Writing for Impact Week: follow-up 1

Whereas in normal cognitive development, all children learn to speak their native language or mother tongue (tongue being the operative word), learning to write even in one’s native language is not a skill everyone achieves (UNESCO, 2015). Learning academic language, however, is many steps removed from casual writing as it involves the development a set of attitudes, techniques and cultural approaches, and that that development needs to be co-ordinated with the concurrent development in an early-career researcher’s academic interests and their emerging academic persona. I was not making any comment about which native language was involved.

I am, of course, delighted that I happen to have been born at a time when the co-incidence of the rise of English as a lingua franca and the land that we now know as Scotland generally uses English. This is my luck. I do not intend to detract whatsoever from anyone from writing in their own native language or writing in English as their second or third language. Actually, I feel a sense of loss that Latin has lost its lingua franca status. Latin enabled the use of a second language that is in some ways more politically neutral than English yet that retains the power of a lingua francaenabled (in Europe at that time) the dissemination of ideas amongst intellectual equals without recourse to the benefit of a mother tongue. So a few years ago I began studying Latin as a personal habit to remind myself of the difficulties of second (or third in my case) language writing and to have a tool that tests myself about foreign language writing. By that I mean that until I can imagine writing an academic article in Latin, I will always realise the gulf between my own luck and the hard efforts non-native speakers of English have had to put in just to appear in English print (and on this forum board).

M asked this question;

I want to further your discussion by also offering you to consider that there are typically two types of universities: those that emphasize research and publishing and those that emphasize teaching. While in the case of the former, “publish or perish” may be a valid approach, in the case of the latter, the publication expectations are typically low and expectations for the publishing outlets (e.g., publishing in journals with high impact factor) are not as stringent. What differences in terms of writing would you expect to see?

Answering your question is tricky because it assumes a system of employment and rewards that is largely alien to the Japanese higher education system. In April I took up a tenured post at a research university after 11 years in a teaching institution, and I can speak towards both types. There is no publish-or-perish in Japan as most full-time professors have tenure—’tenure’ basically meaning life-time employment as a government officer and not a reflection of academic prowess. Until 2004 Japanese national universities were de facto agencies of the government with teaching and research staff were employed on life-time ‘contacts’ as government officers (Arimoto, 2015). The private university system is modelled on that of the national universities and features many of the same components and academic cultural aspects. This background means that unless and until Japanese universities adopt outside standards of employment, assessment metrics, promotion criteria and so on, the question of publication type remains somewhat moot.

That, however, is somewhat of an overgeneralisation. Japan does share many of the attributes found overseas. Those who publish in high impact journals will of course be seen as being better researchers. But without the publish-or-perish threat hanging over them, the worst that can happen to a non-writer is a poor reputation and more committee work, not employment termination. All of this means that writers may more freely select the publishing outlet of their choice and build their careers accordingly.

K is on this board. I wonder if the image I have painted is also relevant in the south of Japan where I have heard that more foreign ideas of employment and writing expectation enter Japan more easily than up here in the conservative north.


Arimoto, A., Cummings, W. K., Huang, F., & Shin, J. C. (2015). The Changing Academic Profession in Japan. Cham: Springer.http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-09468-7

UNESCO. (2015). Education: Literacy rate. UNESCO. Retrieved on July 3 2016 from http://data.uis.unesco.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=EDULIT_DS&popupcustomise=true&lang=en

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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