State-of-the-Art: Global Language Studies
by Asya Pereltsvaig
While the study of Esperanto, its linguistic structure and the history of its attendant movement, constitute the core of Esperantic Studies, the field extends to broader issues that concern language policy and planning, individual and societal multilingualism, and the use of language in specific areas such as education and science, government and administration, and business and the workplace. This cluster of topics is, however, rather wide-ranging, making it difficult to draw a precise boundary of Esperantic Studies. In this article, therefore, I shall focus on three specific topics: the use of language in science and education (particularly, in higher education), models of language use in contemporary (and future) globalized world, and the issue of linguistic justice. I will also consider the role that Esperanto plays in those areas. (For a discussion of language in the context of the United Nations and other international organizations, see Biltoft 2005, forthcoming.)
Language in science and education
Given the reflexive nature of contemporary linguistics and other humanities and social sciences (cf. Chomsky 1995, Hodder 1999, inter alia), it is unsurprising that much of the literature on the choice of language in a multilingual society is focused on the academic world of science and education. Another reason behind such focus on the use of language in academic environments is that science, and to a lesser degree education, are among the most globalized human enterprises. Science (especially the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, and biology) is concerned with a search for universal truths about a common natural world, shared by peoples speaking different languages. (It should be pointed out that the terms “science” and “scientist” are used in the relevant literature and here in two distinct senses that are not always made explicit: one referring to natural sciences and excluding humanities, and the other referring to scholars in general; cf. Ammon 2012: 334.)
As for education, especially the tertiary education, historically, distinct educational models emerged in different countries and world regions: both sociologists and historians of education speak of the “Anglo-Saxon” (or “Atlantic”) and “Continental” models of education. The former model, centered in the UK and the US, is characterized by more liberal relations between educational institutions and the state, as well as by an inductive system of reasoning (from the particular cases to general conclusions); in contrast, the Continental model, which emerged in Germany and to a lesser degree in France and Russia, exhibits a greater degree of centralization and state control, as well as the deductive model of reasoning (from the general conclusions to the particular illustrative cases). Scholars also talk about the “Humboldtian”, “Napoleonic”, “Confucian” and other university models (Stan 1999, Enders 2005, Marginson 2011, Sam & van der Sijde 2014). However, in recent decades, pressures from both internal and external stakeholders (cf. Amaral & Magalhaes 2002) nudge universities towards a “common denominator” (Dobbins & Knill 2009, Altbach, Reisberg & Rumbley 2009, Yudkevich, Altbach & Rumbley 2015). The Bologna Process, a series of coordinated efforts and agreements between European countries aimed at ensuring comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications across the continent, led to the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) (cf. Wächter 2004, Reinalda & Kulesza-Mietkowski 2005, Keeling 2006, Ravinet 2008). Currently, 47 countries are included in the EHEA, including most of the European countries (except Monaco, San Marino, Kosovo, and Belarus), as well as Turkey, and ten of the former Soviet Republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan). European cooperation in the area of science and research has also led to the emergence of the European Research Area (ERA). It is, therefore, unsurprising that such interconnected and globalized endeavors as science and education bring to the fore the issue of language choice and language policy.
Despite the interrelatedness of science and education, the use of language in the two domains is often studied separately: the language of science falls under the domain of history of science, while the use of language in schooling at all levels, from kindergarten to university, is typically studied by experts in education policy and research. Yet, language choices in education are intimately linked to language choices in science: as science can be seen as the apex of an educational pyramid, the individual choices made and the societal policies adopted for education at lower levels (elementary and middle school) affect the choice of language in education at higher levels (high school, university), and the latter naturally affects the choices and policies of language use in the scientific community. Overall, the use of language aligns with the educational pyramid: the use of the local language(s) is more common at the lower educational levels, while the use of the global language—typically English (more on which below)—predominates in higher-level educational institutions; science too is conducted largely in the global language. I shall begin by considering the language policies in the education systems around the world, which, as mentioned above, feed into the language policies and language choices in scientific community.
