Why does English become the language of science all over the world?

" If you can read this sentence, you can talk with a scientist. Well, maybe not about the details of her research, but at least you would share a common language " - If you can read this sentence, you can say Talk to a scientist . Maybe not about their research details, but at least you can share the language with them.

Almost all of the communication in today's scientific world - physics, chemistry, biology, and geography - takes place in English. This takes place in the press, in conferences, in emails and in conversations via Skype, on the lecture hall of any scientific research center in Kuala Lumpur, or Montevideo or Haifa.English is absolutely dominant in contemporary science.

More remarkably, everyone in the contemporary science world almost uses English as a substitute for other languages. A century ago, most Western scientists knew a little bit about English, but they could read and speak in French and German, sometimes in less common languages, for example. Russian or Italian.

Picture 1 of Why does English become the language of science all over the world?
Photographs of scientists participating in the Solvay Conference in 1927.

Does using a single language help science become more effective?

If people use the same language, perhaps conflicts due to translation problems will be less, as well as less time spent on pedagogy. With this point of view, modern science is progressing so quickly by focusing entirely on science rather than external issues such as language.

However, this is only easier for scientists who grew up in English-speaking countries, while most scientists today do not speak native English. When taking into account the time spent on learning English, it is obviously not much more effective than multilingual in scientific communication. Still need more translation and transliteration steps for specialized words, it just doesn't happen in countries like the US or UK, Australia.

However, many scientists and humanities believe that this has been happening for generations. Communication in English in science only replaces the former monopoly of German. And before that was Latin and French from the dawn of Western science, which was only performed in Greek. Based on that understanding, the history of science is a series of single language transfers, but that is not true. It has never been.

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One piece in the second volume of the Euclid mathematician's Elements was written in ancient Greek.

To understand this, we can see that there are two basic language modes in Western science: multilingual and single language.

In it, the multilingualism has been going on for many centuries in the history of Western science and was only defeated by the monolingual trend when it emerged in the 1920s. The scientific world is being spoken in languages. English, but the first generation of adults who grew up in a multilingual period is still alive. In order to understand how important this happened, we need to go back in time a bit.

Multilingual history of Western science

In the 15th century in western Europe, natural philosophy and natural science - two major disciplines at the time were considered science subjects - basically, were learned in many different languages. This is especially in that time, the main language for early Middle Ages and Renaissance was Latin.

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In 117 AD, Roman times reached their peak, along with the popularity of Latin.

Although the use of Latin in the field of natural philosophy dates back to the Roman splendor, many centuries ago, the dominant languages ​​in scholarly were Ancient Greek and Arabic. . It is the translation of classical philosophical works from Arabic to Latin that revitalized education in the West. Therefore, learning, learning what everyone knows, is a multilingual activity.

In fact, except for those who are too enthusiastic, very few people learn Latin as their first language and use it to talk. However, Latin is still used as a primary language, to connect linguistic communities as a neutral medium. Perhaps the most important thing is that Latin is not the native language of any particular country, and scholars throughout Europe and Saudi Arabia can use it without anyone "possessing" the language. that language.

For these reasons, Latin became the appropriate medium for arguments about universality. But everyone in these conversations is multilingual and they can choose the right language for their listeners. For example, when writing letters to international chemists, Swedes will choose Latin, but when talking to mining engineers, they will use Swedish.

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Several pages of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius in Latin.

This system began to crumble in the 17th century, essentially due in part to the " scientific revolution " at that time. Galileo Galilei published his discovery of Jupiter's moons in Latin in Sidereus Nuncius in 1610, but his later work was in Italian. Similarly, Newton's Principia appeared in Latin in 1687, but then Opticks published in 1704 wrote in English.

Across Europe, scholars start using many different languages ​​and translate them into Latin and French for learning.

By the end of the 18th century, studies of chemistry, physics, physiology and botany not only appeared more and more in English, French, and German but also Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Denmark and other languages. But until the early years of the 19th century, many elite scholars still chose Latin as the language for their research.

Picture 5 of Why does English become the language of science all over the world?
Principia (Math Principles) in Latin and Opticks book (Tables on light and spectrum) in Newton's English.

