Does English have to be the dominant language of science?

Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone.” – Albert Einstein

According to what Einstein stated above, German would be the language of science, because as we know, his first influential papers were written in German. Yet, after decades, nor Newton’s Principia Mathematica written in Latin, or Marie Curie’s work published in French would have been published in listed languages. Nowadays, we are facing the hegemony of the English language in the scientific field. By the second half of the 20th century, only English remained dominant, as the U.S. strengthened its place in the world, and its influence in the global scientific community has continued to increase ever since.

Centuries ago, Latin was no specific nation’s native tongue, and scholars all across European and Arabic societies could make equal use of it, no one ‘owned’ the language. For these reasons, Latin became a perfect match for claims about universal nature. Thus, there always has been a language, with the help of which scientists around the world gain access to the vast scientific literature and can communicate with other scientists anywhere in the world. But, every coin has two sides. The use of a universal scientific language creates distinct challenges for those who are not native speakers. Some scientists complain that English plays a dominant role. As a consequence, minimal room or no room at all is allowed to communicators of other languages to participate in science in their own voice. They are compelled to translate their ideas into English and they gradually lose their own voice with the great cost of losing their unique ways of communicating ideas. For this reason, the international community of scientists sketched guidelines for writing and evaluating manuscripts to approach some issues that the non-native English speakers have encountered. They emphasized the following ideas:

  • Non-native speakers of English can write effective manuscripts, despite errors of grammar, syntax, and usage, if the manuscripts are clear, simple, logical, and concise
  • Reviewers and editors of manuscripts should look beyond errors in grammar, syntax, and usage, and evaluate the science.
  • It is inappropriate to reject or harshly criticize manuscripts from nonnative speakers of English based on errors of grammar, syntax, or usage alone.
  • Reviewers and editors may also suggest that authors seek the assistance of expert English speakers or professional translation and editing services in preparing revised versions of manuscripts.
  • It is essential that non-native speakers of English recognize that their ability to participate in the international scientific enterprise is directly related to their ability to produce manuscripts in English that are clear, simple, logical, and concise.

The translation industry impact is to show that science and its followers don’t have to be affected in any way by the linguistic aspect. Whatever trend the world is coming across, translation is the boat that doesn’t soak when the currents are changing. Apart from this, there are still plenty of disciplines within which researchers continue to publish in their native language as well. Researchers publishing in languages other than English tends to do so somewhat more in the softer disciplines than in the harder ones.

Even though statistics show us a limited audience of less than 15% of the world’s population English speakers, with just 5% being native speakers, scientists who want to produce influential, globally recognized work most likely need to publish in English. Which means they’ll also likely have to attend English-language conferences, read English-language papers, and have English-language discussions.

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