Language and languages of science

Martin Fenner, on his Nature Network blog Gobbledygook, notes that The Deutsche Ärzteblatt , the official journal of the German Medical Association, will from this month be publishing an English version. The reason? So that the journal is more clearly indexed in databases such as PubMed, hence available to more readers, leading to more citations of journal articles, a better Impact Factor, and enhanced reputation of the journal. Martin’s opinion is that although German was once an important scientific language, today only 2 per cent of articles indexed in Medline are in the language. “In the end”, he writes, " it makes the exchange of ideas between scientists much easier if we can all use the same language. And Nature Network is a good example for this."

In the stimulating discussion arising from the post, Nicolau Werneck comments that “to this day there are a bunch of interesting words and expressions from German that came into the international scientific jargon in the last 2 centuries, such as gedankenexperiment, eigenvector and gestalt…We must fight. But not to forbid people from talking in english, or other imperialistic arrogant language, and certainly not to make them speak only in English. We must fight for the plurality of languages.”

Nicholas Wigginton’s view is that of someone considering a postdoc in a country where English is not an official language. “Although the science that the groups I am looking into publish everything in English, some operate their labs in the national language whereas others prefer their science to be done exclusively in science. I find this very interesting.”


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