skills were completely superfluous and unimportant to their work. We understand ourselves (or some of us) to some extent as scientists, but philosophical work is much more personal (hence, not some many “co-authored” papers/books) than in exact or social sciences, and we share a lot of interests (incl. the pesky human condition) with artists. It is true we read some philosophers despite their style (Aristotle or Kant, to name the two obvious), but these are not your average philosophers.

    Btw. I would not want to “guess” people’s native languages on the basis of their names, especially not in the US. If you ever taught, say, at CalState or UC’s or at many other places, where “English”-sounding names are a distinct minority, you would know why.

  8. First of all, I would like to thank Jennifer for linking to my post and everyone else here for their comments. I have to say that I am a little puzzled by some of them, so let me clarify again that the purpose of the campaign is to “highlight the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in the line-ups of many (supposedly international) conferences and edited volumes” and that ” the campaign is not about blame; nor is it about identifying the causes of the underrepresentation of non-native English speakers in analytic philosophy.” Having said that:

    1) Yes, it is somewhat problematic to guess what a philosopher’s first language is from their name and their CV/website but it does not seem to be more problematic than guessing their gender from their name, which is what the GCC does. (In fact, at most I would argue that it’s more questionable to guess a person’s gender than their first-language and, to be clear, I think the former is ultimately justified in the current context for the aims of the GCC)

    2) As to the question why English and not other “big” languages, my answer is that English seems to play an hegemonic role in analytic philosophy—a role that is not played by any other language, as far as I can see.

    3) The campaign’s aim is to highlight a systematic problem in analytic philosophy and does not look at the causes of the problem nor suggests any solution to it. The fact that we are talking about the problem is, as far as I’m concerned, already progress. I do not believe (nor have I in any way implied) that the solution is to lower the linguistic standards of English-language journals. However, it seems to me that the playing field is not level when it comes to publishing, especially considering how the extremely low acceptance rates are at the top journals force editors to look for reasons to reject papers. There is also other issues that I think we should confront but I guess publishing is one of the main issues. (I have to say I find the comments about “Asian authors” problematic, especially in light of the fact that often language serves as a proxy for race)

    4) Yes, language is immensely important to philosophy, but surely there are many non-native speakers who are very fluent in English and yet the data I have seen so far seems to suggest the existence of a “glass ceiling” for most non-native speakers. Again, I’m not sure what the causes of the problem are but I think it’s important to have a frank discussion about it.

    5) Personally, I love the English language and I want to believe that I am becoming better at writing in it every day (practice makes perfect and all that). Plus I don’t think native speakers are necessarily naturally born writers—it’s a process for everyone, I guess. But the point I’m trying to make with this campaign is not about my personal experience as a non-native speaker who teaches and writes about philosophy in English—it’s about an underrecognized source of bias in our profession and it’s about trying to make the playing field more level.

  9. Gabriele, are there actually any data supporting your thesis about under-representation of non-native speakers in philosophy? I am asking this because I am not aware of any such data (in fact, I am not aware that this is a problem at all and I still can’t quite see it – even after reading your posts – but maybe I missed something). One thing that baffles me is how we get to say that non-native speakers are under-represented in the first place. It assumes that there is some “expected” level of representation. This is easy to see in the case of gender or race, but I have a really hard time seeing it in this case. There are many reasons why foreigners come and stay in US/UK/AUS, etc. in academy and decide to publish in it (many don’t) and there is no “expected” rate about this from within US. In my country, there was a time, in early 2000s when the number of people culminated who came to study and stay, now it dropped down to about 1/4 of that level (with my country making tremendous economic progress). Moreover, some fields are easier for foreigners – take Ancient philosophy, it’s full of international people – partly because German and France have always been good at it. Analytic philosophy – as done in US/UK – has not been done at that level (and by comparatively so many philosophers) in continental Europe, so there are also less people working in it in US. Already in grad applications you see how comparatively stronger applicants in history are to those in contemporary philosophy from outside the English speaking countries. In any case, what I want to raise as an issue is what the ‘expected’ level should be. It cannot be estimated, I think, in the same way as for gender or race. And I would also like to know what your source for talking about bias is. I have never experienced it, nor do I know anybody who did (and I know a lot of foreigners) insofar as their work is concerned. Obviously, that does not mean there is none, but it does make me wonder. I know of people who had problem because their English was not good – as many people here remarked too.

