Global Digital Networking in Spanish. The COMUN-ES Platform

Javier Muñoz-Basols
COMUN-ES is the first platform designed to foster collaboration among researchers on Spanish language. Its creation came at a key moment: just before the COVID-19 pandemic, which in 2020 caused 90% of educational contexts to stop face-to-face classes and switch to the virtual mode (UNESCO, 2020). This had concrete implications for teaching, but it also impacted the field of research. It meant the cancellation of events, scientific meetings, and congresses that were unique settings to meet other researchers and implied the transfer of these discussion forums to the virtual environment (Gironzetti, Lacorte & Muñoz-Basols, 2020). If we learned anything from this experience, it is that, despite mobility restrictions, it is possible to develop digital networking and collaborate with researchers from all over the world.

The idea of COMUN-ES or “Spanish in common”, which is the same, came up during a residence I made in 2017, after obtaining a competitive scholarship USAL en red (University of Salamanca’s Network) for international researchers at the International Center for the Spanish Language of the University of Salamanca.

Talking with Carmen Fernández Juncal, from the School of Philology, who was at the time director of the center and co-principal researcher of the project, we realized the need to support research being generated around Hispanic language and cultures, and that there was no common global space for Hispanism as an epistemic community (Fernández Juncal, Ghezzi & Hernández Muñoz, 2021). In other words, the increasing interest in the Hispanic language, literatures, and cultures in recent decades should be supported by the creation of synergies between Hispanists around the world.

So, COMUN-ES was created with the aim of unifying and gathering in the same space people who use the Spanish language as a raw material, to create a virtual community and to vindicate the role of Spanish as a language for science and knowledge. We have been working on this digital humanities project since that moment, creating a meeting place for the three main axis of today’s Hispanism: a) literature and cultural studies, b) Hispanic linguistics, and c) Teaching Spanish.

COMUN-ES seeks to unify in the same space people who use Spanish as a raw material, to create a virtual community and to vindicate the role of Spanish as a language for science and knowledge

Teams from the universities of Salamanca and Oxford have collaborated over the past four years in the planning and development of the platform. Support from the International Center for the Spanish Language of the University of Salamanca, from the Spanish School of the University of Oxford, and from two Hispanex grants for the promotion of language and culture abroad, from Spanish Government’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport, have been decisive in carrying out the project. In addition to the teams from Salamanca (principal co-researcher Carmen Fernández Juncal and Natividad Hernández Muñoz, Maddalena Ghezzi, María Nieves Sánchez González de Herrero, and Jesús Fernández González) and Oxford (principal co-researcher Javier Muñoz-Basols, with Jonathan Thacker, Enrique del Rey Cabero, Laura Acosta-Ortega, and Daniel Cabeza-Campillo), we have researchers from four delegated universities, strategically selected for their research tradition on Hispanic language and cultures, and for being located in key areas of influence for Hispanic studies: Cairo University (Middle East and Africa; Doaa Samy), the University of Hong Kong (Asia and Oceania; Rocío Blasco and Mercedes Vázquez), the University of Maryland (United States and Canada; Manel Lacorte and Elisa Gironzetti), and the National Autonomous University of Mexico and its network of Centers for Mexican Studies around the world (Latin America; Andrés Ordóñez, from UNAM-Spain, and Ana Elena González Treviño, from UNAM-UK). 

Spanish as a Science and Knowledge Language 
We are not aware of a virtual community for researchers of any other language. Among the objectives of COMUN-ES is the idea of eliminating the so-called impostor syndrome, which has fostered the belief that there is not much research in humanities because specialists do not work in laboratories, wear white coats, or invent vaccines. Research in humanities is one of the fundamental pillars of any society and is equally important for its contribution to linguistic, cultural, educational, and, especially today, artificial intelligence. For COMUN-ES it is essential that each Hispanist registers on the platform, as it is an opportunity to place each researcher on the map of Spanish language research. Through this visibility, the aim is to empower the profession (Gironzetti and Muñoz-Basols, 2022), and to seek mechanisms that create a joint working space for research. In this sense, the creation of the COMUN-ES platform is allowing the identification of talent and the creation of transdisciplinary work teams that bring together diverse experiences and enable research to be carried out regarding language. 

