English language and multilingualism in science

Galileo Galilei published his most important scientific works in Latin and Italian, Isaac Newton in Latin and English, Marie Curie in French, and Albert Einstein in German. However, science today tends to be monolingual in the English language. It is estimated that at least 95% of scientific publications are in this language. English is also the language used in most international conferences and meetings.

Why do we publish in English? For several reasons. By publishing in English or participating in academic events in this language, you achieve international projection, become a member of a global scientific community, establish contacts with scientists from different countries, and the research you do in a given context can contribute knowledge to others.

There are other reasons too. Most of the scientific journals included in the databases Web of Science also Scoops In English and articles in this language are likely to be cited in other publications. And as if that weren’t enough, there is also Incentive mode bonuses of institutions. The use of English in scientific communication has notable advantages as it facilitates the dissemination of scientific knowledge and international collaboration.

However, if we compare the monolingualism of English that we reach in scientific communication with the linguistic and cultural goals of the United Nations, we can notice a major discrepancy.

UNESCO’s Open Science (Open Access) Recommendations (2021) refer to accessibility to “multilingual scientific knowledge” and propose to “encourage multilingualism in the practice of science, in scientific publications and in academic communications”. “.

In fact, multilingualism can contribute to science by overcoming some of the limitations that can occur when scientific communication is monolingual in the English language. In addition, multilingualism can broaden perspectives on scientific issues by revitalizing existing knowledge in different cultures.

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Two of these constraints are fundamental because they are related to the creation of knowledge and the transmission of knowledge that is created. a condition Published in 2021 at macroenvironmental science by a group of 25 researchers from 16 countries There are gaps in knowledge When analyzing data published in English only.

The authors found that the total cost of controlling invasive alien species was 16.6% higher than previously thought when, in addition to what was published in English, the analyzed data included data published in other languages ​​(Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, etc.) . This study shows that focusing only on statements in English can mean knowledge barrier world It was necessary to make full use of information published in other languages.

Another limitation that is also central to science concerns the transmission of results and their impact on society. If science communication is conducted exclusively in English, the results of science will not be accessible to people who do not habitually read English. And especially for people who have responsibilities that must make informed decisions on issues such as pandemics, climate change, technology or education, which directly affect the lives of citizens.

Scientific communication in English has many advantages, but the problem is that science written in other languages ​​is not published or appreciated.

Another consequence of monosomy in the English language may be the loss of specialized jargon and the use of other languages ​​in the scientific field. This phenomenon is already alarming in the case of some Northern European languages ​​and is increasingly affecting others.

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On the other hand, scientific communication in English assumes extra effort for speakers of other languages ​​and in many cases additional financial resources To translate or correct texts. It is also possible that there may be a bias in accepting articles or communications at conferences because the academic style deemed acceptable is based on Anglo-Saxon traditions and most editors and reviewers come from English-speaking institutions.

Can we add other languages ​​for science communication or is it a losing battle? Use of English Crucial to the advancement of science and international cooperation.

It is not about replacing the English language, but about finding an alternative that includes English and other languages ​​in order to improve scientific knowledge and its impact on society and that this alternative is valued by institutions. It is not an easy task, but there are some steps.

An example is Helsinki Initiative on Multilingualism in Science Communicationlaunched in 2019, with increasing support both in Europe and Latin America, which promotes equal access to scientific knowledge in different languages ​​and linguistic diversity in the evaluation of research.

If we are to achieve these goals, it is necessary to increase the legibility of scientific production in different languages ​​and to make scientific publications in English more accessible by using translations of abstracts, keywords or, where appropriate, full texts.

Artificial intelligence and machine translation can facilitate these processes. It is also necessary to increase the visibility of good multilingual practices in scientific projects where several languages ​​are used in communication.

Finally, it is essential for institutions to evaluate and encourage scholarly communication in vastly different languages ​​to enhance its impact on society. Society Incidentally, most of the people who can benefit from the search results are not English monolinguals.

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*** Jason Sinoz is a member of the Advisory Board of the Organization of Ibero-American Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (OEI).

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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