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The marrying of Czech (Central European) and English (Anglo-Saxon) approaches to academic writing is vital for Czech scholars seeking to communicate their work in the English-language “scholarly conversation” of international journals, conferences and online outlets.  But how can one translate thinking-writing in one’s native language to the sometimes very different conventions of international English academic style? And what precisely are these conventions?

One purpose of this blog is to engage with these and related questions in the specific context of Czech academic writing in the social sciences. The blog form suits this aim well, for any answers can only be piecemeal and provisional, accumulated and developed over time. We do not expect to “nail” English academic writing style descriptively or prescriptively, but we may hope, more modestly, to sketch some rules of thumb. An allied purpose of the blog, and one more immediately practical, is to explain specific aspects of English language usage that may help the non-native English speaker in developing clarity and precision in their writing. Cautionary examples will be garnered from Czech writing in English encountered “in the field”.

The following table of significant differences between Czech and English academic writing styles is a (crudely) compressed digest of observations made by Čmejrková [1] based on a corpus of linguistics journal articles by Czech authors in English. Subsequent blog posts will enlarge on each of these differences and give concrete examples from academic texts. The writing choices implied by such stylistic differences perhaps go towards explaining some of the problems – beyond questions of vocabulary and grammar – Czech social scientists may encounter in composing texts in English.

English Czech
Writer –
Text –
Reader
Writer – Text – Reader
as
Sender – Message – Receiver.
Writer responsibility.
Writer – Text – Reader
as
Author – Representation – Interpreter.
Reader responsibility.
AuthorAuthor more present
and assertive.
Strategic use of first person.
Author more hidden
and tentative.
Preference for impersonal constructions.
ReaderReaders as academic peers,
close at hand as interlocutor in
dialogue, coming to text for own purposes.
Readers as indefinite and held distant, coming to text to learn what author knows.
Text
macrostructure
Standardized, featuring expected
rhetorical moves.
Shaped by thematic
development particular
to content.
ParagraphsParagraphs as the basic unit of developing argument and ideas. Paragraphs of variable length,
indeterminate boundaries.
StylisticsPrescriptive: writing as a craft
that can be learned.
Descriptive: writing as
spontaneous and intuitive.

In [2] a pithy formulation of English, American, French, German and Japanese intellectual styles is given in the form of questions, respectively:
How do you operationalize it?
How do you document it?
Peut-on dire cela en bon français? [Is it possible to say this in French?]
Wie können Sie das zurückführen – ableiten? [How can you trace this back – deduce it from first principles?]
Donatano monka desuka? [Who is your master?]

Any offers for how Czech academic style might be similarly characterized?

References:
[1] Čmejrková, S.: Academic writing in Czech and English. In: Ventola, E., Mauranen, A. (eds): Academic writing. Intercultural and Textual Issues. Amsterdam – Philadelphia: Benjamins 1996, 137-152.
[2] Galtung, J. (1981). Structure, culture, and intellectual style: An essay comparing saxonic, teutonic, gallic and nipponic approaches. Information (International Social Science Council), 20(6), 817-856.

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Andrew Goodall

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