May 22, 2015

"Q: Is it good for science that there is a global language dominating scientific communication?"

"A: It depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, communication among scientists from different nationalities -- at conferences, at global universities -- is greatly facilitated by there being one agreed-upon language of communication. (There's no intrinsic linguistic reason why such a language has to be English; it happens to have turned out that way historically.) Collaboration has increasingly become a crucial feature of scientific development, and so the advent of a global language is positive. On the other hand, for those who have to learn English as a second (or third, or fifth) language an essential requirement of participating in today's science — the burden can be very high. A student who displays no aptitude in learning this particular language, no matter how gifted in a scientific sense, is almost certainly locked out of educational opportunities, the relevant scientific literature and a career. There are other downsides, too, and how you tally up the total depends a good deal on your own linguistic background."

90 comments:

pm317 said...

The minority gifted scientists can learn to use Google translation. I know I am being silly but getting irritated with all this majority/minority liberal preoccupation. If suddenly, French (or some other) scientists take over the globe, fine everybody will learn French. Most high achievers do what they have to do to succeed. Being denied opportunities is not just limited to languages.

traditionalguy said...

Memorial Day reminds us that it is not by chance that the English speaking peoples won the War and thus won the common language spoils. Only the Russians should have any complaints.

English speaking peoples also includes educated people in India.

Fritz said...

The system is not absolute, of course. The French persist in publishing in French, and the English insist on their silly spellings like "colour" and "harbour". The last one caught me when I published a paper on Baltimore Harbor in an UK sited journal and they forced me to spell it their way.

However, it makes it very difficult for some works by foreign scientists to get published. Their "Engrish" is often broken and clumsy, even when the science is sound.

Back when I reviewed such work I bent over backwards to try to see the science through the bad language.

But there is a good reason English is the international language of air traffic control, too.

Hagar said...

English is a creole language with lots of words, but very simple grammar, and basic English is thus very easy to learn well enough to get around with.

The eccentricities of English is another matter, but not fully mastering them does not prevent you from communicating.

MadisonMan said...

My vague recollection is that one of the requirements for my PhD way back when was demonstrating "fluency" in a different language, which I did by translating an article in French.

I'm not sure if that's still a requirement. I'll have to ask around.

It's silly, IMO, to worry about people who might not be able to thrive because they cannot learn a language. That's like worrying about people who can't thrive at basketball because they're short.

Hagar said...

When I say about a gadget or some piece of machinery that "this thing must have beeen designed by a German," it is not meant as compliment.

MadisonMan said...

Back when I reviewed such work I bent over backwards to try to see the science through the bad language.

There are services that will wordsmith Scientific Articles for non-English Speakers -- extra expense of course. I used to work for one as an editor. You get to read some unusual malapropisms from the Japanese that usually result from flipping R and L. Makes you scratch your head thinking WTH before the right bulb goes off.

Lyssa said...

I've always thought that at some time in the not-too distant future (100 years to so), as world-wide communication continues to improve, we'll essentially have one world-wide language, at least outside of a few remote populations. At some point, it just doesn't make sense to foment division by hanging on to traditional languages just because of tradition when they hamper communication. I assume that that language will be pretty close to what we now know as English, just out of convenience.

I don't really worry about my kids learning any other languages (Spanish would be nice, but not required), but if I were speaking another language, I would think that I would certainly want my kids to have the distinct advantage of being able to communicate in English.

pm317 said...

@Fritz, yes.. I used to be tolerant of reviewing works from non-native English speakers. But in this day and age, there is nothing to stop them from investing a little time in learning to write well and technical writing is already pretty much codified. There is one incident that got me really riled up -- I hosted a talk from a prof one time and she was a non-native English speaker but had been in the US for ages. We could barely understand her. I got so irritated by the end of the talk that I went on a rant with a colleague about why people like her would not invest a little to hone their pronunciation and speaking skills. The first year of landing in this country, both my husband and I took private lessons from a woman honing our pronunciation and our Indian accents were not even bad. And when we did that, we didn't even know that we would spend the rest of our lives in this country, just that it would help our careers.