  10. What I wanted to point out, is that a GCC makes sense because gender has nothing to do with one’s ability to do philosophy, But to start an LCC, asking conference organizers etc. to invite more non-native language users, is problematic because a lack of language skills can negatively influence the quality of the work. I am also worried that LCC will distract attention from GCC. Of course it is important to not exclude any group because of bias, but let’s not try to do it all at once, because I’m afraid people will get tired of campaigns and lose interest.
    I don’t think there is anything problematic about ‘Asian’. We receive a number of papers that I think come from China, I can’t be 100% sure, but probably from a country in Asia (I notice their names and emailaddresses, sometimes affiliation,comments and specific mistakes in grammar that are familiar), another portion comes from the Middle East. I feel sad that most of these papers are rejected right away, but it can’t be helped because these are often not very readable and/or are very different in structure from what is thought to be an acceptable paper (they have only a few pages, make sweeping statements for which no arguments are given, or have a religious tone). I feel sad that we end up publishing almost exclusively papers from the ‘western world’ (Western Europe and North America mostly), when I bet that a lot of very interesting philosophy is done in other places, philosophy from which we can learn. But I can’t think of any solution to this problem (and I have thought about it, and brought up the problem in communication with the other editors).
    I am glad that many people learn English in school nowadays, even if not all can write a paper, they can at least read it if they are interested.
    It would be a good idea I think to look around more and try to build connections with other parts of the world. For example by looking for philosophical journals in other languages and have them translated. But of course there will be little money to do that. (Just a wild idea: the APA can perhaps every month translate an article, or feature a journal in a different language (partially translated perhaps) on its website….but still…how can we know it is a good journal before taking time and effort to have it translated? Perhaps a non-native English speaking philosopher can look for suitable journals in his/her native language and nominate one?) Another thing that can be done perhaps is to promote connections between universities, and develop exchange programs.
    I do think it is an important issue, and I would like to see a solution, but I don’t think that LCC is a good idea.

  11. My suggestion is that the reference class here is the world population. There are 7 billion people in the world and only about 7% of them are native English speakers. I think that, as analytic philosophers, we should worry about the fact that, in our discipline, which aspires to think about universal concepts such as knowledge or justice, English speakers are so overrepresented and non-English speakers so compared to the world population. Other disciplines do not seem to be nearly as bad (although I must admit I don’t have very good data to show that at the moment). The problem is very obvious and I don’t think we need a sophisticated statistical analysis to spot it. It has been staring us in the face all along and perhaps we think it’s normal; perhaps we have all been trained to think of analytic philosophy as Anglo-American philosophy done mostly by English speakers in the English-speaking world, but if this is the case, what claim, for example, does analytic philosophy have to speak of universal concepts such as knowledge or justice?

  12. “I am also worried that LCC will distract attention from GCC. Of course it is important to not exclude any group because of bias, but let’s not try to do it all at once, because I’m afraid people will get tired of campaigns and lose interest.”

    This seems (to me at least) to be a problematic sentiment. Is the GCC supposed to get the stage over competing campaigns because it was the first? Because it’s a “more worthwhile” or “more important” campaign?

    It’s just hard to see a way of justifying that sort of a view without getting into problematic ranking of the severity of the bias experienced by different groups. I think it is best to support all underrepresented groups in their struggles against systemic bias rather than adopting a “wait your turn” approach that seems to be suggested by the quoted comment.

    I apologize if I’ve misunderstood your point. I think you were simply being pragmatic, I just felt I needed to underscore what I took to be problematic about this pragmatic point.

  13. Gabriele, I don’t quite agree but I think what you really in fact aiming for is more analytic philosophy being done outside of US/CAN//UK/AUS/NZ world in English so that it can have impact here. This involves a lot of work – translations into and publishing in other languages to make analytic philosophy accessible, providing opportunities for scholars from other countries to come to US/UK (this involves money), supporting individual students, changing the ways philosophy is done and so on. This is being done but it’s a lot of actual work – not just internet campaign. I have been involved in translating projects, summer conferences at home, review service for journals outside of the English speaking world and so on. This can actually help. But it is a lot of work.

  14. p,

    the right sort of top-down interventions (such as the ones you mention) contribute to change but, if we don’t change the underlying culture, real change cannot really occur in virtue of those changes. Currently, analytic philosophy is not particularly hospitable to non-native English speakers and my guess is that it is perceived as a mostly anglophone game in non-English speaking countries. This is why it would help to see more non-native speakers represented in the line-ups of conferences and volumes. Role models were important to me when I started. In particular, I learned a lot from two philosophers who taught in Rome but had done their PhDs abroad and who were active researchers. It showed me it was possible. I don’t know if I would have pursued analytic philosophy otherwise.

