The Dominance of English as a Language of Science

The Dominance of English as a Language of Science

The Dominance of English as a Language of Science

The Dominance of English as a Language of Science


The book shows to what degree English is now the dominant language of science. Giving examples from countries on all continents, explanations are given and predictions of future developments are made. How does the dominance of English affect other languages and their speakers? Are other languages still being modernized under these conditions? Are their speakers trapped in a permanent disadvantage, or do the advantages of a world-wide lingua franca outweigh disadvantages for everyone?

The book provides important background information for language planning and language politics.


That English is today's dominant language of science is stating what would be called a Binsenweisheit in German, a trivially obvious insight. Science has in fact been pointed out repeatedly as one of the main fields contributing to the spread of English as a global language (Crystal 1997: 80 f., 107–109; Graddol 1997: 8f.). Many a triviality, however, reveals less generally agreed-upon, or even hitherto unknown aspects upon closer inspection. Thus in the present case, it may not even be clear what we mean by „dominant language‟. Do we simply have in mind prevalence, i. e. the language being used more frequently than others, or do we imply — in the literal sense of the word — dominance of some persons over others by means of the language in question? It seems that both meanings make sense in the present context and can be explored as to their reality.

The degree of prevalence of English in science communication has been investigated in numerous studies of which Tsunoda's (1983) is one of those frequently quoted (for an overview see Ammon 1998). Other widely recognized studies of the topic have been done by Baldauf and Jernudd (e. g. 1983) who both contributed to the present volume with the former presenting new comprehensive data and the latter, with co-authors Wu and Chan, specific data on Hong Kong. McConnell gives here an overview of the prevalence of English over French for East Asia illustrating the situation by maps. In addition, nearly all the articles in the present volume contain new data on the extensive use of English in science communication, at least for the country under scrutiny, as for example Gunnarson for Sweden or Kryochkova for Russia. Nevertheless we are still far from a comprehensive picture. Though any such picture will of course remain ephemeral, its details may at any point of time be crucial for more refined questioning.

Reasonably comprehensive, even historically comparative, data are available for the share of languages in printed science publications, but they are — due to available bibliographical data bases — less comprehensive for the social than the natural sciences and least for the humanities. De Swaan's article on the social sciences or Siguan's that extends into the humanities, in the present volume, are problem-oriented rather than concerned with representative figures; they touch, among other things, upon linguistic relativity asking, how completely terminology in the social sciences and the humanities can be translated from another language . . .

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