Laslo Spatula said...

English is the Real Esperanto.

I am Laslo.

madAsHell said...

Black people use language to isolate themselves from racist white people, but I'm sure it's also used to hide their genius.

Coupe said...

The problem with many languages, is their insistence that it retain its purity.

I think Icelandic is a good example, in that a Viking from 500 years ago, could probably be fully understood today.

French, for example, didn't have a word for computer, so IBM invented one, and luckily the Academy approved its use.

English has no qualms about adding any word to its dictionary. It is a mongrel language for a mongrel tribe.

Kyzernick said...

I'm starting to think all this talking is getting humanity nowhere. Lets start communicating in scents.

lgv said...

I don't think this is a big deal. I am happy that the world has settled on English as the common language and it is not because of American hegemony. It is a combination of computer programming and commonality and a bit of thanks to the former British Empire.

If not English, pick something else, and you will quickly realize why the de facto world language has become English.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

After reading the excerpt, I hovered over the link and was disappointed to see that it didn't go to Penelope Trunk.

Conserve Liberty said...

50 years ago I was told German was the universal language of science.

I ent into business.

Anonymous said...

The idea that English grammar is simple strikes me as misleading. English morphology is simple: Our words have few endings, and especially few to mark things like case, mood, and voice. But that's because English is very close to being an analytical language (one with one word per morpheme, like Vietnamese). Analytical languages express grammatical relations by separate words and by word order; and the rules for word order can be complex and subtle.

Hagar said...

Facility with different languages has a lot to do with how your brain is wired, and the ability to pick up or lose accents is supposed to be connected with your musical talents, if any.

The Drill SGT said...

Of course the common language is good for science and good for the world, regardless of which language it is at any given time. At one point it was Greek, another Latin, now English.

Note the French don't complain that the Anglosphere scientists gave in and now all the computations are written in English, but computed in the Metric (designed by the French) system.

Some Day it may be Chinese, but given that there are a lot of Indians, sciencing in English, maybe it will be a while.

Bob Ellison said...

The race has ended. The English horse came first. Let's move on.

Original Mike said...

I have read a lot of papers by Chinese authors (including students I've mentored) and have observed their trouble with articles. I gather Chinese languages don't use them. It doesn't hamper comprehension much but can be amusing. Not so much the missing articles, but knowing they are suppose to use articles but not knowing when, they end up sticking them in the most unlikely places.

Brian said...

The common scientific language is English *at this particular moment*. In world-historical terms the common language was Latin until about 5 minutes ago. And there is still today a critical chemistry encyclopedia that is published only in German, which was the common tongue for chemists within living memory.

tim in vermont said...

Supposedly when the Nazis met with the Imperial Japanese, they spoke English. IDK.

Between Shakespeare's impact on the language and world literature, and Queen Elizabeth I's huge expansion of the British Empire, the two main culprits behind the present reality were in the same room around 1600 in London.

Tom Veal said...

The situation would be much better if scholars had continued to publish in Latin rather than in their national tongues. Late medieval Latin was a relatively simple, flexible language, thanks to being a lingua franca rather than anybody's native speech. Learning it would be far less of a burden than mastering English, French, German or Chinese as a second language.

Alas, it is now too late to return to the superior conditions of the early modern world.

Gabriel said...

There's always been a dominant language in the sciences, ever since science began.

Michael K said...

I suppose we could allow social justice papers to be published in Ebonics. That serves the intended reader pretty well.

PB said...

Up to now this has been necessary, but technology may erase the need. What we really need to worry about is the political language infecting scientific communication. When we stop insisting on proof and start allowing outright mysticism and academic fraud to be considered relevant, we've got a big problem.

chickelit said...

@MadisonMan: In the olden days, UW-Madison had a language requirement for its chemistry undergrads: French, German, or Russian. This was met by a couple semesters of foreign language which simultaneously fulfilled the general language requirement of the L&S BS degree. Chemistry grad students in the MS or PhD programs could take a simple proficiency exam. I think that all have been eliminated.

