From Where I Sit - English Imperialism

The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE, February 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

From Where I Sit - English Imperialism


The practical reality for many German academics and researchers is that publishing in English is becoming progressively more vital for their careers. However, some German linguists are railing against this process and drawing attention to its associated cultural, political and academic dilemmas. This is reflected in a new book, Deutsch in der Wissenschaft (German in Academia/the Sciences).

Linguist Konrad Ehlich, honorary professor at the Free University Berlin, and his colleagues lament various aspects of the compulsion to publish in English or perish. The problem is that the German language is allegedly losing its function and being devalued as a result. Adding insult to injury, those academics who still write in German are often considered provincial and mediocre.

As early as 1999, another language expert, Ulrich Ammon, professor of Germanic linguistics at the University of Duisburg-Essen, was encouraging German institutions to face the music and use more English. Such trends are certainly pervasive in many fields, including medicine, the natural sciences and business administration. However, "squeezing out" German comes at a price.

Language is more than a merely passive medium for conveying information, such as research results. Rather, culture is bound up in language. If work is written in another tongue, this context is largely or even entirely lost. Knowledge developed within a certain cultural context is a product of all that culture entails, and part of that is inextricably linked to the vehicle of expression itself.

Ehlich draws attention to constraints imposed on knowledge creation and dissemination by "striving towards monolingualism" in the international scientific scene. He argues that multilingualism is a fundamental element of knowledge creation, which even requires a degree of confrontation between cultures and languages to be optimally productive and fruitful. …

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