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posted by martyb on Thursday October 16 2014, @04:23AM   Printer-friendly
from the science-of-language dept.

German was the dominant scientific language in 1900. Today if a scientist is going to coin a new term, it's most likely in English. And if they are going to publish a new discovery, it is most definitely in English. Look no further than the Nobel Prize awarded for physiology and medicine to Norwegian couple May-Britt and Edvard Moser. Their research was written and published in English. How did English come to dominate German in the realm of science? BBC reports that the major shock to the system was World War One, which had two major impacts. According to Princeton University's Rosengarten professor of modern and contemporary history Michael Gordin, it started after World War One when Belgian, French, and British scientists organized a boycott of scientists from Germany and Austria. They were blocked from conferences and weren't able to publish in Western European journals. "Increasingly, you have two scientific communities, one German, which functions in the defeated [Central Powers] of Germany and Austria, and another that functions in Western Europe, which is mostly English and French," says Gordin.

The second effect of World War One took place in the US. Starting in 1917 when the US entered the war, there was a wave of anti-German hysteria that swept the country. In Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota there were many, many German speakers. World War One changed all that. "German is criminalized in 23 states. You're not allowed to speak it in public, you're not allowed to use it in the radio, you're not allowed to teach it to a child under the age of 10," says Gordin. The Supreme Court overturned those anti-German laws in 1923, but for years they were the law of the land. What that effectively did, according to Gordin, was decimate foreign language learning in the US resulting in a generation of future scientists who come of age with limited exposure to foreign languages. That was also the moment, according to Gordin, when the American scientific establishment started to take over dominance in the world. "The story of the 20th Century is not so much the rise of English as the serial collapse of German as the up-and-coming language of scientific communication," concludes Gordin.

 
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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by c0lo on Thursday October 16 2014, @06:07AM

    by c0lo (156) on Thursday October 16 2014, @06:07AM (#106546) Journal
    Unknowingly to them, there seems to be a de-facto (economic) ban [forbes.com] on no matter which foreign languages for the USofA today.
    • The percentage of public and private elementary schools offering foreign language instruction decreased from 31 to 25 percent from 1997 to 2008. Instruction in public elementary schools dropped from 24 percent to 15 percent, with rural districts hit the hardest.
    • The percentage of all middle schools offering foreign language instruction decreased from 75 to 58 percent.
    • The percentage of high schools offering some foreign language courses remained about the same, at 91 percent.
    • About 25 percent of elementary schools and 30 percent of middle schools report a shortage of qualified foreign language teachers.
    • In 2009-2010, only 50.7 percent of higher education institutions required foreign language study for a baccalaureate, down from 67.5 percent in 1994-1995. And many colleges and universities, including Cornell, have reduced or eliminated instructional offerings in “less popular” languages.

    What's the problem, you ask? Little inclination for the Americans to understand other cultures: is it any wonder that the average American can be tricked [wikipedia.org] into supporting a war and only to regret it [wikipedia.org] when her/his pocket is affected?

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  • (Score: 2) by keplr on Thursday October 16 2014, @08:24AM

    by keplr (2104) on Thursday October 16 2014, @08:24AM (#106564) Journal

    The more languages you know, the better. It's been proven to be beneficial in numerous ways. However, you can't deny that society would work better if everyone has at least one common language between them. In the United States, that language is English by shear momentum. If you speak only Spanish, or only Chinese, or only some other language, you are going to be handicapped socially in this country. You likely won't be able to talk to your doctor directly. The legal system is almost entirely in English. Commerce is mostly English. If you speak English AND Spanish, you are a great asset to your community because you can help people who don't know English. If you speak only English you are not helpful in this way, but you're also not suffering those limitations.

    It doesn't matter what the common language happens to be. I'm not a linguistic chauvinist, although I do happen to like Germanic languages aesthetically. It's analogous to programming languages. Some are rather cumbersome for certain tasks, but in principle you could accomplish any job with any programming language if you are fluent in it and willing to put the time in (more time for some languages than others for a given task). Through accidents of history, the common language happens to be English in the United States. That might not always be true, and it could even change to Spanish in my life time. I'm fine with that. I would then fully admit that it is MY deficiency in not knowing the common language.

    The statistics you cite aren't so much xenophobia as a systemic defunding of education by the political right. We just don't value it as much here as other countries. And when budgets are tightened the first things to go are "frivolous" subjects like music, arts, and languages.

