Multilingual access: Language hegemony and the need for discoverability in multiple languages

Kelly McElroy, Laurie M. Bridges

Abstract

It is widely accepted that English is the current lingua franca, especially in the scientific community. With approximately 527 million native speakers globally, English ranks as the third most-spoken language (after Chinese and Hindu-Urdu), but there are also an estimated 1.5 billion English-language learners in the world.

The preeminence of English reflects the political power of the English-speaking world, carrying privileges for those who can speak, write, and read in English, and disadvantages to those who cannot. This is also the case in scholarly communication. Linguist Nicholas Subtirelu identifies three privileges for native English speakers: 1) easier access to social, political, and educational institutions; 2) access to additional forms of capital; and 3) avoiding negative opinions of one’s speech.

For example, we were both born into families that speak American English at home, we were surrounded by English books and media growing up, and our entire education was in English. Even defining who counts as a “native” speaker can be refracted through other social identities. As college-educated white Americans, our English is never questioned, but the same is not true for many equally fluent people around the world.

 

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