Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Posts Tagged ‘information economy

The Globish World Language: Restricted Thinking

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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

Research and Scholarship: Onwards towards Sustainability, Success and Stardom

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In some ways, the world of scholarship (highly respected) and research (always with ends in view, never in the abstract) were far more healthy, productive and creative back in the ’70s and beyond in the last century.  The norm for undergraduate courses (in engineering) included company formation, statistics was a well established discipline in its own right (but was disbanded in many universities in more recent decades), and mathematics had its rightful role as the most respected of all disciplines.

The world of research was more viable and sustainable insofar as sustaining one’s livelihood was foremost, and then one’s work was always with ambition and with universal problem solving in mind.

Among the many changes to this idyllic picture (of course, I have looked at some aspects only that outshine much of what is the case now) major funding of research came along in the 1990s, in some instances with beneficial results, but also with very dysfunctional results.

By establishing large research centres that were hermetically sealed off from undergraduate teaching and curriculum development, and mostly in different buildings and sometimes off-campus, not only were external keeps and moats built, but – to the misfortune of these research groups and centres in the medium and longer term – they are entirely cut off from their natural hinterland, and dependent on so-called “soft money”.  In a word, they are entirely unstainable.

The Irish context is a clear case in point.

In regard to scientific research, Dick Ahlstrom in the Irish Times notes that Ireland is “effectively without … a strategy [for scientific research] at the moment, without a long-term sense of purpose or direction that makes it clear where we want to be 10 or 20 years down the line. This is not helpful as scientific research is a long-term activity that yields results in a measured way.”

This is very true since the ending of the previous SSTI plan, Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006-2013, that foresaw the doubling of PhD numbers by 2013 – why is an open question, but my own view always was that the great majority were to take up employment in Irish companies and corporates worldwide. The evidence is there that such has not happened.  As regards strategy, this has been replaced by a content-free framework, that has given carte blanche to significant misdirection of the ways and means used for public funding in this domain.

The upshot too is that in Ireland, “big business is putting its cash into overseas universities“.  This is very evident to those of us who work outside of Ireland.

In a clear and prescient article, Chris Horn has pointed to the looming crisis.  “What now for an Irish strategy for the multinational sector?”  He draws a balance sheet: “Why are there no […] debates on an urgently sought and new industrial strategy, and no visionary articulation from any of our political parties nor leaders? Where are our national industrial strategists and planners?”  This article by Chris Horn needs to be known as a key reference for our immediate future.

As is often the case, Finfacts has its hand on the pulse of what is going on, and calls a spade a spade.  It is super important to be clear about research for what, research of what.  Failing that, there is just the pure spin: “Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has an audacious or delusional new target: ‘in which Ireland in 2020 is the best country in the world for scientific research excellence and impact.'”

As Finfacts notes, “it’s striking how little policy making has changed since the economic crash.”  It is indeed audacious and delusional to put off to 2020 what needs to be addressed and acted on right now.

I will return to my theme of how research and scholarship can thrive and blossom, and overcome the delusional and dysfunctional nature of (some of) the powers that be – coupled with their wasteful and wanton, even destructive, inability to address our burgeoning challenges.


Written by Fionn Murtagh

2013/08/14 at 00:02