Science thrives with open communication. English came to dominate the chemical sciences via a combination of several factors: (1) the earlier colonial spread of the language by the British, including the international spread of English-language journals; (2) the posed potential of American power to spread both commercial and scientific knowledge; (3) The weakened, prostrate condition of Europe, Japan, and China (BRIC was still like a "brick"); (4) the reclusive nature of the Soviet Union.

The way that the language of science will change, to say Mandarin Chinese, is that conferences and informal publications within China will grow to a tipping point.

tim in vermont said...

I also blame George Washington, who, as an English subject, stumbled into the Seven Years War, which, when it was over left England in control of a large tranches of the globe.

Bob Ellison said...

Hagar, that is an interesting observation. I am good with accents , if I may say so myself. But I am terrible at learning non-English languages. My wife, by contrast, is outstanding at languages . She speaks and writes English like a native, even though she was raised in Germany. But she still has a tiny accent. She doesn't like to be reminded of that. I am a musician. My wife is not.

Larry J said...

European joke:

Q: What do you call someone fluent in two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call someone fluent in many languages?
A: Polylingual

Q: What do you call someone who only speaks one language?
A: American

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Back in college, one of my CompSci teachers told me that people in China had to learn English if they wanted to use COBOL.

I just assumed she was right about that.

Bryan C said...

"English is a creole language with lots of words, but very simple grammar, and basic English is thus very easy to learn well enough to get around with."

Well put. Also, English can degrade quite a bit before it becomes unintelligible. Pidgin dialects, for example. And if there's a word English needs and doesn't have, it's assimilated and jammed into a functional role almost without a second thought. This combination is pretty flexible.

Lonetown said...

When I got interested in science everyone said I had to learn German.

The language of science went where the talent went post WWII.

Lonetown said...

Maybe in ten years we'll all be learning Mandarin!

Brian said...

Added, as a person who reads a lot of scientific papers and proposals in both draft and final forms, and (horror!) attends talks given by scientists:

I don't believe for an instant that anyone has ever been locked out of science on account of ineptitude in English. In fact a comprehensive verbal ineptitude seems to be the median in our profession, even for native English speakers.

Sebastian said...

"Is it good for science"

Yes.

This can be demonstrated scientifically.

But for scientific purposes this will soon become a moot point, as translation software gets really good.

Just before the hypothesis-generating and testing software gets good enough to do away with scientists.

Bruce Hayden said...

I am just surprised that Obama hasn't figured out yet how to eliminate this aspect of American hegemony. He is in the process of giving away control of the Internet, has gone out of his way to destroy our military, etc.

I think that the world can probably be happy that English is the de facto language of science. What is the alternative these days? French and German are too fringe these days, and the push for Russian greatly diminished with the fall of the USSR. Which leaves Spanish and Chinese. And a lot more scientific PhDs probably can read and write Chinese as their native language than Spanish. Imagine having to learn Chinese in order to publish scientific papers. At least with Spanish, the French would get their comeuppance.

Mitch H. said...

Before it was English it was Latin, with a nasty period in between when it was split between French, German, and English. That resulted in a situation where non-German-speaking chemists had to waste their time learning German and so forth, and also tended to isolate the disciplines from each other.

50 years ago I was told German was the universal language of science.

Even 50 years ago that wasn't true. WWI bifurcated the scientific establishment, with the Entente societies refusing German and the Central Powers insisting on it, and then WWII saw the culmination of the self-immolation of Teutonic culture and science. chicklit will tell you that chemistry still sees a fair amount of publication in German, but otherwise, the great wars killed all of English's scientific rivals.

Latin might be more "fair", but it would also tend to isolate scientific results from the general populace and practical application in technology and industry. Look to the Arabic world for an illustration of what happens when your written language is seriously divergent from your spoken dialects.

rhhardin said...

