Use of national languages in scientific publications

Three core researchers (Juneman Abraham, Dasapta Erwin Irawan and Surya Dalimunthe) in the Indonesian open science movement published a piece in the Jakarta Post the other day: Democratizing knowledge for our dream.

Dasapta Erwin’s post on Twitter:

Scanned version of the piece in Jakarta Post:

Coming from Sweden, a small country in the north with a tiny population of 10 million, I’m not a fan of using national languages in scientific publications. I have published a few times in Swedish, when the content is not really of relevance to an international audience. But I believe publishing in national languages generally hamper development. Regardless of population size.

For example, as mentioned in the Jakarta Post piece, there is a lot of research published in German. My small research area of deception detection through analysis of verbal statements has lots of publications in German because one of the main tools (CBCA) for assessing statements that way come from Germany. However, the rest of us can’t read it because it is written in German. For this reason, the rest of us have been doing research that has actually already been done in Germany - a complete waste of time and resources (unlike direct or conceptual replications when knowing of previous research). I believe this has really hampered our field and continues to slower the progress.

Thus, I would argue that improved English education in Indonesian schools would be the preferred route, rather than having more countries adopting their national languages in scholarly publications.

I agree with that publishing in English is important for Openess Movements from my own experience.

Studying in both countries, Korea and Switzerland, I realized that there were much more abundant resources in English.
Sometimes I felt frustrated about the difference of amounts of resources.

Korea has a reputation that we put a lot of efforts on learning English, but we are still not used to reading academic materials in English.
I think along with improving English itself, training to access to reading academic resources in English is also important.

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Only using English will raise the barriers for people without good English skills and lower their efficiency and the quality of their work. Meaning less quality research will get done and published.

How about some translation project that aims to translate all abstracts, globally, into English? Then getting an overview of the global state of a subject will be greatly aided and the risk of missing relevant research lowered.

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Translating abstracts is not enough, and not even “good enough”, because abstracts don’t include the information you need as a researcher. It’s not considered acceptable to even refer to a paper if you have only read the abstract: methods and results are the crucial parts.

I would be OK with adding a couple of languages to an official list of academic languages, but having everyone writing in their own language is currently not a solution. That will only work once we have such high-quality automatic translation software that all language barriers are removed.


Won’t the abstracts in many cases be enough to decide what to translate in full when the need arises? There are 1-hour translation services with many languages and reasonable fees.

No, it will often not be enough to decide what to translate. It is also important that the translation is pretty exact and very precise: the professional terms used are important and it can be interpreted completely differently if they are translated in the wrong way.

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As Indonesian I agree publishing in English. Based on my degree experience, I had to make researches for two semesters and had to publish journals into two languages. English and Bahasa Indonesia. However, it depends on campus standard.

We had English lessons since we were kid but because people don’t really use as daily language, so many of us not really familiar. But in my university itself, students required to passed TOEFL in high score if they wanted to graduate (well, it’s because one of Top University in Indonesia and Southeast Asia). So students must be able to do presentation in Bahasa Indonesia and English about research and journals they made. Struggled? yes of course. But in the end, it won’t useless.

But based Jakarta Post link that has been shared , I think that article has political influences during Indonesia upcoming president election lol :joy: (democracy and stuff) :scream::roll_eyes:

Apart of above and as millennial, it’s necessary for us to be more open mind and keep improving English, because in the future we will face economic globally. We will meet people around the world and probability to work together. Without forgetting Indonesian roots, culture, language and the meaning of independence itself.

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I tried to see with my personal glasses.
Here, an example from Indonesia, the culture to publish or let’s say to put our (scientific) thought or result in public is just happening recently. This issue was brought because the national publications are counted very low compared to some of our neighbor country. This triggered our govt to boost the publication by supporting more scientific event, conferences and etc related to making more international publications. As a result, more publications are out there nowadays.

However, there is a tendency that the quantity is not followed by quality. It can be caused by many variables. Some of them are the culture to publish and using an international language (in this case English) on a daily basis. Therefore, here, I am a bit anxious to push a lot to publish with international language without considering a good principle, structure, or concept when preparing a publication. Maybe, it will be easier to learn to publish in national language first. Then, move to learn to publish with international language later rather than pushing or aiming for international publication directly.

But, I am not sure which one would be best. It’s great to start this discussion. Since every country/ people may have its own purpose when it comes to publishing their work.


Ah, super interesting! Actually, the exact conversation surrounding the use of national language vs ‘international language’ vs translation has been happening for a few years now in Indonesian literary community. In order to make Indonesian writer’s work more accessible for everyone, many publishers started to boost their translation project (Bahasa Indonesia to English). However, this led Indonesian lit world into another problematic situation; many narratives are just lost in translation as translators tend to try too hard to ‘fit’ the story into western readers’ preconceived (and inaccurate) notion about Indonesia, neutral gendered characters in poetry vanished as many translators are still reluctant to use ‘they/them’ for singular character (in Bahasa Indonesia, pronoun knows no gender), and the overall competition between the writers just became very unhealthy (e.g. books that are translated into English considered to have a sort of superior literary excellence which is of course not true). So I guess similar things could happen too in academic journal publishing world if we don’t move forward to encourage people in academia to write their journals originally in English. Oh, and of course introducing academic materials in English should be done too in the earlier stage of education - as Ruri mentioned that it takes an effort to even read (and digest) academic journals in English - instead of in the 3rd or 4th year of uni like I did.


Can I ask from which countries were the translators from? If natives were the only ones translating, could that help to keep the original narrative and meanings within the content?

