—Maartje De Visser, Singapore Management University, Yong Pung How School of Law
[Editor’s Note: This is one of our biweekly ICONnect columns. For more information on our 2022 columnists, see here.]
The rise of English as the lingua franca is a well-known phenomenon that has affected many areas of our lives. When it comes to legal scholarship too, the current discourse is English-centered and conducted mainly through journals, monographs and edited volumes published by reputable publishing houses in English-speaking jurisdictions. Having a shared medium of communication holds promise for vastly expanding the academic comparative dialogue in depth and breadth as the pool of prospective participants is enlarged beyond those from Anglophone jurisdictions. The difficulty is realizing this vast potential. In my previous blogpost, I alluded to linguistic barriers that may affect the inclusion of narratives of the Global South in the comparative constitutional discourse. More generally, how many scholars from non-Anglophone jurisdictions (including in the Global North!) who study constitutional topics are sufficiently well-versed in English to produce the kind of academic work that meets the expectations of leading English journals and publishing houses? Even assuming the requisite linguistic ability exits, the willingness and time to may be lacking. Legal scholars are expected to contribute to the domestic constitutional discourse, critically evaluating new legislative or constitutional initiatives, facilitating judicial accountability by assessing the legal quality of domestic court decisions, or discussing the constitutional implications of major events in a country’s public or political life. Recent scholarship has put forward a stronger conception of the role of the constitutional academy as knowledge institutions or constitutional actors, playing a part in protecting constitutional democracy. In countries that have a small legal academy or those that are experiencing high levels of constitutionally salient activity, the domestic responsibilities for scholars may limit their capacity to (also) contribute to the wider comparative constitutional literature.
As such, while non-native speakers may eventually have a sustained advantage as they are able to take cognizance of materials from multiple jurisdictions, the fact remains that the mainstream English-centric field today is dominated by native speakers, whose interests in particular topics or legal systems have a formative influence on the content and direction of the field. Indeed, the existence of a lingua franca should not make us forget the continued existence and development of comparative constitutional law discourses in other languages. For the most part, those different national discourses exist and develop alongside, but not in conversation with, the English scholarship read and produced by the mainstream comparative constitutional community – and the latter is the poorer for it.Read the rest of this entry…