I call for Latin to be reintroduced.

Truesdell did a peer-reviewed paper in Latin in 1961 link, but since then t's been English.

Char Char Binks said...

You gotta be smart to be a scientist, and smart folks can learn languages. Don't even try your left brain/right brain crap on me, or your "different intelligences"; that nonsense is designed to soften the blow for stupid people. Newton, Leibniz, Spinoza all knew Latin, and probably other languages. Einstein was trilingual, at least. Think of all the Indian scientists and engineers in the US and India who speak English and at least one other language.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

My cousin got an electrical engineering degree at Johns Hopkins Class of 69 I think.

He was required to be able to read and understand German which was the language of science at that time.

As several others have pointed out, I don't think English is the "traditional" language of science. Unless you count tradition as starting in 2000 or so.

John Henry

John Henry

MadisonMan said...

Strength in language is strong in my family.

My father has it. I have it.

(dramatic pause)

My sister has it.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Slightly off topic:

I have lived in Puerto Rico where the primary language is Spanish for 44 years. My wife is PR and spoke little English when we met. I have become fluent in Spanish over the years.

When my kids were born I took a conscious decision to speak to them only in English and I do that to this day. Although I was pretty much the only English they heard, until they were about 10 and cable TV finally made it to our house, they are fully fluent with little or no accent.

Ditto my grandkids. I try to get my son to speak English to them without much success. I have almost never spoken anything else to them and they are as fully fluent in written and spoken English as in Spanish although I and the TV are pretty much the only English they hear on a regular basis.

I think it is important that kids start to learn a 2nd language early. Like a few hours after they are born.

John Henry

Darrell said...

God speaks English now. Deal with it.

Michael K said...

" chicklit will tell you that chemistry still sees a fair amount of publication in German, but otherwise, the great wars killed all of English's scientific rivals."

I presented a paper in Vienna in 1988 and the audience was mostly German. Not one indicated any trouble with English.

By the way, you could tell the Austrians from the Germans by the fact that Austrians trim their suits with leather and bone buttons, which I'm sure was an effort to show they were NOT German. I don't know if that is still important.

Darrell said...

English became the language of science after WWII, with lots of pushback from the Germans and French. After 1960, there were no debates any more--English or stay irrelevant. Now that the Dem?Left has weakened America, we see the pushback again. Europeans love to lord it over Americans that they can speak 5 or 6 languages and we stick to one. But most can hardly carry on a reasonable conversation in English, much less write a professional scientific paper.

Hagar said...

I am not quite certain about this, but I do not think (any) Chinese can be become universal because it cannot readily be expressed in a Greek/Latin alphabet?

If you have to learn 60,000 Chinese pictographs to communicate in writing, that will have to be among a very select group.

Paddy O said...

"Maybe in ten years we'll all be learning Mandarin!"

Mostly for swearing.

jimbino said...

The strange thing is that foreigners often speak better English than Amerikans do.

They seldom say, "The problem is, is that ...." as Obama does, or "with Hillary and I" as Bill has said.

Nor do they say "data is" or "much data," pronounce "gigabyte" with a hard g, treat "they/them/their" as singular, say "at risk for [disease]," or "forbid you from [doing x]" or make so many of the grammatical errors so common among Amerikans and Brits ["Having said that, the weather ...."]

Indeed, we native English speakers use such bad English that a foreigner armed with only Google Translate will never understand what we say and write.

Unknown said...

Michael K, can Google translate handle Ebonics?

chickelit said...

He was required to be able to read and understand German which was the language of science at that time.

It wasn't that German was the language of chemistry even 50 years ago, it was that much of the late 19th and early 20th century literature was published in German without translation. If you were a grad student in 1980 and needed to make something whose recipe was only available in German, what were you supposed to do besides rely on a co-worker? The notion of making people take relevant languages was supposed to foster independence. These days, machine translations render all those reasons obsolete. But there many other reasons for studying languages and I don't regret one bit of my efforts:

Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brent said...