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Research is useless if it’s not communicated and I think It’s important to publish in one language.
A way to support publications from those that haven’t developed their language skills is to stop wanting the academics to write their papers alone, it should be more accepted to have professional help for scientific writing - this is very common in clinical fields so that medical doctors don’t spend their time writing papers at each new interesting case they encoutner.

When hiring academics, we have to stop looking for people that have strong expertise in their field, and fantastic writing skills and amazing oral presentation skills, and so on… We can do much better with teams of individuals with various sets of skills that work hand in hand.


I completely agree.

First of all, I’m agree with @dekanggit opinion, the issue framing in the article itself is leaning into political language,
However, in my opinion in social science, for scientific publications that are related with community development would be better using the national language. As an Indonesian, I think it could serve as a ‘mirror’ not only for Indonesian in general but also for the community to reflect on themselves through the third party opinion (the social scientist in a community as third party).
In that sense, I’m very much agree with @florence.cotel , implementation in the society get more counts.

I’m undecided as to whether researchers should publish in their native language or English. If my native language were not English I probably would publish most of my papers in my native language in a local journal and publish short English papers on my work in international conferences. I’d do that because scientific translation is too rare at the moment for non-English language research to be visible internationally, even for abstracts.

Scientific translation is an interest of mine. In my own research I try hard to do a comprehensive literature review and this includes searching the non-English language literature. I have a lot of experience identifying whether a paper has an English translation and tracking down English translations. See this long Stack Exchange answer I wrote. Scientific translation seems to have died down considerably since the late 1980s due to the end of the Cold War. This is a shame as good research not in English still exists.

I’ve published translations of 7 articles which I translated myself using Google Translate (with heavy editing). I published the translations in my university’s open access repository. Since I don’t know German or Russian, the original languages of the papers, I marked sentences that I am unsure of the translation of. People like to complain about the quality of automatic translation software, but for the most part the results are intelligible. Translation this way is tedious, and in my experience very few academics think it is worthwhile, but I believe it’s worthwhile for me. I’ve avoided duplicating quite a lot of work through comprehensive reviews and translation as needed. (The fact that much of what I do is typically viewed as unproductive to traditional academics has helped motivate me to go independent.)

English abstracts of non-English language papers are common in some fields, e.g., math has Mathematical Reviews, which is excellent and fairly comprehensive. Russians have Referativny Zhurnal for nearly all fields, which was quite good until the end of the USSR.

In my own work I have found English abstracts to be useful to identify non-English language works to translate. While this is not perfect, it is much better than nothing. And, in my experience the main problem is the abstract not describing something of interest, not the accuracy of the translation.

With that being said, translation is a hard problem that requires both domain and language knowledge. It is very rare for someone to have both! Typically professional translators have only the latter, and this frequently leads to literal translations which may not make sense in English. Often the reader can figure out what was intended, e.g., a recent translated title I encountered is “The Problem of Closing in the Theory of Turbulence”. Readers familiar with turbulence would know immediately that the translator should have used the word “closure” instead of “closing”. I could probably make a long list of similar issues, some of which are more consequential. But the typical case is like the example I gave, where the error is obvious to someone with domain knowledge.

I’ll agree with @florence.cotel in that it would be best to have a relatively small number of people focused more on communicating the results of research to an international audience than for everyone to learn English.

As a side note, one of the more famous independent researchers, Julian Barbour, worked as a scientific translator.


i’ve responded to almost all the replies above via google docs… :slight_smile: much easier to respond to each reply… :slight_smile:

just click here:

you can reply to me directly at this forum or at that link… :slight_smile:

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This is difficult, I also find myself using google translate a lot on old papers and while I’m often happy with the results I suspect some of the nuances get missed. For instance, while learning Portuguese I’ve also used google translate on various things and notice that the tense and subject of a verb (which are included in the conjugation) often come out wrong, and negations are sometimes missed. For reasons like this, I suspect that non-english speaking professionals who want to make use of scientific publications where the correct interpretation is critical (i.e. doctors, engineers) are likely not to trust google translated documents. However, I’ve also seen published articles written in English by non-native speakers that aren’t much better than google translate, so I lean towards the ideal situation being most scientists writing in their native language and then having a professional translation done by a bilingual domain expert.

I suspect that the importance of good scientific translation will become increasingly more important over the coming decades as more work gets published in Chinese. I rarely look at Chinese papers, and I wonder how well automatic translation does on logograms? A friend of mine visited a Japanese institute a few years ago and was interested in a paper, but found that the google translate version didn’t make much sense. He asked a PhD student there to translate the abstract paragraph and thought nothing more of it, but then felt like he’d asked to much when the student came back a few days later with a two page translation!

@surya thanks for commenting on this thread in the GDoc, I had a quick look at it and agree with most of your points. However, despite being easier I’m not sure if copying the thread to an external site to make comments is a good idea, as your comments then become detached from the thread, and can’t really be built on in the context of the forum (i.e. they won’t be searchable and can’t be linked back to the original posters with @'s). I’m going to generally suggest not doing this, but wonder what you think?


thanks @Gavin. i wanted to respond to all posts given the issue is dear to my heart, hence the use of google doc for its highlighting and commenting feature. :slight_smile:

i think this is a problem only if a person is late to the discussion and there are so many responses. if the person is responding real-time, then it’s much easier to stick to the page.

on another post, in which i wasn’t late to the discussion, and did indeed respond on the page, still i used (again, for its highlight and comment feature) to respond.

i then point to the on the page, much like the pointing to the google doc. but lately, i have not felt the need to use either. perhaps it’s a matter of mood. :slight_smile:

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