Thinking in a Foreign Tongue: The Problem of English Language Dominance in Social Research
In this editorial, the authors have addressed the question of English as a lingua franca of addiction research. Drugs and alcohol are consumed by people from different countries and language groups around the world. Yet, this diversity fails to be reflected in the research that aims to expound the pleasures, problems, and consequences of this consumption.
A recent study documents the degree to which the Anglophone world dominates the addiction publishing field (Hellman et al., 2020). The English-speaking world of four countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia – represented 75% of the editorial workforce and 70% of all authors that published in the 41 journals. Representation of low-income countries was close to zero; there was a negligible number of author and editor affiliations in middle-income countries, and the editors-in-chief were mostly male (80%). All journals nevertheless claimed to advance research of universal value, applicability, and closeness to contexts of usage.
The authors ask the question: are we achieving a closeness to the diverse realities around the world when our modus operandi entails a homogeneous isomorphic wheel, where almost everybody comes from the same background and views matters through similar cognitive and cultural setups?
The authors describe two problems created by the dominance of the English language in drug and alcohol research.
- First, it favors researchers from the Anglophone world and builds practical hurdles for non-native English readers, who have to read and write in a foreign language.
- Second, a more deep-seated but less acknowledged problem is that researchers from non-English-speaking countries become accustomed to thinking in a language that is foreign to their own societies.
The second problem – the sociocultural drawback of thinking in a foreign language – is explained by the authors using four examples: addiction, timely care, community and public health.
Language use and concepts are not a new theme in the Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. In the past, this journal has discussed how language use mainstreams repertoires for understanding the complex realities of substance use and addiction. The journal still accept manuscripts in Scandinavian languages and are involved in the committees of the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) and the International Society for Addiction Journal Editors (ISAJE) that work towards diversity in the field of scientific publishing.