Considering the role of English as the global lingual franca when it comes to (higher) education and science, it is useful to divide the world into three types of countries/societies: (1) English-speaking, i.e. countries where English is the national or dominant language for the population at large (comparable to Kachru’s 1986 “inner-circle English-speaking countries”); (2) English-intensive, i.e. countries where English is taught intensively at all levels of education; and (3) English-elite, i.e. countries where secondary education is conducted in the local language and consequently the majority of people do not speak English or speak it at the basic level at best. Prototypical examples of countries in the second category include the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands; notably, most countries in this category are linguistically and culturally close to the Anglophone world. Countries in the third category include France, Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe, China, and most African countries. It should be noted, however, that the distinction between these categories is not black-and-white: for example, a case can be made for counting Israel in either the second or the third category; Canada as a whole can be argued to belong to the first or the second category (although many parts of Canada are effectively monolingual in English), and so on. Nor is the division between these categories set in stone: certain countries maybe move from one category into another over time. For example, Switzerland appears to have moved from the third to the second category in the last 50 years or so (cf. Dürmüller 2002). Other, more surprising, shifts include the one underway in Mongolia, a county that “has never been part of any UK or U.S. sphere of influence, at any time in its history” and yet in recent years undergoing a shift from Russian to English as the first foreign language taught in schools (Ostler 2010: 15).
Unfortunately, most existing research on the use of language in education and its effects on both the education system and on the local language focus on countries in the second category, particularly, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands. In these countries, English is used in education alongside the local language at the elementary school level and progressively more and more as one moves through the education system. Notably, even children’s TV programs in these countries are often in English, sometimes subtitled rather than dubbed; adult TV programs and films in English are virtually exclusively subtitled rather than dubbed. As a result, an average Norwegian, Swede, or Dutchman can conduct a conversation in English—something I have myself experienced while traveling in those countries. In what follows, I will focus on this body of research on Nordic countries, and will return to the use of language in other countries in brief remarks later on.
As noted in Arnbjornsdottir and Ingvarsdóttir (2014: 179), “the Nordic countries have recently experienced increased pressure to adopt English as a language of science, higher education and business”. Several issues concerning such “Englishization” of higher education have drawn the attention of scholars investigating language policies and practices in Nordic countries. The first issue is root causes of such “Englishization” of education (especially higher education) in non-English-dominant countries. Another problem concerns the differences between sub-domains of higher education and research. A third issue is the consequences of such increasingly English-only education for the education system itself, as well as the costs for the societies at large in terms of equality, access, and social justice. Also related is the issue of the effects of the shrinking domain of use on the local language itself. Finally, as many scholars see such Englishization as a negative development and the existing (or proposed ideal) language policies as safeguards against the encroachment of English, many scholars are concerned with “what, if anything, needs to be done to curb current developments and how effectiveness of such measures [can] be ensured” (in the words of Kristina Hultgren’s professional website).
The most up-to-date treatment of these issues can be found in Hultgren et al. (2014), a volume published by John Benjamins, focusing on both ideological representations of ongoing Englishization of universities in five Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) and the ways in which it unfolds in practice on the ground—and the discrepancies between the two. What follows is a brief contrastive overview of the contributions in this volume.
Among the five Nordic countries considered in the volume, Norway is a particularly interesting case because the “competition” between English and Norwegian in its education system comes on the heels of a nearly hundred-year-long history of language planning involving two standard varieties of Norwegian: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Originally a heavily regulated adaptation of written Danish, Bokmål (known earlier as Riksmål) emerged at the turn of the 20th century; shortly thereafter, the language reform of 1917 introduced Nynorsk, based on elements from Norwegian dialects and a purist opposition to Danish, as an optional alternative to the Danish-based Bokmål. Subsequent reforms by the Norwegian Academy brought the two standard varieties closer to each other, yet they are still recognized as distinct (and at least in principle, equal) written standards. As discussed in Linn (2014), a highly interventionist approach, which predominated in what is sometimes described as a “language struggle” or “language controversy” (in Norwegian, språkstriden) between Bokmål and Nynorsk, is now being avoided. According to Linn, “language policies in the universities of Norway seek to nurture a situation where English and Norwegian may be used productively side-by-side” (p. 27). This at least is the ideology; the practice on the ground differs from this ideal, as discuss in Ljosland (2014), which centers on a study of language planning in the academic sector in Norway based on “published statistics, reports and policy documents, as well as qualitative interview data” (p. 53).
