Language Diversity at AAS Conferences

The Association for Asian Studies has grown significantly to become a leading global platform for scholarly communication and the dissemination of cutting-edge knowledge. Its membership and its purview are truly global. To expand the pool of potential participants and appeal to the full membership of the field, the AAS Board is considering alternatives that will bring the use of Asian languages for presentation and discussion at our conferences. While members use primary sources in local languages to collect data and conduct their research, the AAS Annual and Regional Conferences are formally monolingual with all presentations in English, the only language sanctioned by the organization.

This new initiative on language diversity is in line with the AAS’s strategic plans to cultivate greater engagement with scholars in Asia and beyond. To strengthen its global presence and connectivity, AAS has strategically adopted the concept of “global Asias.” Christine Yano, former President of AAS, first proposed to apply this pluralized concept of Asias to the work and impact of AAS. She points out the importance of recognizing and acknowledging “the various diasporic communities situated around the world with connections to Asia and each other, based in and through the mobilities that shape many people’s lives.” The timeliness of such a concept is evident in the dramatic growth of research studies that address the trans-geographic and transcultural dynamics in which the richness of languages is deeply embedded.

Language diversity at AAS conferences offers a number of potential benefits. It will allow scholars whose primary language is not English to share their latest scholarship on the Asian region, fostering a more dynamic exchange of research. It will bring into the discussion buried and lesser-known historical and contemporary issues from Asia that can inspire new perspectives and methodologies. It will also strengthen the network of scholars—both established and emerging scholars and students who can benefit from guidance and collaboration with scholars in Asia in their fieldwork.

Recognizing the worth of language diversity is an important step in rethinking the global production and distribution of knowledge and the political economy of scholarly communication. Language plays a significant role in everything we do. Relevant questions we might ask include: Whose knowledge is valued, circulated, and cited? What information and data are recorded and analyzed? Who and what institutions play a major role in shaping theoretical, conceptual, and methodological trends? Language, historically speaking, is at the heart of these questions.

The AAS plans to offer language diversity panels as an experiment, beginning with the 2025 AAS Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio. As we begin this experiment, there will undoubtedly be missteps, but here is a brief summary of how they might work.

First and foremost, the role of the chairs or panel organizers will be crucial, as they will oversee the organization of the panels from the proposal submission to the actual presentations. They will be responsible for arranging for each paper in the panel: 1) an abstract in English (so the Program Committee can evaluate the proposals) and 2) presentation slides in English summarizing key points (to help attendees who may not understand the local language). The chair will also be responsible for overseeing the Q&A session for the panel, interpreting or arranging for interpretation of questions and answers. A post-conference survey will solicit feedback from all participants. That feedback will be critical for improving these panels.

I hope that some AAS members will consider taking advantage of this new opportunity, which will not only enrich our scholarship but also help us create a more vibrant, inclusive, and equitable learning community.