Reviewing in French

At conferences in my professional field, the number two topic of conversation over beers is how poorly funded scientific research is in the United States right now.  The number one topic of conversation is complaining about our reviewing loads.  Reviewing papers is one of the constant burdens in academia, but you don’t want to say no to a request to review, as being invited to review papers is one of the things that marks your transition into a fully-functioning professional.  So, we all have constant requests to review conference papers, journal articles, grants, book chapters, book proposals, books—on and on.

I have a paper to review for a French workshop, which led to me getting this email:

Voici un article à relire pour la JE ATALA Ethique et TAL.  Vous avez jusqu’au 20 octobre pour m’envoyer votre retour (accepté ou non, avec un commentaire).  Les articles ne sont pas anonymes, mais votre relecture le sera (vous êtes deux relecteurs par papiers).

First of all, Zipf’s Law brings us some vocabulary issues, as usual:

  • relire: normally, this is to reread, read over, or to proofread.  Here it is “review,” in the sense in which we use that word in academia—to read and provide an assessment.
  • le retour: basically, return—but, in this case, it’s an event that is the argument of another event—pour m’envoyer votre retour.
  • la relecture: normally, this is a rereading, proofreading/editing/revision, or a reinterpretation.  In this case, it’s a review in the academic sense—your assessment of the submission.
  • le relecteur: reviewer.

One of the fun things about today’s words is that they’re phonetically quite interesting. Note the high front rounded vowel in relecture and the mid front rounded vowel in relecteur, both of them before r—these are words that will basically be impossible for an American (like, say, me) to pronounce.  Another fun point is that the e after the initial r in all of these words can be deleted in the spoken form (click through to for the transcriptions), leading to an initial rl cluster—if you think that the French r is tough for Americans to pronounce, try putting it in a consonant cluster!

Next, there are some grammatical issues:

  • What is the function of the le in votre relecture le sera?
  • Note the use of par to mean “per.”  In a previous post, we looked at the use of par to mean “by”—here we have another sense.

You might be wondering how you could possibly review an article that’s not written in your native language.  In fact, scientific papers are routinely reviewed by non-native speakers, at least in English.  It’s the international language of science today, and many reviewers are not native speakers.  Without these non-native-speaker reviewers, the system couldn’t possibly handle the strain of the amount of reviewing that needs to be done.


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