Why has 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 a common language with them.

Nearly the vast majority of communication in the scientific world today – physics, chemistry, biology, geography – takes place in English. This happens in the press, in conferences, in emails and in Skype conversations, in the lecture halls of any scientific research center in Kuala Lumpur, or Montevideo or Haifa. English is absolutely dominating in contemporary science.

More importantly, everyone in contemporary scientific circles today almost uses English as an alternative to other languages. A century ago, most Western scientists knew a little English, but they could read, write and converse in French and German, sometimes in less common languages, for example. Russian or Italian.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
Photograph of scientists participating in the Solvay Conference in 1927.

If everyone spoke the same language, there would be less conflicts caused by translation problems, as well as less time wasted on pedagogy. With this in mind, modern science is progressing so quickly because it focuses exclusively on scientific problems rather than external problems such as language.

However, this is only easier for scientists who grew up in English-speaking countries, whereas most scientists today do not speak native English. When it comes to the time spent learning English, it is clearly not much more effective than multilingualism in scientific communication. There are still many steps of translation and translation for specialized terms, but it doesn’t happen in countries like the US or UK, Australia.

However, many scientists and humanists believe that this has happened for many generations. Communicating in English in science is only to replace the former monopoly of German. And before that was Latin and French from the dawn of Western science, which was performed only in Greek. Based on that understanding, the history of science is a sequence of single-language transfers, however that is not the case. That’s never been the case.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
A fragment from the second volume of the Elements series by the mathematician Euclid, written in Ancient Greek.

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

Among them, multilingualism has lasted for many centuries in the history of Western science and was only defeated by monolingualism when it emerged in the 1920s. Scientists are communicating in languages. English, but the first generation of people who grew up in the multilingual era are still alive. To understand how this important thing happened, we need to go back in time a bit.

During the 15th century in western Europe, natural philosophy and the natural sciences—the two main disciplines at the time considered science subjects—were essentially taught in different languages. This is special in that at the time, the primary language for work in the early Middle Ages and Renaissance was Latin.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
In 117 AD, the time when Rome reached its peak, with that came the popularity of Latin.

Although the use of Latin in the field of natural philosophy dates back to the glory of Rome, centuries before that, the dominant languages among scholars were Ancient Greek and Arabic. . It was the translation of the philosophical classics from Arabic into Latin that helped revive education in the West. Therefore, learning, learning what people know, is a multilingual activity.

In fact, except for the overzealous, there are very few people who learn Latin as their first language and use it to speak. However, Latin is still used as a primary language, to connect language communities as a neutral medium. Perhaps most importantly, because Latin is not the native language of any particular country, and scholars all over Europe and Arabia can use it without anyone “owning” the language. that language.

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

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
Several pages from Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius in Latin.

This system began to break down in the 17th century, largely due in part to the ” scientific revolution ” of the time. Galileo Galilei published his discovery of the moons of Jupiter (Jupiter) in Latin in Sidereus Nuncius in 1610, but his later work was in Italian. Likewise, Newton’s Principia appeared in Latin in 1687, but the Opticks, published in 1704, were written in English.

All over Europe, scholars began to use various languages and translate them into Latin and French for ease of study.

By the end of the 18th century, the study of chemistry, physics, physiology and botany appeared more and more in English, French, German and also Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and other languages. But until the early years of the 19th century, many elite scholars still chose Latin as their language of study.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
The Principia (Mathematical Principles) in Latin and the Opticks (On Light and Spectroscopy) in English by Newton.

However, with the industrialization of Europe in the 19th century, the interest in effective communication became an inevitable factor. Using multiple languages is a waste, when you have to spend all your time learning multiple languages to read the latest research on nature and no time to do research.

Around the 1850s, the language of science began to shrink into three major languages, English, French, and German, each accounting for a roughly equal proportion of all research. (Although each language was popular in its own right, until the late 19th century, for example, German was still popular in chemistry.)

Although much cleaner, but obviously having 3 different languages is still a significant burden. It was then that there were claims of a single language for scientific knowledge, with the exact properties of universality and neutrality that Latin brought about centuries ago. This effort is called Esperanto Esperanto .

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
Esperanto was born with the aim of creating a single language for scientific knowledge.

Initially, Esperanto was also supported by many famous names, such as Wilhelm Ostwald, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1909, and Otto Jespersen, a Danish linguist. But the fact that it soon became blurred makes it clear that science cannot exist in a multilingual environment.

Esperanto failed, but its dream came true, but the universal language for the natural sciences was English, the native language of the world’s most powerful nations and the result of a series of actions. led to the collapse of the multilingual system in science.

When World War I broke out in 1914, the Entente faction, including Great Britain, France, Russia, and the Central Powers, including Austria-Hungary Germany, joined in. of both German scientists and academics in support of the country’s militant forces.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
Part of “The 93rd Manifesto”, a manifesto with 93 signatures by famous German scientists, scholars, and artists declared their absolute support for Germany’s military actions during World War I.

Therefore, after the war ended, the International Research Council, formed under the aegis of the victors – including the US, but not Russia – began to advance. boycott of scientists from the Center block. Along with that, many new international scientific organizations were set up in the early 1920s, which also locked the door for scientists from defeated German-speaking countries.

Gradually, this decade-long boycott contributed to the death of German as the leading language of science. Thus, the previous three-language system of science has been reduced to only two. The multilingual system in science had already begun to show its first crack, but it was America who completely broke it.

With the United States entering the war at the end of World War I, German became stigmatized in America itself. By the end of 1923, more than half of the states in the United States had restricted the use of German in public places, on the telegraph and telephone lines, as well as in education.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
Besides English and Spanish, German is widely spoken in many states in the United States.

Not only that, foreign language learning has almost disappeared, even for French and Spanish, and so a whole generation of Americans, including future scientists, grew up without no exposure to foreign languages.

The rise of English and the decline of German became even greater when Hitler came to power in Germany and proceeded to fire left-wing professors as well as ” non-Aryans “.

When lucky scientists immigrated to the United States in the 1930s, they all had to accept to publish their research in English to be accessible to the scientific world of this country. Even Einstein had to rely on translators and collaborators for his research.

After the Second World War, the use of the language became even more geopolitical. At this time, scientists from the 20th century’s rising America were not ready to receive knowledge through foreign languages. Furthermore, with a large number of Soviet scientists and engineers coming of age after the war, the Soviet Union became a new competitor to the United States in the field of science.

Why has English become the language of science all over the world?
Languages with the most articles on Wikipedia (2012 statistics)

At one point, Russian became the second largest language of science globally, accounting for about 25% of published research. But by the 1970s, the percentage of research papers published in Russian began to decline as scientists worldwide switched to English.

The position of English in the language of science also comes from the availability of scientists in Europe, Latin America and elsewhere. Because they wanted their research to be cited by leaders in these fields, the Dutch, Scandinavian and Iberian scientists stopped publishing in French or German and switched to English.

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

In the history of world science, there has never been a single language system so dominant for communication in the scientific world. That is not to mention that English is creeping into every corner of the globe to become the default language of choice in fields such as the military or the economy.

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