Why shouldn’t journals publish translations of articles alongside the English version?

Update (14 April 2022): If you’re interested in the notion that something is lost when we default to English as the language of scientific communication, you may be interested in this reflective podcast by Shaun Cleaver that was prepared as part of the 2020 In beta unconference.

A few days ago I received a submission to OpenPhysio from someone who was clearly a non-English first language speaker. After a few rounds of email to make sure I understood the general structure and claims of the article, I decided that we’d go ahead and work together to tidy it up a bit, before sending it out for peer review. I know that reviewers can sometimes take on an editorial role as part of the process and wanted to make sure that the central ideas were clear.

However, it occurred to me that this may also be an opportunity to offer the author the option of preparing a translation of the article in their home language, to be published alongside the ‘original’ i.e. the English version. Authors go to a lot of effort to translate their work into English, which has this weird side-effect of closing it off to a population of non-English speakers, who may nonetheless have benefitted from reading it. I can only see upsides to this practice and almost no disadvantages, other than it adding a bit more work to the publishing process. And of course, authors would have to agree to take on the translation themselves (I’m talking from the context of a fee-free journal, like OpenPhysio, that wouldn’t be able to pay for this service).

There are no technical limitations that would prevent this. Making a second version of the article available is as simple as providing a link to the file. To start with, we could even say that the translation will be available as a ‘stripped back’ version, with no formatting and design i.e. it could simply be a PDF with the the original citation that points back to the canonical (English) version. Of course, the author can do this anyway but I think that making it available alongside the original would add some ‘credibility’ to the translation. This first iteration would just be a proof of concept. You can imagine that, over time, you could have it available in HTML (to help with discoverability), and also assign a DOI to the translated version to differentiate it from the canonical version. And you’d need to have a translator verify that the articles are the same.

I can’t think of any reasons for why we shouldn’t do this.

3 thoughts on “Why shouldn’t journals publish translations of articles alongside the English version?

  1. PAGE S MORAHAN

    Seems like a do-able first step – as long as the translation and the accepted article are the same.

  2. Shaun Cleaver

    I agree with you that there is no good reason against OpenPhysio publishing “translations” (which, in many cases, will in fact be the actual original).

    My only suggestion here is for you to go further in your reflection about what the “translation” actually is. To quote Germes & Husseini de Araújo (2016)*, Husseini de Araújo, “the product of the translation is something different [from the original work], something both hybrid and new” (p. 6).

    *”For A Critical Practice of Translation in Geography,” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies: https://acme-journal.org/index.php/acme/article/view/1086

    Our physiotherapy profession is in great trouble if it believes that all our knowledge must pass through the portal of the English language. The profession must be able to create and articulate its knowledge base in other languages if we want to keep up with diversity, let alone contribute to it. Your consideration of publishing “translations” is at least a small positive step.

  3. Wendy Walker

    This is such a good idea! It seems straightforward to implement and it would make an “open”’journal even more open and accessible.

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