English has become the language of science

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John Richard Schrock


Between 1980 and 1996, Russian-language science publications fell from 10.8 to 2.1 percent. Germany fell from 2.5 to 1.2 percent. But English rose from 74.6 to 90.7 percent. This increase in English publications did not come from American authors or other native English speakers. This increase came from “non-native Anglophones” – scientists who learned English as a second language.

Further data and reasons for the rise of English as the “lingua franca” of science are available in two well-researched books: “Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English” by Michael D. Gordon 2015 and “Does Science Need Global Language ?: English and the Future of Research ”Scott L. Montgomery 2013

American readers might believe that the adoption of the English language is a consequence of American superiority. But both authors make it clear that English has a dominant status because of economic factors and current history, rather than any cultural superiority. The percentage of scientific publications by American researchers has actually declined in recent years.

English is a rather difficult language, it often does not respect the rules of grammar and pronunciation. And there are many “world Englishmen” with variations from England to America to India and Pakistan to Africa and Australia. – So, “color” versus “color” and endings “-ising” or “-izing” etc.

The main driver of language change in science was war. German was the major world language in the physical sciences in the late 1800s. But after both world wars, German scholars and the German language were shunned. Those German scholars who fled war-torn Europe learned the language of their adopted country and published most in English. This question is being asked again today. Teams of scientists around the world are constantly working together to solve complex problems. But some in the world scientific community are now debating whether or not they can collaborate with Russian scientists.

Meanwhile, American television news viewers should note that in interviews with Ukrainians, some speak English fairly well. And it is obvious that many speak both Ukrainian and Russian. Indeed, almost half of the population of European Union countries speaks two or more languages. This is also the case in much of the less developed world, where people in India usually speak their local Hindi, Tamil or Bengali while learning the Indian dialect of British English at school.

Americans are the ones who generally speak only one language. Of the seven percent of Americans who speak a second language, many are recent immigrants. But since most scholarly publications are now in English around the world, why learn a second language? The answer is simple, but it is difficult to explain to a person who speaks only one language and therefore thinks that all people in the world “think the same”. Simply put, different languages ​​break down the world into slightly different concepts, and thus mental concepts. For example, our word “rights” translates to “responsibility,” and our word “individualism” translates to “selfishness” – in Chinese.

One drawback of these two books is that they do not describe the great change in China in the 1980s, from learning Russian as a second language to learning English. Today, if every person in the U.S. were to learn Chinese, we could not compare with the number of Chinese who have been learning English since elementary school. This gives them a huge advantage not only in international trade, but it is also one of the few reasons why they surpassed the USA in the number of STEM doctorates in 2007 and published scientific research articles in 2017.

Americans are especially gullible when it comes to computer claims. We expect machine translation to take care of the translation for us. Both authors reject this apology. Gordon notes that in 1958, the philosopher Bar-Hillel, who convened the first conference on machine translation at MIT, finally came to the conclusion that “… fully automatic, high-quality translation,” stated goal of most research programs, impossible, ‘not only in the near future than in the whole. ” This was because communication was more than algorithmic rules, but relied on semantics, the requirement that experiences give meaning. Therefore, “a ‘perfect’ translation is neither humanly nor mechanically achievable …”

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John Richard Schrock has been training biology teachers for more than 30 years in Kansas. He has also lectured at 27 universities during 20 trips to China. He holds the title of “Faculty Emeritus” at Emporia State University.

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