Global English in the Humanities? A
Longitudinal Citation Study of Foreign-
Language Use by Humanities Scholars
Charlene Kellsey and Jennifer E. Knievel
The authors counted 16,138 citations within 468 articles found in four journals from history, classics, linguistics, and philosophy in the years 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992, and 2002 in order to identify trends in foreign language citation behavior of humanities scholars over time. The number of foreign-language sources cited in the four subjects has not declined over time. Consistent levels of foreign-language citation from humanities scholars indicate a need for U.S. research libraries to continue to purchase foreign-language materials and to recruit catalogers and collection development specialists with foreign-language knowledge.
The foreign-language education community has documented a sharp decline since the 1960s in the percentage of college undergraduates studying languages, most severely in the 1980s, from a high of 16.5 per 100 students in 1965 to 7.9 in 1998.
Contributing to this decline was the drop in numbers of colleges with language entrance and/or graduation requirements. Similar studies also noted steep declines
in the proportional numbers of college students taking French and German, the most commonly used non-English languages for humanities scholarship, versus large gains in the proportion taking Spanish...
Anecdotal evidence also indicates a decline in the number of students entering graduate studies with the requisite language skills for research in their fields.
A broader study by W. J. Hutchins, L. J. Pargeter, and W. L. Saunders used several ways of measuring, according to their subtitle, “the place of foreign language
materials in the research activity of an academic community.” Using the University of Sheffield in England as a case study, they sampled the book collection and articles in the journal collection...
Items borrowed by humanities faculty (excluding modern language departments) over the course of a year were found to be 81.5 percent in English, 4.3 percent in French, 4.2 percent in German, and 5.6 percent in Latin or Greek, with other languages under 1 percent (number of borrowers = 69). Their citation analysis looked at fify-one publications and a total of 5,017 citations and found that 61.7 percent
were to English publications. The average number of foreign-language citations per publication (which included books, articles, and theses) was 18.8 and the most-cited languages were German (11.4%), French (5.35 %), Spanish (0.75 %), and Italian (0.4%)...
This study focuses on one journal in each of four fields in the humanities: history,
philosophy, classics, and linguistics. These fields were chosen to represent a variety of research approaches in the humanities. Because the fields of literature are language specific, we did not include a literature field.
Though the data collected for this study yielded many interesting results, the focus of this article is the usage of foreign language sources. Contrary to our expectations upon beginning this study, the data do not show a consistent trend of either increasing or decreasing usage of foreign-language sources.
Finally, of interest to this study, was the distribution of foreign-language sources.
Over all years and all disciplines of the study, English represented 78.6 percent of all citations and foreign citations represented 21.3 percent of all citations.
Of the foreign languages, German and French were the dominant cited languages with 7.8 and 5.7 percent of the total citations, respectively. The next most commonly cited language was Italian with 2.0 percent. All other languages tracked were minimal.
Another interesting result of this study is the finding that German and French
remain the most important non-English languages of scholarship for the humanities.
As with the citation analysis in the Hutchins, Pargeter, and Saunders study, this study found that German was more often cited than French. The percentages for
German, French, and Spanish are slightly lower in this study than in the Hutchins,
Pargeter, and Saunders study, but the percentage for Italian is higher...
The implications of the study results for cataloging and collection development needs in U.S. research libraries are worrisome, especially because of the decline in the study of German in the United States. Although comprehensive statistics for high school enrollments in German are difficult to find because of the decentralized public school system in the United States, Roger P. Minert reported a decline from 3.3 percent in 1968 to 2.7 percent in 1990 of public school students who were studying German.28 Jeremy D. Finn reported that in 1998, 66.3 percent of public schools did not offer German, 37 percent did not offer French, and only 4.7 percent did not offer Spanish. College German and French departments have shrunk as Spanish departments have grown.