From time to time I receive missives from frustrated authors complaining about the linguistic policy of EJIL – we are an English-language journal, though, as seen in my other editorial item on statistics, a majority of our published articles come from non-English-speaking countries. Here is the pertinent sentence from a recent letter:
It is a shame that the EJIL forces all the authors to write in English – there is indeed in my eyes nothing European in such a stance. That is also the reason why I usually categorically refuse to write for your journal;
Here are some excerpts from my reply to the author:
OUP forwarded to me your angry email of December 15th. I am sorry you find our policies so frustrating that you decided to express yourself as you did.
There is no easy solution to the problem you raise given the linguistic diversity in Europe. EJIL started as an English-French Journal. There were two problems with that solution. First, many colleagues in Germany, Italy, Spain etc. found a one language solution more acceptable than a two language solution – the other language being French. They did not think it any more ‘European’ and just a hangover from a post war political era which exploited a moment of Anglo-French domination. Whether right or wrong, the resentment was quite real. To exacerbate the problem, though we made huge efforts to promote EJIL in France (and Belgium) we had very, very few submissions from French authors, vastly fewer than those coming from German and Italian colleagues, which made it all the more difficult to explain the two language solution of English and French.
For a while we toyed with the extraordinarily expensive idea of translations. We even tried it for a while. It was a colossal flop – authors were endlessly unhappy with the translations and with the length of time the process took. Articles appeared in ‘translator’s’ English, which read like official documents of the UN, not the living voice of an author. We also realized that we could not afford the translation services of a quality that would satisfy our readers and authors.
We have always had a majority of non-English speakers on our Board of Editors and at the time we finally decided to settle on English, the Editor in Chief was a French native speaker (Renaud Dehousse, currently a Professor at Science Po.)
We reasoned as follows. As a first language English has no intrinsic merit over any other, not least the other major European Languages such as French, German, Spanish or Italian. As a second language it is vastly more common, by a factor of 1:10 by some estimates, than any other language. In a way, by publishing in English, we are offering our non-native English authors the chance of having their work reach a vast audience which they otherwise might not have had if writing in their own language. EJIL is one of the most successful legal journals of Oxford University Press, if not its most successful. Its list of subscribers, individual and institutional, paper and electronic, stand alone or bundled, is measured in the thousands – far more, as far as I know, than any other international law journal in Europe. There were close to 400,000(!) downloads of its articles last year alone from all over the world. We are unaware of any other international legal journal with anything close to these numbers.
It thus does not surprise me that consistently we publish in EJIL more articles written by non-English-speaking writers (of which around 70% hail from Europe) than by English-speaking writers. Although, as you note, it is more difficult for them, they understand the resonance that publishing in EJIL gives their work and thus find the trouble worthwhile. I would add that EJIL has emerged as a veritable European voice, and counter-weight (in English) to the American Journal of International Law. Our Editorial policy, style of publication and selection of authors and subjects is very different to AJIL. EJIL also provided the springboard for the establishment of ESIL – the European Society of International Law – another important development in the field.
I was saddened that you ‘categorically’ refuse to publish in EJIL because of our language policy. It is a great loss to a vast number of readers who, unfortunately and scandalously – but such is the world – do not read French. I am an admirer of your work, notably the impressive … and would like to see more of it in EJIL. I hope you might consider reconsidering your categorical decision in the light of the above. It will be our gain.