Having negotiated contracts around the globe, English is also the universal language of law. Sometimes a contract will be mirrored in the native and English language, but we always negotiate the English side and, local law permitting, have the English side control.

Politically correct or not, I see a red flag when I retain local counsel and he or she cannot speak English well. It often correlates to legal skill.

Despite its recent history as the dominate language of science, business, and law, I don't see it changing soon. English is often taught as a second language in elementary schools in many countries. To shift the international language, countries would need to move together at the same time or we would lose the current common-ground. Currently, I can have a conference call with people in The Netherlands and China, and we can all communicate in English. If one country shifts to something else and not the other, we will lose significant efficiency.

chickelit said...

Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.

Goethe's juxtaposition of kennen and wissen, separated by a comma, is sublime.

Brent said...

Ich spreche kein Deutsch , aber Google Translate tut. Eines Tages , so hoffe ich , nach Deutschland mit meinem ausgezeichneten orritory Fähigkeiten zu gehen.

Johanna Lapp said...

The initial hard G for gigabytes of data became the standard about the same time that multi-gigabyte hard drives first went on sale. Folks just wouldn't go into CompUSA and request a 2-gig drive with the soft-G pronunciation.

The Drill SGT said...

By the way, you could tell the Austrians from the Germans by the fact that Austrians trim their suits with leather and bone buttons, which I'm sure was an effort to show they were NOT German. I don't know if that is still important.

To be fair, that is Austrian, and Bavarian, though most of your Chemist types are Northern Germans...

Forest Green, or Gray, and boiled wool. I like the look actually... A feather in a hat also

and Dirndls

Anthony said...

At Berkeley in the 1980s, chemistry majors were required to take German. No choices, just German.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

jimbino said...

The strange thing is that foreigners often speak better English than Amerikans do.

I bet the vast majority also know how to spell American correctly...

MadisonMan said...

Ich spreche kein Deutsch , aber Google Translate tut. Eines Tages , so hoffe ich , nach Deutschland mit meinem ausgezeichneten orritory Fähigkeiten zu gehen.


Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer? Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!

Kyzernick said...

ACHTUNG!
ALLES TURISTEN UND NONTEKNISCHEN LOOKENPEEPERS!
DAS KOMPUTERMASCHINE IST NICHT FÜR DER GEFINGERPOKEN UND MITTENGRABEN! ODERWISE IST EASY TO SCHNAPPEN DER SPRINGENWERK, BLOWENFUSEN UND POPPENCORKEN MIT SPITZENSPARKEN.
IST NICHT FÜR GEWERKEN BEI DUMMKOPFEN. DER RUBBERNECKEN SIGHTSEEREN KEEPEN DAS COTTONPICKEN HÄNDER IN DAS POCKETS MUSS.
ZO RELAXEN UND WATSCHEN DER BLINKENLICHTEN.

MadisonMan said...

It's perhaps fortunate that google translate can't translate that joke.

tim in vermont said...

Why do they always write "Amerikan" when it was the "Mexikans" who were mixed up with the Nazis?

pst314 said...

"Latin might be more 'fair', but it would also tend to isolate scientific results from the general populace"

Many of the elites would welcome such a result, as it would make it much more difficult for ordinary people to question and criticize what they elites were doing.

pst314 said...

Tom Veal "The situation would be much better if scholars had continued to publish in Latin rather than in their national tongues."

Do you feel that it would be more "fair"? That the current situation unfairly advantages native English speakers?

Tom Veal said...

My view that using Latin as a common scholarly language would be better than the current situation (not that I think there's any chance of Latin returning to its one time role) isn't based on efficiency, not "fairness". While English may be dominant, much useful work is published in other languages, so that English alone isn't really sufficient.

In response to concerns about cutting the general public off from scholarship: The general public, by and large, relies on popularizers. The popularizers would be able to do a better job if learning Latin would give them access to all of the work in the field.

Again, I emphasize that the Latin should be the late Medieval lingua franca, not Ciceronian or Tacitean eloquence.

pst314 said...