The situation in Sweden is different in that “the conceptual history of ‘domain loss’ within Sweden’s field of language planning” is tightly connected to “crossing discourses about minority languages and EU membership” (Salö 2014: 83). Söderlundh’s (2014) contribution is a meta-study comparing five earlier studies of language practice in Swedish higher education and discussing how the policy of English-medium teaching is assumed in these studies to relate to practices “on the ground”. She demonstrates that “the earlier studies take a normative approach towards policy and practice, in the sense that practice is assumed to coincide with policy, while the later studies approach policy and practice from a dynamic point of view, assuming that other languages may be used in addition to the policy-prescribed medium”.
Finland is like Norway in that it recognizes two official languages at the national level, but unlike in Norway, which has two mutually understandable written standards (in addition to numerous local dialects), the two official languages of Finland—Finnish and Swedish—are not mutually comprehensible, and even belong to two different language families (Uralic and Indo-European, respectively). In addition, Finland recognizes the Saami language as an official language in northern Lapland. Englishization of higher education in Finland is, consequently, a more complex process than in its westerly neighbor. Research on the topic, partially funded by the Academy of Finland, is documented in Saarinen (2014), which “first presents an historical overview of the language policy developments in Finnish universities and then goes on to discuss the latest developments in Finnish university and language legislation” (p. 127). But as Lindström & Sylvin (2014) show, in Finland, as elsewhere in Nordic countries, ideology and practice of language planning do not always coincide. They focus on the University of Helsinki and demonstrate that despite its bilingual status with respect to the two national languages, Finnish and Swedish do not share an equal status in practice. Moreover, they contend that “official language policies and grassroots practices” are often at odds with each other, and “language choice also creates tensions between national and global sciences” (p. 147). Adding English to this already volatile equation “challenges traditional university language policies, calling for a reevaluation of them” (ibid).
Iceland is the most linguistically uniform of the five Nordic countries, with virtually the entire population speaking Icelandic; the only other language listed for Iceland in the Ethnologue is “Icelandic Sign Language” used by the deaf community, which constitutes less than 1% of the country’s population. (For comparison, the Ethnologue lists 7 languages in Denmark, 9 languages in Norway, 12 languages in Finland, and 14 languages in Sweden.) Historically, Icelanders are known for their purist and conservative approach to language; yet, as shown in Kristinsson (2014), such “protectionist language ideologies” (p. 165) co-exist with a more pragmatic approach when it comes to questions of language choice in practice. This “clear, although largely unacknowledged, discrepancy between the prevailing ideology, policies and language practice” is further documented in Arnbjornsdottir and Ingvarsdóttir (2014). According to their study, “although the majority of courses at Icelandic universities are still taught in Icelandic, over 90 percent of all course material is now in English and there is extreme overt pressure on academic staff to publish in English” (p. 179). Arnbjornsdottir and Ingvarsdóttir also draw attention to the inadequate preparation of students for such heavily English-language tertiary education system and the need to make changes to the National Curriculum in English and to teacher education. Yet, the recent language policy and legislation efforts on the part of the Icelandic government have followed a older, purist ideology rather than laissez-faire grassroots practices and thus focused on restricting the use of English at Icelandic universities rather than on preparing students for largely English-medium tertiary education. Kristinsson (2014) agrees that such efforts “are not likely to be effective in the long run”.
While most studies of language ideologies focus on the perspectives of legislators, administrators, and teaching staff, Mortensen and Fabricius (2014) consider the attitudes towards language choice and language use held by Danish university students. According to their findings, based on “a qualitative analysis of attitudes towards different forms of English”, although students “subscribe to familiar language ideologies”, they also hold fairly pragmatic views where “competence and effectiveness [are] important parameters in their evaluation of different forms of English in the university context” (p. 193). Jürna (2014) also considers linguistic attitudes and practices in the Danish university contexts, particularly among the international academic staff at the University of Copenhagen, which she characterizes as “an expat bubble, i.e. a community within a community with its advantages and challenges” (p. 225). She finds that “most respondents consider English as a general working language while they find Danish helpful in administrative communication and in everyday life” (ibid). Still, Danish plays a more important role “when linked with a longer job perspective in Denmark and a higher position in the academic hierarchy” (ibid).
