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Imperial English: The Language of Science?
WERNER HEISENBERG learned Latin, Greek and French when he was a gymnasium student in Munich. Later, when he worked in Copenhagen, he tackled English and Danish, using mealtimes as his language lab: English conversation during breakfast; Danish read aloud from the newspaper by his landlady afterward. This is not the kind of i anecdote we associate with today's science majors in the US, that resolutely monolingual lot. Science students here are rarely to be found in a school language lab, much less a] spontaneous one, and when they do speak another language, it is usually because of family background, not classroom instruction. Then they graduate, attend a conference with colleagues from other countries and discover the international hallmark of US science: linguistic incompetence.
We are the people who can no longer be bothered to learn another language. To be sure, we really haven't had to since the 1960s, for in the years since World War II English has gradually but inexorably become the lingua franca of science. Today it is the universal currency of international publications as well as of meetings. Those of us who need to keep up with, say, Angewandte Chemie need not worry about mastering German; we can leave it to the journal's staff, whose English is no doubt immaculate, to provide us with a convenient international edition published, of course, in English.
It wasn't always this way. For the 200 years before World War II, most scientific work was reported in German, French or English, in that order of importance. People who wanted to keep up with a specialization had to learn the dominant language of the field. For example, scientists who wished to understand quantum mechanics in the 1920s had to learn German. Sir Nevill Mott comments, 'Apart from Dirac, I don't think anyone in Cambridge understood (quantum mechanics) very well; there were no lectures on it, and so the only thing to do was to learn German and read the original papers, particularly those of Schrödinger and Born's Wellenmechanik der Stossvorgänge ("Wave Mechanics of Collision Processes").'
German, French and English were the customary languages of meetings, too. At Niels Bohr's institute in Copenhagen, for example, John A. Wheeler recalls that most seminars were held in German, occasionally in English. Bohr, who spoke English and German with equal ease, fluctuated between them, adding Danish as counterpoint. No one had to learn French, though, for Bohr's knowledge of it was limited. "I have it from an eyewitness," Abraham Pais writes, "that he once greeted the French ambassador to Denmark with a cordial aujourd'hui".
After World War II, the linguistic balance of power shifted. The US economy boomed, and science grew rapidly as vast federal expenditure, often fueled by the cold war, poured into research and development. US scientists flocked to conferences, bringing their language with them; US scientific publications burgeoned, and their huge readerships made them highly desirable to scientists throughout the world who realized English was a medium through which they could be widely read and cited.
With technical dominance came the beginning of linguistic dominance, first in Europe, then globally. Only the French and the Soviets put up a spirited resistance. At oneinternational conference when de Gaulle was still in power, for instance, a member of the French contingent began reporting in French and then, sensing that many of the important US scientists in his audience did not understand him, switched to English. Then he watched as all of his French colleagues rose as a group and exited. The Soviets, too, did what they could to fight the English monopoly, providing expensive simultaneous technical translations and bilingual commentaries or even resorting to French as the lesser evil — anything to avoid the language of the enemy.
Today in the former USSR, linguistic opposition has dissolved with the union. Even the French, who fiercely cherish their language, have accepted the practicality of English for publishing the proceedings of international meetings: the 12th Colloquium on High Resolution Molecular Spectroscopy was held last year in Dijon, but the only speech in French during the five days of the meeting was the mayor's welcoming address.
The rest of the world's scientists, too, have fallen into step. English was already in place in India, Nigeria and many other countries where it had been left behind by the British, to be widely adopted as a practical second language that united diverse populations. The Japanese readily inserted the language of the victor into their children's school programs; Korean and Chinese scientists were delighted to take up membership in the English-speaking club.
English is indeed the new Latin. It has become a successor to the scholarly language once so powerful that Christian Huygens delayed publishing Traite de la Lumiere for 12 years in hopes of translating it into Latin so as "to obtain greater attention to the thing". And there is a second way that English may parallel Latin. Latin outlived the Roman Empire, surviving long after the government that spread it through the world had vanished. So may the international use of English outlast US scientific domination. The ascent of English, after all, had little to do with any inherent linguistic virtues. True, English has an unusually rich vocabulary; instead of resisting new terms, we welcome them, particularly in science and technology - - les anglicismes have conquered the world. But it was scientific leadership, not a flexible lexicon, that sparked the diffusion of English. Many now say this leadership is faltering. Consider, for instance, last year's top holders of new US patents: Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Hitachi.
This year, although English continues its reign, small changes are in the wind. For example, more than 860 Japanese language programs are running in US schools, and there is even an occasional undergraduate science department promoting German. Who knows, the students enrolling in these foreign language classes might even learn a bit more about English, or, to put it in Goethe's words, Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen.
Anne Eisenberg is a professor at
Polytechnic University in Brooklyn,
where a very popular
Japanese language course was recently begun.
3. In each of these sentences from the article there is a word missing. Without looking back at the passage, try to complete the sentences with these alternative words or phrases. There are three extra words.
1 Then they (American science students) graduate, attend a conference with colleagues from other countries and discover the international _________________ of US science: linguistic incompetence.
2 ___________________ we can leave it to the journal's staff, whose English is no doubt __________________ to provide us with a convenient international edition published, of course, in English.
3 After World War II, the linguistic balance of power _________________
4 US scientific publications __________________, and their huge readerships made them highly desirable to scientists throughout the world...
5 At one international conference (...) a member of the
6 Even the French, who fiercely ______________ their language, have accepted the practicality of English for publishing the proceedings of international meetings...
