Free proofreading squad targets academic language discrimination

Grassroots effort by linguists seeks to lift up non-native English speakers, many of whom cannot afford professional proofreaders

March 17, 2022
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Linguistics scholars have joined forces to level the playing field in academia with an effort to offer free proofreading for academic papers written by colleagues who aren’t native English speakers.

The service, named LingProof, is in a six-month pilot phase, having been set up by a group of volunteers in partnership with the open access journal Glossa Psycholinguistics. But it tackles a global problem.

“The concern regarding linguistic discrimination is widespread in academia, especially outside of anglophone countries,” said Carmen Saldana, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of comparative language science at the University of Zürich and one of the researchers behind the project.

Already, the effort has drawn “a lot of support” from others who want to help, she said. Its mission resonates with many researchers who, like Dr Saldana, speak good English but know what it’s like to be asked by a journal to get a native speaker to review their papers, at additional cost.

“There’s always this idea that you’re not native, you’re never going to be good enough,” she said.

The language barrier can be especially crippling for younger researchers who don’t have the connections or resources of established scholars, said Mora Maldonado, a postdoctoral researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and another of the initiative’s founders.

“Especially as students, we were struggling to get people to proofread what we wrote…my supervisors weren’t English native speakers and I didn’t have money to pay a proofreader,” she said.

She hoped that in the short term, LingProof can help narrow the gap between academics who have access to native English speakers and those who don’t.

But the academics caution that efforts like theirs aren’t the solution to the problem.

Dr Saldana acknowledged that “it’s difficult to ask people to work for free” and that as scholars, “we don’t want to exploit ourselves more”, but said that for those who participate, there are long-lasting rewards: they glean knowledge and help to strengthen a bed of openly accessible research.

And she took issue with the broader assumption that English is the lingua franca of academe.

“We don’t believe that English is the only language that science should be published in,” said Dr Saldana, adding that she hoped the initiative can also spur debate around the role of language in academia.

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Proofreading squad targets language barrier

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