Another important study that investigated the root causes of the “Englishization” of higher education in Denmark is presented in Hultgren (2013a, 2014a, b). She questions whether a sweeping narrative centered on “internationalization, harmonization, marketization and competition” of European universities since the late 1990s (evident from the European Union’s Erasmus program for the international exchange of students and the Bologna Process, aimed at improving mobility among institutions) can explain the increased use of English across the various universities. Contrary to the received wisdom, Hultgren concludes that Englishization does not always go hand in hand with organizational restructuring and internationalization of higher education. Her quantitative study of practices and statistics from Denmark’s eight universities is based on the assumption that “world class” (i.e. a high “average position on seven well-known university ranking lists”) is “an indicator of the extent to which a university has undergone organizational restructuring”; furthermore, she takes “the proportion of international students and faculty” as a proxy for Englishization. It appears that these assumptions are not unproblematic, however, as the proportion of international students and faculty may as well be a proxy for internationalization and organizational restructuring. Without clearly defining a priori the phenomena to be studied, any correlation between them is suspect. Nonetheless, Hultgren’s finding of “exceptions in which English is being used more by lower-ranked universities” is interesting and worth further study. According to Hultgren (emphasis mine), “in these cases, Englishization seems to be better explained by taking into account local and contextual factors than by grand and sweeping narratives”—a point that should be kept in mind by all researchers investigating language use. (Internationalization of higher education in the context of Denmark is also the topic of Fabricius, Mortensen, and Haberland 2015.)
Countries outside the English-intensive Nordic world face their own problems when it comes to language policies and practices in the education system; a critical overview of these issues concerning a wide range of countries, including India, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Kenya, Lesotho, Swaziland, Rwanda, and Solomon Islands, can be found in Tollefson (2013). Here, I shall focus on three countries that tackle their unique challenges: Israel, Japan, and Ukraine.
In Israel, as in Nordic countries (see discussion above), discrepancies can be seen between the language situations as prescribed by law and as observed in practice. Demographically, the three most commonly-used languages are Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian, and de jure Hebrew and Arabic are both co-official languages. Yet, in practice the role of English and Russian is amplified, while Arabic is demoted on the ground. Article 82 of the Palestine Order in Council, adopted on October 10, 1922, made “English, Arabic and Hebrew” (listed in that order) the three official language of British Mandate Palestine (cited in Yitzhaki 2008: 6). In 1948, early Israeli legislation effectively removed English as an official language, so it is not sanctioned for use in Knesset debates or for drafting legislation (although some old laws from the British Mandate period are still in English). Nonetheless, English remains the mother tongue of a significant Anglophone minority (mostly immigrants from the U.S.) and an important language in both education and the workplace (particularly, through an extensive presence in Israel of American and multinational high-tech companies). Fluency in English is considered by many Israelis to be a mark of good education and a certain socio-economic status; several politicians have been mocked in the media for their poor English skills. (Curiously, despite the country’s history of British mandatory rule, English used in Israel today is primarily American English, due to the massive exposure to American culture, especially since the 1990s.)
The status of Arabic in Israel is quite the opposite of English: although it remains an official language, in practice, it is “a minority language, denied in law and in fact the status that might be expected to result from being the second official language” (Spolsky & Shohamy 1999: 117). In many ways, Russian—although spoken by a smaller group of native speakers—plays a more prominent role in Israeli society than Arabic. For example, Russian speakers enjoy their own TV station and Russian subtitles in some national broadcasts on other channels (Yitzhaki 2008).
As for language choices in the education system, until recently Israel had no official Language Education Policy (LEP), and most schooling took place in Hebrew or Arabic, with English and Hebrew being taught as the Second Language to Jewish and Arab students, respectively. In 1996, the current LEP policy, known as 3+, was adopted: its goal is promoting the learning of at least three languages, with English being taught broadly in both Jewish and Arab schools (cf. Shohamy 2006). In Jewish schools in Israel, Arabic is often relegated to the third-language status: under the current educational guidelines, Jewish schools are “supposed to teach three hours of Arabic a week to 7th-10th graders. However, the directive is not strictly enforced and many institutions do not offer classes”, as reported in Times of Israel. Another problem with teaching Arabic in Jewish schools results from the diglossia between Modern Standard Arabic and spoken Arabic varieties (particularly, South Levantine Spoken Arabic): as elsewhere in the Arabic-speaking world, the variety taught in both Jewish and Arab schools in Israel is Modern Standard Arabic, but consequently, many Jewish students do not learn “the type of Arabic that can be used for actual everyday communication” (Shohamy 2006: 85).