  15. Gabriele – I will repeat my question again – why do you think it is not hospitable? There is the obvious issue of language skills. So once we put that aside and assume that the people in question have mastered them well, then are there any biases left in the culture that disadvantage non-native speakers in virtue of them being non-native speakers? You keep asserting it but I really can’t see why. Does it boil down just to the fact that is harder for non-native speakers to work and publish in English speaking world than for native speakers?

    Btw. it is not true that it is perceived as anglophone game – there is a lot of analytic philosophy done by philosophers in Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, several Eastern European (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland) countries, and so on, and quite a lot of it is published in the native languages. If anything, it is on the rise there and in some cases it is because of the analytic philosophy root’s in the German speaking countries (Wittgenstein, Carnap, Bolzano, Brentano, Schlick, Neurath, Hanhn, Reichenbach, Hempel, etc.). This is still a living tradition there, though it took some hit in the past. The problem is, of course, that many people do not publish in English because they do not know the language well enough.

  16. What is the stereotype of the analytic philosopher? ‘White male’ is the standard answer. Gabriele is just pointing out how that answer is true but not specific enough. ‘White male of Northern European descent’ would be more accurate. I’m dismayed that this is even controversial.

  17. Stereotype is not the same thing as bias or culture of exclusion. In fact, if white male of Northern European descent is a stereotype that generally means that it is something fixed in some people’s mind but not true or not really true. I simply asked for some sort of reasons for thinking there is some such bias present in US/UK since, not being either Northern or Southern or Western European male (which I think are the white males over-represented in philosophy), I am not aware of that bias or have I ever experienced it.

  18. p, I have presented some evidence of underrepresentation on my blog. If that’s not enough for you, I’m sorry—that’s all I have for the moment and there is only so much I am ready to do to convince one anonymous commenter on the internet.

  19. I think it is very interesting that this is being discussed, and as that was one initial aim of Gabriele’s, great!

    As a native English speaker I have only very recently become aware of how much of an advantage it is to me to have English rise readily to my lips in intense seminar situations, and of how much faster it is for me to write and polish papers and books. I don’t know if I would ever have noticed, except that I work intensively with non-native speakers, both co-editing and co-authoring. Of course their finished English is to all intents and purposes just as good as mine – but for me it is generally a much more pleasant, much nicer, much easier experience to draft and re-draft, polish, fuss about details, argue with copyeditors (‘I know it’s not grammatical, but it’s much clearer, leave it, leave it!’) and finally proof everything. When so much of our research depends on writing, anything that makes this easier and more pleasant is a significant advantage. I would like to pause and offer serious respect to anyone who manages to publish to this level in a language that is not their native language.

    It might be true that recuced inclusion of the less-English-proficient doesn’t seem to be bias in the same way as race or gender, given that written outputs are at least relevant to philosophy, but I think it is very much worth drawing attention to, and beginning to think about possibilities for increasing inclusion. I’d be interested to know what people think about creating a more systematic place for non-native speakers (or anyone?) to post requests for clarification on the meaning of certain phrases or idioms, or try out a phrasing they are struggling with. I see people doing this in Facebook posts, and I also answered these questions a lot as the only native speaker in a postdoc room. (I was often utterly unable to answer the follow-up questions, ‘But *why* do you only say it like that?’ or, ‘*Where* does that idiom come from?’)

    What else could we do?

  20. Thanks, Phyllis—I really appreciate your supportive comments! I think that it would be a wonderful idea to have a place like that. Also I think we should change our refereeing practices somewhat. I was planning to write a post with some suggestions about that but, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the sort of negative reaction I have experienced in the last few days over social media etc. so I’m very reluctant to continue on this path. You are one of the few NES philosophers who was ready to acknowledge the great advantage that native English speakers enjoy within analytic philosophers. Unfortunately, however, it really seems like I have hit a nerve and I don’t think I have the time, the energy and the patience to deal with the sort of pressure I found myself under in the last few days, with attacks from both NES philosophers (who quibbled about the methodology, aims, etc) of the campaign and from potential allies who thought focus on language might detract from more urgent issues such as gender or race. I’m very disheartened by this response, but I guess I was naive not to expect it! Thanks again fro the support though—it’s greatly appreciated!

  21. Well, you cannot be blamed for feeling like that. Meantime, I certainly feel that I am lucky to have realised, and it is a problem I will continue to worry about. You may be interested to know that I just raised it in a gender reading group here at STS and people were very interested, and we had an interesting discussion on intersectionality.

