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The English of Science


A Russian, a Korean, and a Mexican walk into a bar. How do they communicate?

In English, of course! But especially if  that bar is around the corner from an international science conference. Because in today's world, scientists speak English.

"English is the dominant language of Science."

As world powers were pooled and divided during the events of World War II, and the Cold War, the once polyglot world of academic science became overwhelmingly English-only. That may not be a big surprise seeing as how the same can be said for business, engineering, and medicine. It's also not likely to change anytime soon as the possibility of Mandarin Chinese becoming a lingua franca, as Mandarin doesn't even hold complete sway through all of China, and is considered exceedingly difficult. So if your students are interested in science than English dominance ought to light a bunsen burner under their butt to get them motivated to study English, lest they regret it later in life.

But English wasn't always the primary language of science, truth be told the multilingual background of science has left a significant impact on the way we speak English today. Latin, German, and French have all made significant contributions to the vocabulary of science. But in the 19th century it was fashionable that all scientific and technological words had to be named in Greek. Many everyday things would have a completely different ring to them today if that weren't the case. Monosodium glutamate would be one-salt gluten acid, and photographs would be called lightwriting. Somehow the direct English translation lacks a certain grace.

Maybe even the "selfie" would be a bit more dignified in Greek as an "autoportrait", or maybe not?

[Back]<<What are the roots of English intonation?Why are buffets called "Viking" and staplers called "Hotchkiss"?>>[Next]

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