This session was designed to explore two broad questions:
- How does the diversity of languages impact collaborative research?
- How has the globalization of scientific research affected the language(s) used for collaboration?
In a session moderated by Mary Jordan, Senior Technical Advisor for Public-Private Partnerships in the Office of HIV/AIDS at the U.S. Agency for International Development, Derrick Cogburn, Associate Professor in the School of International Service and Executive Director of the Center for Research on Collaboratories and Technology Enhanced Learning Communities (COTELCO)/Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP) at American University, spoke about lessons learned from a multi-year, multi-institutional collaborative cyber-learning program. Scott Montgomery, Affiliate Faculty Member, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, discussed the challenge that language differences present when communicating science.
Presenter: Derrick Cogburn, Associate Professor in the School of International Service and Executive Director of COTELCO/IDPP at American University
In 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Derrick Cogburn explained that the CRPD represented a global shift in how the world looks at persons with disabilities from a medical model to a social justice, rights-based model. Much of the CRPD’s legal framework is based on the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act, and it spells out provisions for accessibility, education, and participation in public life. Given that Southeast Asia has one of
the highest levels of disability in the world, the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is taking a concerted effort to address the provisions of the CRPD and create an environment where persons with disabilities can have a seat at the table when policy issues related to disability are being discussed. As part of this effort, Cogburn and colleagues have developed a virtual institute on disability and public policy—the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP)—that aims to train persons with disabilities in Southeast Asia to be able to represent themselves in the policy arena. IDPP was launched in April 2011 with four universities and two outreach partners. Today, IDPP has 14 university partners, two in the United States and 12 from ASEAN countries.
IDPP has four components: a master’s degree and continuing education program, an outreach program, capacity building, and collaborative research. The vehicle for each of these components is what Cogburn calls cyber-learning, which grew out of the National Science Foundation’s work in creating collaboratories. One of the great challenges in creating this cyber-learning environment is accommodating the diversity of languages, including sign languages, spoken by citizens of the ASEAN countries. Another big challenge has been dealing with the different cultural practices of the member nations, particularly with regard to the agreements that needed to be put in place to bring universities into the IDPP as partners that can adhere to a basic set of principles while also operating in their own cultural context.
With that as background, Cogburn spent the rest of his presentation discussing some of the lessons learned from the experience of creating the IDPP. As he had already mentioned, there were many language-specific issues to resolve, though this was made easier by the fact that ASEAN has adopted English as its working language. So while imposing English as the working language for IDPP might seem to be a case of cultural imperialism, Cogburn said that taking any other approach would have created an immediate impasse. “Luckily, ASEAN adopted this policy of using English as its working language, so that serves as a vehicle for us to support ASEAN by having our instruction in English,” said Cogburn. IDPP is still trying to resolve this issue for the deaf community. “American Sign Language is not the lingua franca of the global deaf community so this is a challenge for us,” he explained.
An important language-specific issue for this project, he noted, is deciding on disability-inclusive language that reflects the sensitivities of the disability community with its multiple cultures. The CRPD addresses this issue by focusing on person-first or person-specific language. “Rather than talking about a blind person, which puts the focus on their disability, you talk about a person who is blind,” Cogburn explained. Another language-specific issue he and his colleagues encountered as they were developing the IDPP was silence. “How do you interpret silence?” he asked. “If you send an email and you get no re-
sponse, did they not get it? Did they not like the idea? Or is it that they don’t want to tell you ‘no’?”
More global issues that IDPP has had to deal with arise from the fact that the ASEAN countries range from wealthy Singapore to poor Laos, and that each country has its own national priorities and strategies and its own cultural constraints. The resulting issues can be as mundane as whether contractors to IDPP will demand payment in cash for services rendered versus working on a contract and coordinating the differing academic year schedules. He noted in closing that an indirect benefit of the fact that so many academic, political and business leaders in Southeast Asia received their academic training in the United States is that many universities in the region are starting to harmonize their academic calendars with the U.S. calendar.
In response to a question from a workshop participant, Cogburn noted that the IDPP system is not the only model for multinational cyber-education. However, this model has allowed students from Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, and Cambodia to participate in a virtual degree program and learn from faculty from throughout the region and the rest of the world.
Presenter: Scott Montgomery, Affiliate Faculty Member, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington
Over the past generation, science has undergone a remarkable globalization, said Scott Montgomery. Between 1995 and 2009, scientific output by countries outside of the United States and Europe, as measured by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics papers, has risen dramatically (National Science Board, 2012). In particular, output from countries such as Turkey, Iran, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil has increased more than 50 percent. “These countries are helping science to finally leave a few dozen westernized wealthy countries,” said Montgomery. “It really is a new era, one that is very exciting and full of challenges of various types.”
One trend that has accompanied the globalization of science is the increasing adoption of English as the lingua franca of science, which Montgomery said signals the end of an atypical era in the history of science in which there was no lingua franca (see Figure 4-1). From even before 1000 BCE, Aramaic and Babylonian were the lingua francas of science. Eventually, Greek took over that role, followed by Sanskrit, Chinese, Arabic, and Latin, and for many of these, their role as a common language of science outlived the civilizations that gave birth to those languages. The dominance of English as the language of science emerged over recent decades with the physical and life sciences, and it is still unclear what form the eventual language landscape will take. “History is our
only piece of evidence so far, but it suggests that English is just beginning its dominance, and it has not completed this at all,” said Montgomery.
The rapid geographic expansion of science and growth of international collaborations is contributing to the adoption of English as the lingua franca of science. It is important to keep in mind that English language skills occur over a wide range of levels. Montgomery noted that past lingua franca transitions, such as the one occurring now, have taken over a century for the relevant language to become a basic skill for scholarly communities. Among the factors that will determine the speed with which this transition occurs will be how English is taught and how teachers are trained in various countries. Another confounding factor is that there is no one form of English spoken across the globe. Linguists point out that in addition to North American English and British English there are South American English, West African English, Caribbean English, East African English, Hong Kong English, Indian English, Indian/Pakistani English and Bangladeshi English. There are also developing forms of English, including Japanese English and Chinese English. “So if you bring people together, they may all speak English but the question is, which one?” said Montgomery.
FIGURE 4-1 Lingua franca of science throughout history.
SOURCE: Montgomery Slide 5.
The language challenges can be quite substantial, he continued, even in such seemingly mundane areas as honorific titles and dealing with females in male-dominated societies. Although it is natural to presume that anyone who can speak English can also read and write it, linguists have shown that these are three different skills, with writing being the most challenging of all. Not only are reading, speaking, and writing separate skills, but scientific, legal, and economic discourses are very different, with their own vocabularies and pronunciations. Research protocols and intellectual property, for example, may differ among nations in ways that are not always obvious. The result, said Montgomery, is that native English speakers have a responsibility to speak and write clearly, or as Albert Einstein said, “as simple as possible but no simpler.”
In his final remarks, Montgomery noted that good work and ideas need to flow from developing countries to the rest of the world but that publication is not always the professional incentive that it is here in the United States. It behooves the scientific community in the U.S. to play a mentoring role in terms of getting research results from their colleagues who come from countries where English is not the native language into the literature. “It is partly our duty to help them achieve a global audience at a time when science is globalizing, to expand their opportunities as well.”
National Science Board. 2012. Science and Engineering Indicators 2012. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation (NSB 12-01). Available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/ (accessed 3/26/2014).