English is winning out as the preferred language for scientific research around the world, proclaims author Scott L. Montgomery in the new book “Does Science Need a Global Language?”
And yes, science does need an international language, says Montgomery, a faculty member in the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies.
English got a boost in the global scientific community following World War II, when U.S. science was well-funded and in high gear while much of Europe languished, Montgomery said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. Languages such as French, German or Japanese would have sufficed as well, if not for accidents of history, he said.
The use of a global scientific language — English — comes with a disadvantage, Montgomery said: the possibility of bias against researchers working in other languages.
“Those without skill in this language, however excellent their research may be, are forced to inhabit a borderland, unable to participate at the core of their field and its highest levels,” he said.
In the long view, the rise of a global language for scientific research is a good thing, in Montgomery’s view, though. Marginalization of research from countries where English is not the native tongue will decline as English instruction improves, he said.
“A global language is itself a resource, an extremely powerful one, for the global sharing of research knowledge, something that will greatly aid the world’s efforts to solve a number of its major challenges involving disease, food, water, energy and climate change,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery’s opinions are echoed in a report from an international research group based in London. English is well on its way to becoming a global language, and not just in science, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. That’s a good thing for business, but a bad thing for literature, according to the report.
“Why? Because if the English language dominates world publishing, very few translations except those from English to other languages will be commercially viable,” the report said. “As a result, virtually only those writing in English will have a chance of reaching a world audience and achieving ‘classic status.’ ”