The Lingua Franca of Science

I’m writing this entry as a reflection on an article I read recently that details some of the problems that arise when publishing scientific papers in English. The article begins by describing the experiences of Valeria Ramírez-Castañeda, a graduate student who had some trouble drafting her advanced scientific papers in English. She felt that the experience was unnatural and writing in Spanish would be much more conducive to her being able to write well. Ms. Ramírez-Castañeda eventually decided to author her thesis in Spanish but ran into another issue when the topic of publication came up; to be published, you have to write in English. This issue got me thinking. I have always thought that English has tremendous potential as a global lingua franca, but I hadn’t considered that in fields we tend to consider prestigious, such as science, would create an issue. As described in the article, the use of English as a scientific lingua franca creates an exclusionary effect in some situations where scientists must either have their work translated at great expense to them or risk not being able to publish their work. Although I definitely see the advantages of establishing a lingua franca for science, our insistence on all scientific literature being published in English hinders the transfer of ideas, language has failed to fulfill its most elementary purpose. At this point you might be asking, “What’s the solution? Do we abandon the idea of having a lingua franca for science?”. In my opinion, the idea of having a common language is too valuable to scrap. Instead, I think the answer lies in technology. If a software like Google Translate were invented specifically to help translate works of scientific literature, we could reconcile the idea of having a lingua franca while also not being exclusionary to those living in parts of the world where English is simply not as accessible. 

About the author

Om Satapathy

Hi, I'm Om, the author of Lingua Franca.

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