Working with Spanish involves using the language as a true raw material: designing speech recognition devices, creating automatic translators, language proofreaders and digital content, developing literacy programs, online teaching of language and literature, or the important work of appreciating the diversity of our language or the development of cultural industries.

These are just a few examples of the importance of language research and how it is increasingly closely related to artificial intelligence, an area that is already an intrinsic part of our lives and ways of working. COMUN-ES is here to reclaim this space, to give a voice to researchers and to ensure that conversations about this science (research on literature, culture and language) take place in Spanish. 

Connect, Share, and Collaborate with Researchers around the World 
COMUN-ES’ philosophy and, therefore, current research needs can be summarized in three key actions: connect, share, and collaborate
  • Connect: It is essential to contact other researchers to foster a global dialogue on research in Spanish.
  • Share: We live in the era of shared knowledge and we must take advantage of this opportunity to share ideas and information.
  • Collaborate: After connecting and sharing, the next step is for collaborations to emerge, from co-authoring an academic paper to implementing international research projects on language.
More than 1250 researchers from all five continents have already joined the platform.

As can be seen in the map, one of the most interesting parts of COMUN-ES is to see interest in Spanish in very distant places and with such different traditions around Spanish, such as Germany, Australia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Singapore, or Thailand.

The platform is helping to show the evolution of Spanish language research worldwide, including more traditional regions such as Europe and the Americas, to emerging contexts such as Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Registering in COMUN-ES means placing oneself on the map of research on Spanish.

COMUN-ES’ Role on Spanish Language Research
COMUN-ES is presented, then, as a tool designed to facilitate the work of any researcher and to form a global digital networking space. In addition to giving visibility to scientific research and to researchers’ profiles and interests, the platform has six main objectives, all of them related to the course that research on Spanish should take in the immediate future: 
  1. To link researchers around the world in the era of shared knowledge and open science. 
  2. To contribute to giving visibility to research on Hispanic language and cultures, and, thus, to enhance its value. 
  3. To encourage the discovery of knowledge and new areas of research. 
  4. To promote the implementation of international projects related to language, as a showcase to disseminate information and obtain a complete picture of global Hispanism, and to identify language research needs. 
  5. To vindicate the role of Spanish as a language for knowledge: more research on Spanish and in Spanish. 
  6. To generate a positive and global social impact: not only to transform Hispanism as we understand it today but also to create synergies between its different fields to join forces regarding language as a raw material. 
Comun-es recommends the creation of communication networks among researchers at all levels

All these purposes are aligned with the proposal of the Ibero-American General Secretariat (2022) Workin Group, which has begun to design lines of action to promote the visibility of Ibero-American science. This group recommends the creation of communication networks among researchers at all levels, the transfer of research results to generate economic, social, and cultural impact, the transmission and dissemination of scientific knowledge, and that scientific communication among scholars should make use of languages such as Spanish and Portuguese.

We hope that this initiative will contribute to fostering the creation of collaborative networks around the language and to vindicate the role of Spanish as a language for science and knowledge in the 21st Century.

Global Digital Networking in Spanish
The COMUN-ES Platform
Javier Muñoz-Basols

COMUN-ES Features and Tools 

The platform has tools to facilitate research and knowledge sharing. Registered researchers can select initiatives according to their needs and interests: from research projects, mobilities, co-direction of academic works, academic residences, scientific meetings, publications, and more. For example, if a journal needs peers to evaluate articles on specific topics, they can find them in COMUN-ES. If a researcher wishes to look for an academic residence, they can find in COMUN-ES their researcher soul mate, and thus many opportunities, such as joining an ongoing project, looking for profiles of people willing to connect, talk, and explore ways to collaborate.