Tom Veal: By efficiency, do you mean that the burden placed on native English speakers would be greatly outweigh by the lesser burden placed on all others?

jimbino said...

The strange thing is that foreigners often speak better English than Amerikans do.

They seldom say, "The problem is, is that ...." as Obama does, or "with Hillary and I" as Bill has said.

Nor do they say "data is" or "much data," pronounce "gigabyte" with a hard g, treat "they/them/their" as singular, say "at risk for [disease]," or "forbid you from [doing x]" or make so many of the grammatical errors so common among Amerikans and Brits.

Indeed, we native English speakers use such bad English that a foreigner armed with only Google Translate will never understand what we say and write.

Tom Veal said...

Virtually all serious scholars, including native English speakers, find is necessary, or at least useful, to learn other languages for the sake of their work. Latin as a scholarly lingua franca would be easier to master than, say, German.

Also, scholarship wouldn't be disrupted if English lost its dominant role in the future (as may happen within our lifetimes if two more years of Obama and eight of Hillary reduce the U.S.A. to a shadow).

jimbino said...

Joanna Lapp,

The initial hard G for gigabytes of data became the standard about the same time that multi-gigabyte hard drives first went on sale. Folks just wouldn't go into CompUSA and request a 2-gig drive with the soft-G pronunciation.

Folks who actually listened to "Back to the Future" learned "gig" with a soft-g.

The others need to ponder that "a multi-gigabyte drive [hard-g] is truly gigantic [hard-g].

jimbino said...

Bliss:
I bet the vast majority also know how to spell American correctly..


Yo Bliss, you seem to be ignorant of Kafka and German.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut, aber ich lerne

pst314 said...

"The initial hard G for gigabytes of data became the standard about the same time that multi-gigabyte hard drives first went on sale."

The hard G was prevalent in the STEM fields when I got my degree in the 70's.

Gahrie said...

There's no intrinsic linguistic reason why such a language has to be English; it happens to have turned out that way historically

Yes there is. Because of the way English evolved, it readily accepts new words much more easily than other languages. (Which is why most new words in other languages are words adopted from English.)

Also, English welcomes the invention of new words and the adoption of words from other languages, many others don't. The French even have a government agency designed to create tortuous French phrases to replace English words used by French speakers. (The exact opposite of English)

Douglas said...

Before WWII, scientists had to learn German. Now they have to learn English. I can safely predict that Chinese will never supplant English, although something currently unforseen might. To put it in economic language, there are huge and insurmountable network benefits to a common scientific language.

MadisonMan said...

Folks who actually listened to "Back to the Future" learned "gig" with a soft-g.

Or they, in may case, asked themselves "Why is he saying it that way?" Same with gif imagery -- Jif is a peanut butter people!!

Dr.D said...

I have recently been working with an Iranian girl on her thesis (in English). She speaks/writes really excellent English for the most part, but the articles, a, an, and the, really throw her. She puts them in where they don't belong and leaves them out where they are needed. Also, hyphenation causes her lots of problems, particularly with the spacing before and after the hyphen.

She tells me that she also knows Arabic, Italian, and several other languages which I find rather amazing. I can barely speak/write English.

Carl said...

A student who displays no aptitude in learning this particular language, no matter how gifted in a scientific sense, is almost certainly locked out of educational opportunities, the relevant scientific literature and a career.

That is complete and utter nonsense. I have personally reviewed papers from top journals where the command of English was laughable. It doesn't matter. All the real content is in the numbers, graphs, tables, and equations, and if that stuff is high-quality -- you're good to go. And I've seen great scientific talent that was unable to talk in English at all -- and if it's first-class, it's the listeners and readers who figure out how to parse it, and they find out from the equations, the data, et cetera. Not knowing English or not knowing it well is as trivial a barrier as being fat or gay, i.e. not really at all.

