Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

The Globish World Language: Restricted Thinking

with 6 comments

I comment here on the rise and dominance of Globish English, in science and research, in literature and culture, and with growing mechanization in certain domains.

First, consider science and research publishing, across the board.  To publish new results, the reviewers need to give their nihil obstat and their imprimatur.  Generally too, in research publishing, one is engaged a lot as a reviewer.  Typically, one reviews many hundreds of submitted research papers each year.

Now back to my own research results.  Not for the first time, recently, a reviewer report on work of mine came back with this issue raised: “The paper is written in a way that makes it difficult to read for average non-native English speakers mainly because of the structure and length of the sentences.”

I was upset but this made me reflect.  Why should it be so that simplified English be used in reporting on research?  Let me bypass what “average” means in such a context, since anyone involved with data will know that atypical and skewed (long-tailed) distributions are not summarized by an average.

In any case, that is of course a reviewer’s role.  My paper was, when revised, accepted and published.  It was dealing with Jürgen Habermas’s political consensus in the Twitter social media context (based on Jean-Paul Benzécri and Pierre Bourdieu).  Given that reviewer’s viewpoint, my first reaction was to go and determine the power law distribution of my written sentence lengths.

But standardized English – what are the implications of one speaking and writing in this Globish language, as contrasted with the language of one’s own thinking.  One’s own train of thought may well be superior to a simplified, mechanized Globish.  This really made me reflect.

In reviewing conference submissions, earlier in 2015, I was using one of the major systems used for conference submission.  It is a great system, Easychair. My reviews for this conference were of course carried out.  I was rather pleased though to have to address a question of language in the following terms.  I do admit, that in a world where we all can, and should, speak a number of languages, I cannot understand what “native” – as in “native language” – means.

Here was what was on the review form, which I completed:

QUALITY OF ENGLISH WRITING: from 1 (lowest) to 4 (highest)

4: Native English

3: Readable Globish

2: Many mistakes but easy to correct

1: Very Poor and must be checked by a native

Then I recalled the following, from Der Spiegel, 45/2014, 3.11.2014:

Interview mit  Kenneth Goldsmith,  53, Dichter und Literaturdozent an der  Univerity of Pennsylvania, über sein Seminar “Wasting Time on the Internet”.  “Mein ganzes Oeuvre dreht sich um das Leben im digitalen Zeitalter.  In meinem letzten Buch zum Beispiel benutzte ich viel kürzere Sätzte – als Reaktion auf Twitter.  Die Technik geht voran, wir Künstler folgen ihr.”   Oder sehen Sie mal hier.

Oh my goodness, shorter sentence length and this time a requirement in  Globish literature!

Next, I noted this.  It is from Le Monde Diplomatique, en janvier 2015, dealing with English being the intermediary language for translation between  languages, leading to nonsense, since sense is destroyed.

“Google et  l’impérialisme linguistique – Il pleut des chats et des chiens”, par Frédéric Kaplan et Dana Kianfar.

Le pivot linguistique anglais participe ainsi potentiellement à un phénomène de créolisation … Actuellement, les modifications introduites par la médiation algorithmique constituent une sorte de sabir, langue de contact, potentiellement éphémère, entre deux systèmes linguistiques.  Mais, alors qu’une nouvelle génération est exposée à ces expressions transformées, les innovations risquent de se régulariser sous la forme d’une langue cohérente et autonome, un créole.  … L’impérialisme linguistique de l’anglais produit donc des effets beaucoup plus subtils que ne le laissent penser les approches centrées sur la “guerre des langues”.  

Here is a further noting of how standardized, banalized and trivialized English (I should refer to it as Globish) has such negative implications.

“How  English Ruined Indian Literature”, by Aatish Taseer, March 19, 2015, in Sunday Review, New York Times.

The Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky felt in the 19th century that the slavish imitation of European culture had created “a sort of duality in Russian life, consequently a lack of moral unity.” The Indian situation is worse; the Russians at least had Russian.

In the past, there were many successful Indian writers who were bi- and trilingual.  Rabindranath Tagore, the winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote in English and Bengali; Premchand, the short story writer and novelist, wrote in Hindi and Urdu; and Allama Iqbal wrote English prose and Persian and Urdu poetry… 

Arising out of the foregoing, the following needs to be expressed in languages other than Globish or Hochenglisch or whatever it is called.

Ursprung und erweitere Entwicklung des Denkens, klar dass das bedeutet eine breite Reihe von Sprachen und von Sprachenkentnissen.

Pour bien encadrer et progresser nos pensées les plus profondes, il faut pallier l’obstacle de la langue de la robotique.  Ceci est donc aussi un appel à la renaissance de la langue anglaise.

Feachtas, mar sin, a bheith curtha ar bun i dtreo athbheochan an sacs-bhéarla. Ní  eascraíonn fiontar agus fiontraíocht agus nuálaíocht agus chuile shórt mar sin ach ó theangacha atá saor ó chinniúnt agus ó mhí-ádh na teanga sin.  Ar ámharaí an tsaoil tá teangacha fós ann, mar an Ghaeilge, a bhaineann le foinse na smaointeoireachta an tsaoil s’againne.

Aut viam inveniamus aut ipse viam faciamus.  For further reading and insight – Alex HijmansFrédéric Kaplan.


Written by Fionn Murtagh

2015/08/04 at 00:05

6 Responses

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  1. Píosa spéisiúil ar nádúr na teangeolaíochta.


    2015/08/04 at 09:51

  2. […] “I comment here on the rise and dominance of Globish English, in science and research, in literature and culture, and with growing mechanization in certain domains. First, consider science and research publishing, across the board. To publish new results, the reviewers need to give their nihil obstat and their imprimatur …” (more) […]

  3. Re “Why should it be so that simplified English be used in reporting on research? ” , I wonder whether the reviewer actually meant “simple English”.
    If so, I certainly agree. It seems reasonable to ask that writing on technical subjects should be as clear as possible, in order to make what may be a difficult point as accessible as possible. Einstein once said that explanations should be “as simple as possible, but not simpler”, a statement I have always like, and that chimes nicely with George Orwell’s maxim “never use a large or foreign word when a simple one will do”.
    It may simply be a case of writing style. I must confess that I had to read the opening paragraphs of this blogpost several times before I understood the point being made….and the excerpts on translation seem rather tangential to the main topic…or perhaps I’ve misunderstood!


    2015/08/04 at 17:19

    • Mathematics especially, and parsimonious expression, are excellent. What happens though is the move towards a general, simplified, banalized Globish. It is good that one’s thinking and reasoning do not have to be constrained by that. Having one’s own language, or languages, is fundamental for this. Then, as the poet Seán O Ríordáin has it in his poem Saoirse (Freedom): Is éistfead leis na scillingsmaointe a mhalartaítear mar airgead.

      Fionn Murtagh

      2015/08/06 at 11:08

  4. Bonsoir… Ton site est très informatif. Merci et bonne continuation

    fichier client

    2017/03/21 at 13:46

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