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    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Thursday October 16 2014, @02:44PM

      by c0lo (156) on Thursday October 16 2014, @02:44PM (#106639) Journal

      The statistics you cite aren't so much xenophobia

      I didn't say it was.

      as a systemic defunding of education by the political right.

      I don't know about the handedness of the politics that does defund education: looks pretty much like both of the political wings are doing it; perhaps because it seems to serve them well; on the line of: don't forget, citizen, your "country" wants you stupid (cheaper to manipulate you this way).

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16 2014, @05:09PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16 2014, @05:09PM (#106703)

        keplr here, can't log in.

        Practically anything that happens politically in the USA is done by a right wing party because both the Democrats and Republicans are right wing. Democrats are centre-right with some secular leanings, Republicans are far-right with evangelical-Christian social conservatism. Actual leftist parties like the Green Party, Social Democrats, Socialists, what Europe calls "Labour"; these parties have no power in the USA, or don't even exist. Everything in the USA is skewed to the right of the center line.

  • (Score: 2) by iwoloschin on Thursday October 16 2014, @02:18PM

    by iwoloschin (3863) on Thursday October 16 2014, @02:18PM (#106630)

    I took Spanish for 4 or 5 years in middle school and high school. I picked it figuring it might be the most useful. 10+ years later I remember a smattering of Spanish, enough to, I think politely, ask if someone speaks English. I remember disliking the classes, not because I disliked the language, I just simply didn't really get it. English made sense to me, Spanish was, well, a foreign thing that never felt "right" to me.

    On the flip side, I *get* physics. I used that understand to get a degree in Electrical Engineering. I taught myself a bunch of programming languages, ranging the gamut from PPC Assembly to Python, and they all tend to *make sense* to me (with the exception of Perl...that will never make sense to me). I spend my days designing circuit schematics and laying out PCBs, and while sometimes it's hard, it feels "right" to my brain.

    I think it's haphazard to say Americans don't have any inclination to understand other cultures. I've travelled a bit in Europe, primarily England, but also Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Everyone was incredibly kind (well, except the French, they were kind of assholes, which was an unfortunate stereotype to uphold), and I learned a lot about the Germanic cultures which was genuinely interesting. But try as I might, I will never be able to speak more than a few canned phrases of another language, simply because my brain was not built that way. Likewise, an excellent translator is probably not doing engineering as a hobby, simply because they look at engineering and go, "Nope, that doesn't make any sense, it's magic!" Kind of the same way I look at a translator and go, "Ok, where'd this guy find a real Babel Fish?"

    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Thursday October 16 2014, @03:01PM

      by c0lo (156) on Thursday October 16 2014, @03:01PM (#106645) Journal

      I think it's haphazard to say Americans don't have any inclination to understand other cultures.

      woloschin... sounds like a very traditional deep-history-rooted anglo-saxon nick that you chose. You sure you are representative for a typical American from, say, Texas? (I picked Texas just because some nucular shrubs hailed from there up to DC, not because I know too much about Texas; except perhaps everybody seems to call Houston when in trouble, so there need to be dam' good engineers too nesting in Texas).

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16 2014, @04:57PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 16 2014, @04:57PM (#106698)

    Little inclination for the Americans to understand other cultures:

    What complete an utter horseshit. Do you think the average Swiss citizen has a unique and fundamentally deep desire to understand other cultures that he goes out of his way to learn multiple languages, or is it because he lives in a small area surrounded by countries that speak different languages? Would it be just coincidence that the other languages and cultures he cares about seem to have something to do with Germany and Italy, or is it simply a practical fact of life that you need to converse with your neighbors? Compare the percentages of Americans who are proficient in a second language between someone in the mid-West and someone in southern Arizona or Texas; would you be surprised to know that more people in southern Arizona and Texas know another language besides English?

  • (Score: 2) by Gaaark on Thursday October 16 2014, @10:16PM

    by Gaaark (41) on Thursday October 16 2014, @10:16PM (#106826) Journal

    forget teaching foreign languages.... it's getting so that you can't even teach hard science... only Scientology.
    And other nonsense.

    The U.S. is reverting. How long before all scientific papers will have to be written in Chinese because the Americans believe that electricity is 'MAGIC'.

    "Ooooh! You flick this switch and the lights come on.... thank God!"

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    --- Please remind me if I haven't been civil to you: I'm channeling MDC. ---Gaaark 2.0 ---