However, along with the industrialization process in Europe in the 19th century, interest in effective communication has become an inevitable factor. Using multiple languages ​​causes waste, when you have to devote your entire time to learning multiple languages ​​to read the latest research on nature and no time to do research anymore.

In the 1850s, the language of science began to shrink into three main languages, English, French and German, each of which accounted for nearly the same percentage of total studies. (Although each language is popular in a particular field, for example, by the end of the 19th century, German was still popular in chemistry).

The single-language trend started to appear with Esperanto Esperanto

Although much cleaner, but obviously there are 3 different languages ​​is still a significant burden. It is time to have advocates for a single language for scientific knowledge, with precise characteristics of the universality and neutrality that Latin brought about centuries ago. This effort is called Esperanto Esperanto .

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Esperanto was born with the goal of creating a unique language for scientific knowledge.

Initially, Esperanto was supported by many well-known names, such as Wilhelm Ostwald, Nobel Prize winner in 1909 and Danish linguist Otto Jespersen. But then the fact that it soon became fuzzy showed that it was clear that science could not exist in a multilingual environment.

Esperanto has failed, but its dream has come true but the universal language for natural science is English, the native language of the world's most powerful nations and a consequence of a series of actions. Dynamic leads to the collapse of the multilingual system in science.

World War I - the beginning of the throne of English

When the First World War broke out in 1914, between the Treaty (Entente), including Britain, France, Russia and the Central Powers, including Germany Austria, entailing participation. of both scientists and German scholars in supporting the country's militant forces.

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Part of the "Declaration of 93", a manifesto with 93 signatures of famous German scientists, scholars and artists proclaiming the absolute support of German military actions during the First World War.

Therefore, after the war ended, the International Research Council, established under the protection of the winning countries - including the United States, but without Russia - began to advance. Practicing boycott of scientists from the Center. Along with that many new international scientific organizations were erected in the early 1920s and locked the door for scientists from defeated German-speaking countries.

Gradually, this decades-long boycott contributed to the death of German as a leading language in science. Thus, the main three-language system of science had previously been reduced to only two. The multilingual system in science has begun to show its first stretch, but it is the US who completely breaks it.

Along with the American war at the end of World War I, German became discriminated against right in the United States. By the end of 1923, more than half of the states in the US had limited use of German in public places, on telegraphs and telephone lines, as well as in education.

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Besides English and Spanish, German is widely used in many states in the United States.

Not only that, learning foreign languages ​​is almost disappearing, even for French and Spanish, and so an entire generation of Americans, including future scientists, grew up. No contact with foreign languages.

The increased status of English and the decline of German were even greater when Hitler came to power in Germany and proceeded to sack left-wing professors and " non-Aryan " people.

When lucky scientists were able to immigrate to the United States in the 1930s, they all accepted to publish their research in English to be able to reach the scientific community of the country. Even Einstein must rely on translators and collaborators for his studies.

Cold War and the dominance of English

After the Second World War, the use of internal language became even more geopolitical. Now scientists from rising America of the 20th century are not ready to receive knowledge through foreign languages. Moreover, with a large number of Soviet scientists and engineers who grew up after the war, the Soviet Union became a new competitor to the US in the field of science.

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Languages ​​have the most articles on Wikipedia (2012 statistics)

There was a time when Russia became the second largest scientific language in the world when it accounted for about 25% of published studies. But by the 1970s, the proportion of research materials published in Russian began to decline when global scientists switched to using English.

The position of English in scientific language also comes from the availability of European, Latin American and other scientists. Because they wanted their studies cited by the leaders of these fields, Dutch scientists, Scandinavian and Iberian people stopped publishing in French or German and switched to English.

By the early 1980s, English accounted for more than 80% of global publications on natural science. Now this number is probably up to 99%.

In the history of world science, there has never been a single language system capable of dominating so much for communication in the scientific world. That is not to mention that English is moving to every corner of the globe to become the default language choice in areas such as military or economic.

It takes a lot of energy to maintain such a monolithic single-language system, as well as huge resources poured into language and translation training in non-English speaking countries. However, once it has reached its current status, it is becoming quite stable and even when English-speaking countries disappear tomorrow, English will still be an important language of science, simply because the inertia is too big of what exists.

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