As an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) philosopher, I can't help but notice that the vast majority of analytic philosophers who publish in the top academic journals and for the top academic presses are native English speakers. Let me start with some data.
According to Wikipedia (I know... but I couldn't be bothered to find a more reputable source), around 430 million people speak English as their first language (which, assuming a world population of 7.125 billion people, means that Native English Speakers (NES) make up about 6% of the world population). English as a Second Language speakers, on the other hand, are between 470 million and 1 billion (i.e. 6.5%-14% of the world population).
What about analytic philosophy? Eric Schwitzgebel has recently posted a list of the 200 most cited authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. By my count, there are only two EFL philosophers in the top 50 (4%) and 6 in the top 100 (6%). Moreover, with the exception of Jeagwon Kim (who was born in 1934), they were all born before 1930. In the whole list, as far as I can tell, there is only one under-70 ESL philosopher (i.e. Thomas Pogge) and no EFL philosopher under-60. (This is a very rough count based on incomplete knowledge and I would welcome any and all corrections)
Data collected by Kieran Healy paints a similar picture. Healy posted a list of the 500 most cited items in four top general philosophy journals (Phil Review, JPhil, Noûs, and Mind) between 1993 and 2013. Even by the most generous count (i.e. including philosophers who moved to an English speaking country early in their lives such as Ernest Sosa and Bas van Fraassen), items authored by ESL philosophers constitute 6% of the top 100 items, 6.5% of the top 200 items, 5.3% of the top 300 items, and 5.8% of the top 500 items. All in all, on the most generous count, a total of 29 articles or books by 22 ESL philosophers can be found among the top 500 items cited in the last 20 years in what are arguably the top four generalist journals in analytic philosophy. (I list the items below. Again, corrections are welcome! NB: I did not count items from before 1900, which excluded a few items by, e.g., Frege and Kant but no more than 10 in total)
I think that analytic philosophers should find this data somewhat surprising (although few non-EFL philosophers seem to have noticed (but see here for an exception)). After all, many EFL philosophers are usually credited with being among the founders of analytic philosophy or its predecessors (Frege, Carnap, Wittgeinstein, and Popper are just a few illustrious example), so why did at some point analytic philosophy become mostly an NES business? I guess, it was partly a matter of historical and sociological contingency but, nevertheless, I think the question needs to be raised, especially in light of the fact that analytic philosophy has been widely practiced in non-Anglophone countries for a few decades now.
The data is not just surprising, however. It's also slightly alarming from a methodological point of view. Analytic philosophy (more than other forms of contemporary philosophy) aspires to be universal. When we try to come up with an analysis of, say, knowledge, usually we take ourselves to be analyzing a concept that we take to be universal, not a culturally/historically specific concept. In particular, we don't typically take ourselves to be formulating the truth-conditions of English sentences of the form 'S knows that p'. However, it's much easier to confuse knowledge with 'knowledge' if the vast majority of the people who are in the business of analyzing the concept of knowledge are also native English speakers. Just to pick one example, the suggestion that knowledge-how is a form of knowledge-that sounds particularly implausible to the ears of native speakers of languages that descend from Latin, as these languages use two different families of words to express the concept of knowledge (broadly construed), which descend from the Latin verbs 'sapere' and 'cognoscere'. However, only one of these families of words can be used to express knowledge-how. For example in Italian, I can say 'So come arrivare all'areoporto' [I know how to get to the airport] but I cannot say 'Conosco come arrivare all'areoporto'. What the implications of this are for the thesis that knowledge-how is a form of knowledge-that is unclear, but, as experimental philosophers have (I think correctly) argued recently, we have to be careful not to rely on intuitions that purport to be universal but are in fact culture- or language-specific. One way this could be so is when we rely exclusively on the way the English language carves the conceptual space to explore that space. Heidegger, apparently, used to think that the German language (and Ancient Greek) were particularly well-suited for philosophy. Most analytic philosophers would probably scoff at this suggestion. However, they behave as if English is the best-suited language for philosophy.
Finally and on a more personal note, as a EFL philosopher, I find this data discouraging. I can't help but feel that one reason why there so few EFL philosophers on those lists is that only few EFL philosophers can write as stylishly, captivatingly, and persuasively as the best writers among NES philosophers and that you cannot really achieve the level of philosophical influence needed to be on one of those lists without being able to write that well in English. Sure, some of the most accomplished writers of the English literature were EFL speakers (Conrad and Nabokov come to mind) and some EFL philosophers write superbly in English, but, for the rest of us, doing philosophy in a different language will always be to some extent a struggle. I know I will never be able to write like, say, David Lewis (one of my favourite writers among analytic philosopher and a philosopher whose philosophical success is, I suspect, in no small part due to his ability as a writer). In fact, I shouldn't even try to write like Lewis (as the results would be quite frankly disastrous), but I would be fooling myself if I were to convince myself that my inability to write in English as well and as fluently as my colleagues who are native English speaker were not an obstacle to my work getting more recognition (or did not mean that I have to work longer and harder to write half as well). Consider just this. Competition for space in the top journals is fierce and editors are basically looking for reasons to reject papers. When choosing between two otherwise identical papers, an editor would probably be more inclined to choose the better written one over the other even if content-wise the two papers were indistinguishable. I would be surprised if stylistic considerations did not play a role in the decisions of NES editors and referees, at least at the level of implicit bias (and possibly even on those of EFL editors and referees).
Where to go from here? As I said, this is only the first in a series of posts I intend to write on the topic and I have some suggestions, but my hope is that, as a profession, we start thinking about how to change things, because, as it is the case when it comes to other issues of inclusivity, at the end of the day, we are all going to benefit from a broader philosophical community.
PS I love you, English language! (No, seriously, I have always been secretly in love with the English language and would not/could not write about philosophy in any other language. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean I'm particularly good at it or that it's any easier for me :-) )
UPDATE: For the sake of clarity, in light of Filippo's comment below, I have switched the labels for non-native and native English speakers from "ESL" and "EFL" to, respectively, "EFL" (English as a Foreign Language) and "NES" (Native English Speakers).
Items by ESL Philosophers on Kieran Healy's list.
- 39 (37) (Kim 1993)
- 57 (32) (Wittgeinstein 1953)
- 61 (31) (Wittgeinstein ???) (I assume this is the Tractatus)
- 67 (29) (Margalit 1979)
- 75 (28) (Almog 1989)
- 86 (26) (Recanati 1993)
- 109 (23) (Benacerraf 1965)
- 120 (22) (van Fraassen 1980)*
- 141 (20) (Sosa 1991)*
- 141 (20) (Carnap 1956)
- 141 (20) (van Fraassen 1989)*
- 195 (17) (van Fraassen 1984)*
- 195 (17) (Widerker 1995)
- 211 (16) (Hempel 1965)
- 233 (15) (Margalit 1979)
- 262 (14) (Hintikka 1962)
- 324 (12) (Sosa 2007)*
- 324 (12) (Tarski 1956)
- 363 (11) (van Fraassen 1995)*
- 363 (11) (Cappelen 2005)
- 363 (11) (Sher 1991)
- 363 (11) (Benacerraf 1983)
- 363 (11) (Kim 1973)
- 435 (10) (Arntzenius 2003)
- 435 (10) (Haji 1993)
- 435 (10) (Gärdenfors 1988)
- 435 (10) (Ramachandran 1997)*
- 435 (10) (Gupta 1993)*
- 435 (10) (Vendler 1967)