To register in COMUN-ES (https://www.comun-es.com/), all researchers need is an e-mail address, basic personal data, and, optionally, the ORCiD code (Open Researcher and Contributor Identifier) that can be obtained at https://orcid.org/. Once registered, the first thing to do is to set up the Worktable, which can be customized as in a social network, and select one or more of the three main research areas: a) literature and cultural studies, b) Hispanic linguistics and c) Teaching Spanish. After choosing any of these areas, researchers access a menu with keywords that allow them to profile their areas of expertise and interests. This is what defines the overall research profile, and from there, researchers can access the four tools in the worktable.

MAPA-ES: A geolocator of Spanish language research that allows real-time visualization of researchers’ locations and their classification by area. The tool was developed to keep track of the evolution of Spanish research in all its variants at a global level, but also so that anyone can know and understand in greater detail its immediate context. Getting to know research profiles and interests of colleagues, and other researchers in a proximity environment can also lead to new joint initiatives.

BUSCADOR-ES: Allows researchers to filter by geographic context and keywords. It makes it possible not only to find people working in a particular area but can also be a useful tool for any academic journal wishing to contact specialists in the field or for the creation of working groups.

RED-ES: Allows researchers to visualize the network of researchers that is being configured based on research areas registered by researchers.
This tool monitors the formation of a network of researchers with common interests. It is useful to follow the work of different people without having to search for them in a conventional way.

PROY-ES Is a search engine and a repository of Spanish language projects. It contributes to registered projects visibility on the platform. All of them focus on Spanish and function as models for funded projects or teaching innovation, which can be useful when devising, designing, or implementing others. It is also a showcase for a project to meet the requirement of dissemination, impact, and knowledge transfer, not only because of the visibility among users who consult the project library, but also because of the possibility of distributing the information in the community’s monthly newsletter among registered researchers.

JPh.D. Javier Muñoz-Basols is co-principal researcher of the COMUN-ES platform. He works in research, development and innovation (I+D+I, as it is known in Spain) at University of Sevilla, and is a Honorary Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, where he has formerly been teacher and coordinator of Spanish during 15 years. He is a corresponding academic of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language (ANLE), a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cervantes Institute, and president of the Association for the Teaching of Spanish as a Foreign Language (ASELE).

This article is part of the I+D+I PID2021-123763NA-100 project, “Hacia una diacronía de la oralidad / escrituralidad: variación concepcion al, traducción y tradicionalidad discursiva en el español y otras lenguas románicas” [Towards a diachrony of orality / writing: conceptual variation, translation and discursive traditionality in Spanish and other Romance languages] (DiacOralEs), funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033.

Fernández Juncal, Carmen; Ghezzi, Maddalena, & Hernández Muñoz, Natividad (2021). “Una comunidad epistémica para la investigación sobre el español: COMUN-ES”. TEISEL. Tecnologías para la investigación en segundas lenguas, 1 (https://doi.org/10.1344/teisel.v1.36604).

Gironzetti, Elisa, & Muñoz-Basols, Javier (2022). “Research Engagement and Research Culture in Spanish Language Teaching (SLT): Empowering the Profession”. Applied Linguistics, 43 (https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amac016).

Gironzetti, Elisa; Lacorte, Manel, & Muñoz-Basols, Javier (2020). “Teacher Perceptions and Student Interaction in Online and Hybrid University Language Learning Courses”. In Planelles, Margarita; Foucart, Alice, & Liceras, Juana. Current Perspectives in Language Teaching and Learning in Multicultural Contexts. Cizur Menor: Thomson Reuters Aranzadi (https://bit.ly/3FxcEBE).  

Secretaría General Iberoamericana (2022). “Conclusiones y recomendaciones del grupo de trabajo sobre publicaciones científicas y difusión de la ciencia”. Colaboración regional para la visibilización de la ciencia iberoamericana. Noviembre (https://digital.csic.es/handle/10261/284851). 

UNESCO (2020). COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response (https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse). 
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