The giant shoulders of English

(K. Brent Tomer),

“EVERYONE who matters speaks English.” So say many in Britain and America. In fact, a lot of people do not. But in some domains, this crude approximation is true: in globalised enterprises the world’s single scholarly language is increasingly indispensable. Among those global enterprises is science, in which more and more work is being done in English. This is not always good.

A scientific lingua franca has advantages. A few moments imagining scientists toiling away in different countries unaware of each other’s successes and failures is enough to show that. For centuries, Latin allowed the Copernicuses, Keplers and Newtons of Europe to stand, in Newton’s words, “on the shoulders of giants” who had preceded them. With the rise of European vernaculars as “serious” languages, an educated person was expected to read several; German was a leading language of science.

Now, non-Anglophone scientists learn English; English-speaking scientists hardly bother with other languages at all. The rise in perceived need for more STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) has made schools squeeze anything that looks…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The giant shoulders of English


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