What is true (and this is probably the sordid source of the complaint) is that if you aren't good at English, you can't write a bullshit paper that gets published very easily, or a bullshit proposal that gets funded, or compete on bullshit grounds for a good job. Naturally, successfuly bullshitting requires a very high level of command of the language. So a crappy student whose only hope of advancement is through "social" skills is handicapped, compare to native speakers. Oh cry me a river, babe.

Hopefully nobody's shocked, shocked to find out that a certain significant fraction of scientific publication and advancement is pure social theater, where the best bullshitters advance. That's human nature.

Rich Rostrom said...

This is an extraordinarily stupid argument.

The cost of having scientific discourse primarily in English is that scientists who are not fluent in English will have difficulty accessing it.

But that applies to any scientific discourse in any language. Science published in Finnish will be more accessible to Finnish scientists, some of whom can't read English. But it will be less accessible to the vastly larger population of scientists who can't read Finnish.

The ideal would be for all scientists to use the same language. Absent that, the general convergence to English is second best.

readering said...

It will be a long time before Chinese approaches English as the written language for science. Middle class Chinese are willing to spend huge sums to help their children learn English. Which is made harder because google, youtube and wikipedia are blocked in China. Can't expect a language to lead without freedom of thought and speech.

pm317 said...

@carl hear hear

jimbino said...

When I studied physics, the important languages were English, German, Russian and French. Bobby Fischer found that he had to learn Russian in order to improve his chess.

Nowadays, you have to have mastered English to work in STEM in the EU and in Brazil and Argentina.

Still, it's sad but true that Amerikans and Brits are among the worst in English grammar, especially when it comes to understanding transitive/intransitive and indicative/subjunctive verb usage,
as in: "If Obamacare was a rocket, it would have launched without any problem."

jimbino said...

Of course, Wernher von Braun, our coddled Nazi war criminal, was reputed to be studying Chinese when he died.

Tom Veal said...

Maybe Bobby Fischer studied Russian, but he didn't need to do it for chess-related reasons. Chess reports use language-neutral algebraic notation. Anyone who can master the Roman letters "a" through "h" and the Arabic numerals "1" through "8" can read it.

Michael McNeil said...

Between Shakespeare's impact on the language and world literature, and Queen Elizabeth I's huge expansion of the British Empire….

Elizabeth I did not hugely expand the British Empire. Her major accomplishment in this regard was avoiding England being conquered by the Spanish Empire. The one colony England attempted to found in the New World during her reign (Roanoke) was a failure.

Michael McNeil said...

I think Icelandic is a good example, in that a Viking from 500 years ago, could probably be fully understood today.

500 years ago is 500 years after the end of the Viking age (which spanned basically 800–1000 A.D.). Poul Anderson wrote a historical novel series about King Harald Hardrede of Norway (who began his illustrious career as a Varangian guard in Constantinople and perished in his invasion of England in 1066) called The Last Viking.

Rusty said...

jimbino said...
Of course, Wernher von Braun, our coddled Nazi war criminal, was reputed to be studying Chinese when he died.


I like the story. No doubt apocryphal. von Braun was being interrogated by an American officer and the officer asked him how he came to know so much about rocketry. von Braun looked at him, astounded.,"Why, from your Dr. Goddard."

ken in tx said...

It has been my observation that many (most?) engineers cannot speak or write well in any language. They hire non-engineers to write their tech manuals.

BTW the way I was once at an international conference where the German speaker spoke more understandable English than the British one. The Brit was Scottish.

Zach said...

When I review a paper by a non English speaker, I try to review the language independently of the science -- I give a review of the paper itself, plus a separate recommendation to seek the assistance of a native speaker if necessary.

The adoption of English is not always due to American hegemony. When I worked in Germany, there was a noticeable transition from German to English as the predominant language of the institutes where I worked. A lot of that was due to people from smaller European countries, who would come to work in Germany and France as part of projects sponsored by the European Union. People from small countries are much more likely to speak English than German, and conducting all business in German greatly restricts the available workforce. (I was the only American at both institutes, so it wasn't for my benefit.)