7 Many now say this (scientific) leadership is …
4. Look at this extract.
… when he worked in Copenhagen, he tackled English and Danish, using mealtimes as his language lab: English conversation during breakfast; Danish read aloud from the newspaper by his landlady afterward.
The writer is suggesting that Heisenberg worked hard to learn foreign languages. What is she suggesting in the following sentences?
1) “… he once greeted the French ambassador to Denmark with a cordial aujourd'hui.”
2) … all of his colleagues rose as a group and exited.
3) … Christian Huygens delayed publishing Traite de la Lumiere for 12 years in hopes of translating it into Latin so as "to obtain greater attention to the thing".
4) Consider, for instance, last year’s top holders of new US patents: Toshiba, Mitsubisi and Hitachi.
5. How does the writer feel about her compatriots’ linguistic incompetence? Can you find words or expressions which reveal her opinion?
6. What, according to the writer, is the reason for the linguistic dominance of English in the scientific world? Do you agree with her analysis? Would you say that this is also true for other disciplines or jobs that you thought about in Exercise 1?
7. What is the general attitude in your country to the international diffusion of English? Would you say that people:
ü resist it?
ü accept it reluctantly?
ü accept it willingly?
English as a world language
Today, when English is one of the major languages in the world, it requires an effort of the imagination to realize that this is a relatively recent thing - that in Shakespeare's time, for example, only a few million people spoke English, and the language was not thought to be very important by the other nations of Europe, and was unknown to the rest of the world.
English has become a world language because of its establishment as a mother tongue outside England, in all the continents of the world. This exporting of English began in the seventeenth century, with the first settlements in North America. Above all, it is the great growth of population in the United States, assisted by massive immigration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that has given the English language its present standing in the world.
People who speak English fall into one of three groups; those who have learned it as their native language; those who have learned it as a second language in a society that is mainly bilingual; and those who are forced to use it for a practical purpose - administrative, professional or educational. One person in seven of the world's entire population belongs to one of these three groups. Incredibly enough, 75% of the world's mail and 60% of the world's telephone calls are in English.
SIMPLICITY OF FORM. Old English, like modern German, French, Russian and Greek, had many inflections to show singular and plural, tense, person, etc., but over the centuries words have been simplified. Verbs now have very few inflections, and adjectives do not change according to the noun.
FLEXIBILITY. As a result of the loss of inflections, English has become, over the past five centuries, a very flexible language. Without inflections, the same word can operate as many different parts of speech. Many nouns and verbs have the same form, for example swim, drink, walk, kiss, look, and smile. We can talk about water to drink and to water the flowers; time to go and to time a race; a paper to read and to paper a bedroom. Adjectives can be used as verbs. We warm our hands in front of a fire; if clothes arc dirtied, they need to be cleaned and dried. Prepositions too are flexible. A sixty-year old man is nearing retirement; we can talk about a round of golf, cards, or drinks.
OPENNESS OF VOCABULARY. This involves the free admissions of words from other languages and the easy creation of compounds and derivatives. Most world languages have contributed some words to English at some time, and the process is now being reversed. Purists of the French, Russian, and Japanese languages are resisting the arrival of English in their vocabulary.
THE FUTURE OF ENGLISH. Geographically, English is the most widespread language on Earth, second only to Mandarin Chinese in the number of people who speak it. It is the language of business, technology, sport, and aviation. This will no doubt continue, although the proposition that all other languages will die out is absurd.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AS A WORLD LANGUAGE
1.Answer the questions using the list below.
· Which language in the world is spoken by most people?
· Which language has the largest vocabulary?
· Which is the oldest written language?
· Which sub-continent has the largest number of languages?
· Which language has no irregular verbs?
· Which language has the most letters in its alphabet?
· In which language is the largest encyclopaedia printed?
Is it … Spanish/Cambodian/English/Esperanto/Mandarin Chinese/Indian?
2.Work in pairs.
Do you think the following statements true or false?
1. English was already an important world language four hundred years ago.
2. It is mainly because of the United States that English has become a world language.
3. One person out of seven in the world speaks perfect English.
4. There are few inflections in modern English.
5. In English, many verbs can be used as nouns.
6. English has borrowed words from many other languages.
7. In the future, all other languages will probably die out.
3.Read the article on English as a world language. Find out the answers to the true/false statements. There is one statement for each paragraph. Discuss your answers in pairs. Then read the article in more depth.
4.Using the dictionary check the pronunciation of the following words:
Shakespeare bilingual absurd
5.Form derivatives to the words in the table:
6.Write the correct combination of the verb and the particle:
Highlight these phrasal verbs in the article, comment on their meaning.
7.Show the difference between:
a) establishement – settlement
b) proposition – preposition
c) monolingual – bilingual – multilingual
8.Compile a list of words and word-combinations which characterize the status of the English language in the world. E.g. … one of the major languages in the world.
9.Explain the meaning of the following:
· mother tongue
· to resist the arrival of the English language
· to give the English language its present standing
· to involve the free admission of words
10.Do a mini-research:
1) Consult the dictionary and find the examples to illustare the basic characteristica of the English language.
2) Compile a scheme, according to which the English language, in your opinion, is going to develop in future.
ENGLISH ROUND THE WORLD
I.Do you know how widespread the English language today? Study the following list of countries in which English is spoken either as the mother tongue (M), as the second language (S), or learnt as a foreign language (F). Decide in which way English is used in each of the countries to complete the chart.
II.Finding specific information: read the following text and check the answers to the first task (not all the answers are in the text).