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The English of Science

2020/06/25

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


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


As world powers were pooled and divided during and after 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. 


So, if your students are interested in science, then English dominance ought to light a bunsen burner under their backsides to get them motivated to study English, lest they regret it later in life.


English however, 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 for scientific and technological terms to be named in Greek. 


Many everyday things would have a completely different ring to them today if that was not the case. 'Monosodium glutamate' would be 'one salt glutamic 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?


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