The status of Arabic in Jewish schools may change soon, however, as a legislative proposal put forward recently by Oren Hazan, a Member of Knesset from the right-wing Likud Party, calls for Arabic to be taught in Jewish schools beginning in the first grade. His proposal also includes a parallel Hebrew program for Arabic schools, though this may be a case of legislating an already-common practice, as most Arab citizens of Israel learn Hebrew anyway. “Knowing the language of the other is the basis for understanding and mutual respect” is cited as Hazan’s chief reason for this mutual language learning proposal. According to media reports (e.g. in the May 29, 2015 issue of the Tablet Magazine), the new bill “has been endorsed by a wide array of figures across Israel’s ideological map, and has been signed by Knesset members from the far-left Meretz to the far-right Jewish Home”, as well as endorsed by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and is therefore likely to pass.
Yet, although Arabic is often seen as overshadowed by Hebrew in the educational sphere, Arabic is seen as the “dominant” rather than “dominated” language in some Arab schools, particularly those in Christian Arab communities, for example, in the town of Jish in northern Israel, which is about one third Muslim and two thirds Christian (predominantly, Maronite Catholic). Although some of the religious services are conducted there in Aramaic, most adults do not speak the language, but in recent years efforts have been made to teach Aramaic as a voluntary subject in the town’s elementary school. Still, the Aramaic revival project (discussed in more detail in Pereltsvaig 2014) remains highly contentious as the Muslim minority in the town is concerned that it would drive a wedge between Muslim and Christian Arabs; some Muslims even view the rising popularity of Aramaic classes as a covert attempt to entice their children to Christianity or as a form of alignment with Israel and against the Palestinian cause. Even some Christian Arabs object on the grounds that the revival of their ancestral language could be used to strip them of their Arab identity.
Other languages, including Russian, Amharic, and Tigrinya, are also used in primary and secondary education. For example, newly arrived immigrants can receive up to four years of education in their mother tongue. Even small communities that have lived in Israel for a long time can use their indigenous languages in education, especially at the elementary school level. For example, the 3,000-strong Circassian community, settled in northern Israel in 1870s, continues to use Adyghe in the village schools, alongside Hebrew, Arabic, and English. (Curiously, much of the primary education in Adyge in Israel was based on the Soviet models, so much so that in 1982, the Israeli Ministry of Education published its own Circassian primer based on a Soviet model, complete with such non-Israeli themes as Young Pioneers with their red ties, or sledding and snow balls.) This “Babel” involving Adyghe, Hebrew, and English, continues in middle school, described in a 2005 article in the Israeli Hebrew-language daily newspaper Haaretz as follows (translation mine): “Art classes, whose teacher is Jewish, are conducted in Hebrew; classes on the religion of Islam – in Arabic; English classes – in English with explanation in Hebrew, while students speak among themselves in Circassian [i.e. Adyghe]; and the science classes – according to the teachers’ choice. [One of the science teachers] tries to conduct his science classes in Circassian so that the children won’t forget the language. When he is lacking words for scientific concepts, he completes in Hebrew.”
Despite this Babel model in primary and secondary education, the tertiary education in Israel is skewed to Hebrew and English. Some interesting parallels emerge in the use of language in higher education in Israel and Iceland (as described by Arnbjornsdottir & Ingvarsdóttir 2014). Both countries are known for their traditional purist approaches to the national language. In Israel, the “purity” of Hebrew is guarded by the Academy for the Hebrew Language, whose many decisions have aimed to protect Hebrew from foreign influences (and yet, ironically, the name of the organization itself includes a loanword, academia). As in Iceland (cf. Arnbjornsdottir & Ingvarsdóttir 2014: 179), tertiary education in Israel is characterized by a “schizophrenic” linguistic personality: the majority of courses are taught in Hebrew, yet the overwhelming share of textbooks and other reading materials is in English. Consequently, many students choose to write papers and exams in English—and the majority of the faculty publish in English as well. (I personally experienced this bilingual education, as all of my undergraduate education at the English department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was conducted in English rather than Hebrew, which was also the language of vast majority of reading materials required for courses outside the department, even if the lectures in those courses were delivered in Hebrew.)
