The language of science.

Any homo sapiens who hears the name “Carl Linneaus” and thinks “binomial nomenclature” (or vice versa) knows that English wasn’t always the language of science — and that Latin was. When did it change? And why English? As usual, war + xenophobia have a lot to do with the forced narrowing of the intellectual pipeline.

Head over to Aeon for the full story — I’ve intentionally left out the punchline(s) below, but it apparently has something to do with English being the most efficient form of universal communication, which I’m not sure I agree with much.

If everyone uses the same language, there is less friction caused by translation – such as priority disputes over who discovered what first when the results appear in different tongues – and less waste in pedagogy. By this view, contemporary science advances at such a staggering rate precisely because we have focused on ‘the science’ and not on superficialities such as language…

Perhaps most importantly, since Latin was no specific nation’s native tongue, and scholars all across European and Arabic societies could make equal use of it, no one ‘owned’ the language. For these reasons, Latin became a fitting vehicle for claims about universal nature. But everyone in this conversation was polyglot, choosing the language to suit the audience…

We now live in the Esperantists’ dreamworld, but the universal language of natural science is English, a language that is the native tongue of some very powerful nation states and as a consequence not at all neutral. What happened to the polyglot system of science? It broke. When the Great War erupted in summer 1914…

And that was just the beginning.


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