Languages of Science
By: Salman Saeed
Language is a broad term and it covers almost every area and subject. The functions of languages are significant to communicate and interact. Language is inevitable for verbal communication primarily. It helps us inform, entertain and persuade as well. When we talk about the languages that people speak in particular, there are up to 7000 languages in the world. It is worth mentioning that not all of these are active. A few of these are popular and many are obsolete now with a few speakers.
When it comes to the language of science, science was never speechless. Though like all other niches science has struggled a lot with words. People also find the science language complex and extensive. It surely is. Language of science has long words and many times it is a combination of two or more words. The words that they use in the language are different from common vocabulary which is why people often find it difficult. However, a closer look makes us realize that these longer words are actually made of smaller and more recognizable parts. A quick glance does not help but the detailed analysis makes us reveal facts better.
Evolution of the Science Language
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the language of science continued to evolve, particularly in the fields of chemistry and biology. Scientists such as Antoine Lavoisier and Charles Darwin developed new concepts and terminology to describe chemical reactions and the processes of evolution and natural selection.
Today, the language of science continues to evolve at a faster pace. There are new inventions and discoveries coming from different regions and countries. Scientists develop new tools and technologies for conducting research. In recent decades, the fields of genetics and neuroscience have seen significant advances, leading to the development of new concepts and terminology to describe the workings of the human body and mind. We have new gadgets and appliances. We have AI-based robots. So there is no looking back for the scientific field and its languages.
Latin as reported was the first and foremost language of science. The initial findings and researches connect to this language. Before the 17th-century scientific publications used to be in the Latin language. As per the historians, in 1687 Sir Isaac Newton in his book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica talked about the laws of motion and gravity in the Latin language. Most of the people were illiterate and education was not common at that time. Also, Latin was the language that belonged to elite and intellectual people in those days. Moreover, the famous word ‘gravity’ comes from the Latin ‘gravitas’ which means ‘heavier’.
The word structure is also similar even today. Such as the word biology is a combination of two words. These are bio- and -logy. Where bio stands for life and logy refers to the study of something and together it tells us about the study of life. Most of the words that come from the science concepts come from Latin. Interestingly, many of the Latin words have their origin in Greek and Arabic languages too. However, these days they use modern variants of Latin. Science words that are from Latin stay similar usually even if translated from English to Spanish or other languages because main Latin words are used as these are.
Publishing in the Latin language
A lot of scientists then started publishing their work in Latin and they had to carry out this practice. They had to make their ideas and knowledge more accessible to the people and aspirants. This made Latin lose its status as the lingua franca of science. The major concern of scientific research was to share ideas and knowledge. This concern behind publishing in multiple languages helped hinder the language barrier for scientific communication. This was when English got dominant in scientific publications.
English, French, and German
After Latin lost the status of a science language, new languages made their way. The importance and dominance of English as a science language did not minimize the significance of other native languages. With the passage of time by the mid-19th century three primary languages got promoted to scientific languages and these were English, French, and German.
After this, every scientist had to publish his findings and content in at least three above-mentioned languages. It was only 1900 and German became the dominant language. This mainly happened due to the leading German scientists including Einstein, Planck, and Heisenberg among others. It worked this way until the first world war led to the boycott of German scientists who were barricaded from publishing in western European journals.
Important features of the language of science
Science is a systematic and logical approach to discovering new knowledge and understanding the world around us. It relies on empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. Scientific communication is the process that allows scientists to share their findings and ideas with each other and with the general public. The language of science is, therefore, an important aspect of scientific communication and it needs to come up with certain attributes. Having these below-mentioned attributes can beautify the whole research content.
One of the key features of the language of science is its precision and clarity. In scientific communication, it is important to use language that is unambiguous and people can easily understand. The ambiguities and complexities in the languages often lead to misunderstandings as well as inaccuracies in the content and research. Such issues can be disastrous. Scientific language is often technical and specialized, with a large vocabulary of terms and concepts that are specific to particular fields of study.
Evidence and data
Scientific languages are lying on authentic evidence and certified data. This is a beneficial feature of the language of science. In scientific communication, statements and conclusions are typically backed up by proven evidence, such as data from experiments and observations. The data collected from the questionnaires and surveys also contribute to this. This evidence is presented in a systematic and objective way. The researchers often use graphs, charts, and tables to help illustrate the findings.
Neutral and objective
Scientific language also tends to be more objective and neutral as compared to other types of languages. Scientists strive to minimize personal bias and affiliation in their writing and focus on presenting facts and statistics objectively. This is important that they don’t get biased and don’t take things personally. As whole research is relying on scientists’ neutrality. This is important because it helps to ensure that scientific findings are reliable and trustworthy.
Jargon and abbreviations
Specialized jargons and abbreviations are a vital part of the scientific language. This is because scientists need to communicate complex concepts and ideas in a concise and efficient way. Therefore, their proper placement and relevant use beautify the whole text. However, this can also make scientific communication difficult for those who are not familiar with the specific terminology used in a particular field.
English – the lingua franca of science language
The conflicts that scientists had to face throughout the 21st century including world wars and the cold war have transformed the way that scientists around the world communicated with each other. It was by the mid of 1990 that English had established itself as the science language. These days they have this unsaid rule according to which researchers and scientists have to publish their work in the English language to share their ideas and to make it public.
Most of the institutes and colleges deal with science education at the college level in the English language. They focus on allowing the students to learn scientific facts in the English language so that if they intend to become a scientist in the future they know about it beforehand and can shape their career in a better way. Several textbooks that are related to science are now written in English for students even in non-English countries. The students have to be proficient in the English language to pursue their scientific careers and mainly their degrees in English. Being ignorant of a language such as English could create huge problems that too if you plan to excel in the field of science. As per reports around 15% of the world’s population speak English language and 5% of them speak English as their native language.
These facts also make the whole scientific information in the English language inaccessible.
More scientific work in multilingual patterns
Scientific publications are often available in two or more languages. Many authorities and scientific journals get this opportunity to translate the research abstracts and articles translating and to make these available in the English language. Moreover, the scholars should make sure that they translate the content into other important languages. Considering the fact, scientific language is a serious and challenging language with specialized terminology and jargon. Hence, they should hire a professional and competent translation agency who have experienced translators so that they get an accurate translation to publish and share with the masses confidently.
Despite its complexity and technical nature, the language of science is essential for advancing scientific knowledge and understanding. By using a common language to communicate their findings and ideas, scientists are able to build on each other’s work and collaborate to solve some of the most pressing scientific questions of all time. After Latin, English is the lingua franca of science and every researcher and scientist has to publish their content in the English language to make it public. Moreover, the digitalized and advanced world that we are in also demands from us going for publications in multiple languages.