English-Only Science in a Multilingual World: Costs, Benefits, and Options

Language & research
Monolingualism in Research – probably you haven’t thought of it much (i hadn’t given it much thought either..)

Little has been done to assess the impact of monolingualism in science, let alone deal with it, but a session at the AAAS meeting in February at least laid out the issues. The participants in that panel have been kind enough to supply me with their slides, which can be accessed at http://www.the-scientist.com/languagebarrier.

May be its time you see what the fuss is all about.

Photo: Georgina

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Author: Balachandar Radhakrishnan

I work in Project Management and love music, photography & more.

10 thoughts on “English-Only Science in a Multilingual World: Costs, Benefits, and Options”

  1. Sorry, but I fail to see what the problem is with having one language for science. It’s far better to have one language as the universal standard for international communication than to embrace two-hundred, if only because a monolingual culture would be more efficient (i.e. the barriers to communication increase linearly rather than quadratically). Computer scientists have recognized this problem long before, creating solutions like bytecode and platform-independent programming languages.

  2. Well, it isn’t actually a question whether monolingualism is suitable for Science, i’m pretty sure that monolingualism is the only way to go – the question is how to compensate for the advantage that native speakers of language have over non-native speakers.My opinion is that with time, the necessity to know a particular language would become an eligibility criteria for a career in science and there just is no other go.

  3. The point is not to have a single language in science. The point is that this language is English, and this is highly unfair as it gives an unduly advantage to native speakers. Moreover, the history of Europe in the XIX and XX centuries has shown that scientific communication can work multilingually (that is, with a limited number of languages). I think that English-speaking countries should pay a linguistic tax to compensate all other nations for the incredible and unfair advantage they benefit from as a result of the hegemony of their language.


  4. The point is that this language is English, and this is highly unfair as it gives an unduly advantage to native speakers.

    Perhaps you will one day have the good fortune to be on a plane where the pilots speak only Spanish and the ground controllers speak only Mandarin, all because you feel that it is unfair that they should have to work in English.

    The probability of a crash under those circumstances are high.

    Good luck …

  5. Here is an alternative proposal.

    If non-native English speaking scientific communities feel that having to communicate in English is unfair, let them set up their own scientific communities.

    I figure that the Chinese have the best chance of doing so.

    Maybe that way we will get to evaluate the ability of different groups to produce scientific results. I have lots of confidence that the Chinese will be able to do so.

    那是因为我很喜欢说中文。

  6. dominance of English is holding back the free exchange of ideas across most of the world, which may have consequences for all of us.” But, Richard does not suggest an alternative; neither do the posts that do not want English as the international language. So just how are we to communicate, telepathically?

    I suspect that the posts that condemn the use of English as the international mode of communication are not native speakers of English.

    I do think that all students, science or otherwise, should be required to speak a second language. And, there was a time when all science majors had to learn Latin, and many schools required engineering students to read German.

  7. Oops, looks like some of my post got cut.

    In his article under Language at Jacob Christensen Richard Gallagher states, “the dominance of English is holding back the free exchange of ideas across most of the world, which may have consequences for all of us.” But, Richard does not suggest an alternative; neither do the posts that do not want English as the international language. So just how are we to communicate, telepathically?

    I suspect that the posts that condemn the use of English as the international mode of communication are not native speakers of English.

    Actually, the true international language of science is math. But, English will do.

  8. You will perhaps one day have the good fortune to be on a plane where the pilots speak only English and the ground controllers speak only Mandarin. So a neutral and designed language would probably be better.

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