Japan, in contrast, is relatively monolingual (the Ethnologue lists 15 languages for Japan, of which only Japanese, Korean, and Japanese Sign Language are not endangered) and has a long history of purist and isolationist attitudes. However, in the last 100 years or so, the need for a language that would connect it to the West has been felt increasingly acutely. In the early 20th century, Esperanto became extremely popular in Japan (see Lins 2008, Konishi 2013a, 2013b, and “State-of-the-Art: Esperanto History”). However, at the turn of the 21st century, economic stagnation led many Japanese industrialists and government officials to view globalization and competition with other economic powers as the only solution for the country’s economic malaise; therefore, “it is widely believed that Japanese people must be equipped with better communicative skills in English and that raising the ability to communicate with foreigners is a key remedial measure to boost Japan’s position in the international economic and political arena” (Butler and Iino 2005: 25-26). English, rather than Esperanto, is now seen as the “linguistic glue” that ties Japan to the rest of the world, both in ideology and in practice. Yet, English language education in Japan has been a target of criticism for a long time, and “the low performance of Japanese learners of English has been a frequent topic among language educators and researchers” (Butler & Iino 2005: 26). In response to the situation, in 2003 the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Technology proposed a five-year ‘Action Plan to Cultivate Japanese with English Abilities’, which was implemented in 2003–2008. This plan “presents various measures, including specifying the level of English to be attained and standardized assessment devices to measure such attainment, as well as steps to improve education and students’ motivation to learn English” (Butler & Iino 2005: 26). Among other measures, the Action Plan allows for “greater autonomy to teachers and local governments”, providing “teachers and their local community with greater opportunities to become active participants in the development of language education policies, rather than simply being passive consumers of such policies” (Butler & Iino 2005: 16). Other studies suggest that allowing language teachers, particularly at the beginner and intermediate levels, more freedom to develop their curriculum leads to better learning outcomes (Cooper 1989, Ricento and Hornberger 1996).
It should be noted, however, that English is not always the focus of language-in-education “wars”. For example, in Ukraine it is the status of Russian rather than of English that is the subject of heated debates, even violence. For example, in late May 2012, a draft of a new law that sought to elevate Russian to the status of the second state language, proposed by the then-governing pro-Russian Party of the Regions, led to a brawl in Ukraine’s parliament, Verkhovna Rada. According to Article 10 of the current Constitution of Ukraine, Ukrainian is the sole official language; the legislative proposal of 2012 would have made Russian a second official language in regions where Russian predominates. For example, Russian speakers in those areas would no longer have had to demonstrate a strong command of Ukrainian to work in regional administration. Among other issues the draft legislation addressed was the question of the role of Russian in education: the proposed law would have allowed Russian-speaking children to receive all their basic schooling in their home language. However, many politicians, as well as members of the public, felt that giving the Russian language a co-official status, even if only in some regions, would lead to the disappearance of Ukrainian from use, and the bill was strenuously opposed, with some parliamentarians going as far as ripping each other’s clothes off at the podium of Verkhovna Rada.
The issue of Russian in education has been a key political concern in Ukraine at least since 2009, when presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich placed it front-and-center in his presidential campaign. Russian is particularly entrenched in Eastern Ukraine, especially in the Donbass mining region in the southeast, where the majority of the population (65-75%) speak Russian as their mother tongue. (This is particularly true in urban centers, such as Donetsk, Luhansk, and Mariupol; in rural areas, Ukrainian is more commonly spoken.) However, it should be noted that even in Eastern Ukraine, about half of the native speakers of Russian are ethnic Ukrainians, who are increasingly backing Kiev more than Moscow. Moreover, exposure to, and bilingualism in, both Russian and Ukrainian are widespread in Ukraine; and the choice of language in any given situation is more a matter of contextual choice and of expressing one’s identity than simply of “what language one speaks”.
Importantly, the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict has been pushing Ukrainian public opinion away from Russia and all things Russian, including the language: according to recent sociological surveys, conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, positive attitudes of Ukrainians towards Russians have plummeted, as did the number of people who want to see a closer integration of Ukraine with Russia-led Customs Union (including Belarus and Kazakhstan). Similarly, Ukrainians’ attitudes towards the Russian language have worsened, as more respondents want to see the role of Russian as a second official language limited to “those areas where most people want it” (effectively, the Dobass region) and fewer respondents want to see it as a co-official language across the entire country. The latter view is most popular in southern and eastern areas, but even there it gains no more than a third of the votes. It is also worth noting that these surveys indicate that Ukrainian citizens have very clear and strong opinions on the issues concerning language, with less than 10% responding with “difficult to say” or “don’t know” (or giving no answer).