  22. That’s nice to hear, Phyllis! I find that STS is very different from analytic philosophy as a disciplinary environment—this is probably why it also tends to be a bit more diverse along a number of different directions…

  23. Let me stipulate up-front that being a NES has been a huge benefit to me.

    That said: suppose the following were true, that (1) higher education spending worldwide was enormously concentrated in a subgroup of countries making up only about 1 billion people of the 7 billion worldwide, and which used only a small subset of languages; (2) within that subgroup, one country (making up about 25% or 30% of the total) had a disproportionately high GDP and also a disproportionately high expenditure on higher education; (3) that country also deployed its higher education spending in a way that, relative to others, deprioritised a high level of baseline education for everyone but incentivised the creation of centres of excellence; (4) even in this international age, a combination of difficulty getting the job and disinclination to move countries and cultures means that a country’s universities disproportionately contain its own citizens. Then you’d expect a massive overrepresentation of that country’s citizens in first-rank research.

    As for (1), the EU and the USA between them make up pretty much half the world’s GDP. As for (2), the USA’s GDP is about the same as the whole of the EU. As for (3), the 2006 OECD figures show that the USA spends about 3% of GDP on higher education. Outside the Nordic countries, the EU rate is around 1%-1.5%. Most of the rest of the world is well below 1% of an already much lower GDP. (3) is harder to quantify but the US normally totally dominates lists of top research universities (and the UK generally outperforms continental Europe). (4) is anecdotal, but I take it fairly uncontroversial.

    So I don’t think statistical overrepresentation of NES compared to other European-language speakers – let alone compared to the world averages – suffices to prove any discrimination or bias. The economic dominance, and higher education policies, of the United States already give powerful reasons to expect that NES will be overrepresented.

  24. David, I’m not sure if the point you are making is descriptive or prescriptive (the overrepresentation is to be expected (I agree) versus it is just/fair (I don’t think so)). Moreover, my case for better representation is two-pronged—it’s not just that the situation is unfair (which is what most commenter seem to have focussed on), it is also that it raises methodological questions about a discipline that relies so heavily on intuitions about how to apply certain concepts to certain cases (which may or may not be culturally/linguistically specific). Also, as a philosopher of physics, I’m sure you are aware of the fact that physics is a discipline in which non-native speakers are much less underrepresented. Look at the ATLAS project, for example, which involved physicists from 38 countries. And physics is rarely pictured as a beacon of diversity among the academic disciplines! Nevertheless, I encourage everyone to watch, for example, the documentary Particle Fever and take note of how many non-native speakers working on the project are featured in it. Yes, fluency in mathematics may be much more important than fluency in English in physics, but, by the same token, it would seem to me that fluency in logic should be more important than fluency in English in philosophy. If analytic philosophy were all about logic (as opposed to rhetoric) as its practitioners like to think, why is mastering a language beyond a certain level of fluency so crucial?

  25. I don’t think that fluency in English can determine whether you are a good philosopher or not. Of course, if you want to publish in international journals you must know English, but here we are speaking about “non-native English speakers”, not about “non-English speakers”. Let’s be honest: at the end of the day, the academic style is very plain and simple and the necessary linguistic requisites to get published are the basic knowledge of the English grammar and few special terms. We are talking about philosophy papers, not novels by Thomas Pynchon!

    The point raised by Gabriele, however, remains. As an example, let’s look at this scenario:

    – philosopher X is a native English speakers who publishes papers in international journals
    – philosopher Y is a non-native English speaker who publishes papers in international journals

    Looking at their publications alone, I shall assume that both X and Y are fluent in English and that they are “good” philosophers (indeed, they publish in the same journals, their papers undergo the same peer-reviews process, and so on). So why, in general, do we tend to read and cite and invite X more often than Y?

    Do you want data? Fine. Look at those lists such as the “100 most cited philosophy works in the last 20 years” (or something like that, just google this type of things). What you find in those lists is the following:

    – an overwhelmingly majority of works by native English speakers
    – some works by non-native English speakers who live in Anglophone countries and work for Anglophone institutions.

    Another example: in the last two decades, only one non-native English speaker working in a non-Anglophone country has been awarded with the Lakatos Award – namely, Wolfgang Spohn from the University of Tübingen, awarded in 2012. (Of course, other non-native English speakers have received the Lakatos Award, but people like Van Fraassen and Hasok Chang have spent all their academic lives in Anglophone countries.)

    In short, and to go back to my hypothetic scenario above, the same quality and quantity of international publications notwithstanding, it seems like if you are someone like X you just have more chances to be read/cited/invited than someone like Y.

    I don’t think that gender determines whether you are a good philosopher, but I also don’t think that your first language or geography does it either.

Comments are closed.