Local Linguists Mastering Academic Writing in English: Seeking Explanations in Sociocultural Contexts

Local Linguists Mastering Academic Writing in English: Seeking Explanations in Sociocultural Contexts

Irina Khoutyz (Kuban State University, Russia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1697-2.ch008


This chapter describes the differences in how scholars present their findings in Research Articles (RA) in international journals in English and in local journals in Russian. It also attempts to present the reasons for these differences, seeking explanations in the sociocultural contexts in which these RAs were written. To achieve this aim, six RAs in English and six RAs in Russian, published in peer reviewed international and local journals, were examined. The analysis draws upon the theory of contrastive rhetoric, which stresses the necessity of studying texts in the contexts of society. The methodology used to unveil discursive conventions of RAs relies on a contrastive approach, which identified the structural differences and linguistic features of RAs in both English and Russian. The conclusion is made that the RAs differ in terms of writer / reader responsibility, form / content orientation, and reader engagement level. These differences are a result of sociocultural environments that affect the process of identity construction in academic discourse.
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The Challenge of Changing Publishing Cultures

As English has become a lingua franca of the academic community, and its knowledge a basic qualification for modern academics, much is being said about how the use of English affects discourses within local and international academic domains. The increased academic exchange, the growing cultural diversity of student composition (Hyland, 2009), and the necessity to share up-to-date research at the international level are some of the reasons for the scholarly interest in academic discourse. These changes in educational domains have affected academic publishing, most of which is presented in English to be heard or read at the international level. As Canagarajah (2002b, p. 34) points out: “the Anglophone grip on the publishing industry is well documented”. Indeed, more than ten years ago, publications in English already constituted about 75% of all Research Articles (RAs) (Canagarajah, 2002b).

The growing pressure on local scholars to publish in international peer-reviewed journals can be explained by the need to integrate into the international scientific community to bring an awareness of the most recent research conducted globally. It also offers academics the possibility of gaining access to international scholarly journals to increase the Hirsch citation index, which is currently the international standard for measuring a scholar’s productivity.

Russian academics are no exception to this trend. Officials of the Ministry of Education, as well as university management, began to introduce incentives in early 2013 to encourage them to publish in international peer-reviewed journals. However, there are a number of reasons why Russian scholars face numerous obstacles when publishing their research.

Firstly, according to the research conducted by the English First company (EF), Russia holds 36th place with respect to its English knowledge rating among 63 countries which corresponds to a low level of the English language knowledge. Russia’s English Proficiency Index (EPI), according to the EF website, equals 50,43. This places Russia in terms of its English knowledge at the bottom of the list of European countries with the EF EPI lower only in Ukraine and Turkey (EF EPI). Although Russians from such cities as Moscow and St. Petersburg speak English better than people from large cities in Germany and Belgium, on average, the knowledge of those who are 30-40 years old is very poor. Those who are 18-22 years old demonstrate the best knowledge of English, which is typical, according to the research, of the countries with recent economic and educational reforms (Konukhova, 2012). It is reasonable to suppose that university professors are unable to adequately participate in the life of the international academic community because they do not speak English and even if they do, often their knowledge is not enough to communicate at international conferences and adequately express their ideas in writing.

Secondly, the peer-review culture in the Russian academic environment has been very weak (Anderson, 2012; Yudkevich, 2012). The acceptance of RAs to local peer-reviewed journals is often determined by proper formatting, the timely paid fee, and an easily obtained reference from a reputable scholar in the same field. As a result, “many journals do not check the research quality but rather publish all material presented in proper formatting and paid for” (Yudkevich, 2012).

Most importantly, the academic writing traditions in Russia, as well as in other non-English-speaking countries, are different from what is expected of a research paper by international English-language journals. These differences stem from writers’ sociocultural backgrounds, which are reflected in their thought patterns and language use (Canagarajah, 2002b; Clyne, 1987; Khoutyz, 2013; Shen, 1989).

This idea that sociocultural context affects the way language is used (for instance, see Bowe & Martin, 2013), is certainly not new. It has long been established that the presentation of ideas in written and oral discourse is culturally predetermined (Bowe & Martin, 2013; Clyne, 1987). This takes us back to contrastive rhetoric theory, which stresses the necessity of studying texts in the contexts in which they were written. Drawing upon the research in contrastive and intercultural rhetoric, this chapter attempts to determine the main differences between RAs published in international English-language journals and those published in local journals by Russian scholars.

To achieve this aim, the main theoretical developments of contrastive rhetoric studies are first described. Then the methods of research, based on these studies, are explained. After that, having analyzed the RAs published in English and in Russian, their typical characteristics and differences are uncovered. Having summed up the differences that might prevent local linguists from publishing in international English-speaking journals, the conclusion is made that the analyzed RAs differ in terms of writer/reader responsibility, form/content orientation, and reader engagement level.

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