Crucially, schools are a key battleground in this ongoing language war. A sociological survey conducted in April 2015 asked the question “What do you think should be the state policy on teaching Russian language in Ukrainian schools?”, the national responses to which have split almost evenly between the three options: teaching Russian to the same extent as Ukrainian, teaching Russian less than Ukrainian but more than any other foreign language, and teaching Russian to the same extent as any other foreign language (30%, 27%, and 36%, respectively). However, regional results show clear preferences: the South and especially the East want to give the Russian language the same status in the schools as to the Ukrainian language (46% and 62%, respectively), while in the central and western regions the preference is clearly for making Russian just another foreign language (44% and 71%, respectively). These issues are discussed further in Pereltsvaig (2015a).
While education systems around the world are struggling to find a balance between preparing students for the increasingly globalized workplace and preserving national or local languages and cultures, the scientific community has been effectively reduced from a Babel of different languages to a monoglot system. The language of science is discussed in Ammon (1998, 2007, 2012), Durand (2001), Carli & Calaresu (2003), Fiedler (2010), and Tonkin (2011); a most comprehensive overview of the issue of language choice in science is found in Gordin (2015), summarized in Gordin’s Aeon article online, from which the quotes below are cited. (A review of Gordin’s book by Lynn K. Nyhart has been published in April 10 issue of Science Magazine, Vol. 348 Issue 6231.) Gordin writes: “the overwhelming majority of communication in the natural sciences today – physics, chemistry, biology, geology – takes place in English; in print and at conferences, in emails and in Skype-mediated collaborations, confirmable by wandering through the halls of any scientific research facility in Kuala Lumpur or Montevideo or Haifa. Contemporary science is Anglophone.”
Yet, historically, this was not always so. It is often assumed the familiar monoglot English model “replaced monoglot German, preceded by French and then by Latin in a ribbon that unfurls back to the dawn of Western science, which they understand to have been conducted in monoglot Greek”, but as Gordin shows, such view that at any given time one language functioned as the sole language of science is a modern misperception of history. In fact, the modern monoglot model where all science is conducted around the world in one and the same language emerged less than a hundred years ago, in the 1920s, and “vanquish[ed] the centuries-old multilingual regime only in the 1970s”; in fact, “the first generation who grew up within that monoglot system are still alive”.
Although one particular language can typically be identified as the most frequently used language of written scholarship in any given historical period, scholars and scientists were for the longest time polyglots, speaking and writing in multiple languages and sometimes even switching from one language to another to suit their patrons, audiences, or the subject matter. Thus, in Ancient Rome, Hellenistic Greek co-existed alongside Latin as the language of learning. In the Middle Ages, most scholarly writing was done in Arabic; yet many important scholars of the period wrote in multiple languages. A perfect example of that is Maimonides, a prominent philosopher, rabbi, and physician, who was born in Muslim Spain, traveled through the Holy Land, and spent a large portion of his life in Egypt. Maimonides wrote most of his works on Jewish philosophy and law, including his chief opus Guide for the Perplexed, in Judeo-Arabic (a form of Arabic, spoken by Jews in medieval Arab lands, written in Hebrew script); however, he wrote another key work, Mishneh Torah, a comprehensive code of Jewish law, in Hebrew and ten important medical treatises in Arabic.
In the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and into the early modern era, Latin remained the primary language of written scholarship, or in the words of Gordin, a “vehicular language, used to bridge linguistic communities”. Crucially, it was perceived as a neutral language that does not belong to any particular nation and therefore as particularly well-suited for the increasingly internationalized enterprise of science concerned with “claims about universal nature”. For example, in the early 1700s, Latin became the scholarly language of the newly established Saint-Petersburg Academy of Sciences; Russian scholars were by necessity polyglots in Latin, French, and Russian (and many scholars were least proficient in Russian, of the three languages).
But the most crucial development in the early modern period was the emergence of scholarship in local vernacular languages. Thus, while Erasmus wrote Institutio principis christiani (The Education of a Christian Prince) in Latin, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote Il Principe (The Prince), a work on a similar topic and almost contemporaneous with Erasmus’ treatise, in the local vernacular Italian dialect (which some three centuries later would become the basis for the standardized Italian language). In the next two centuries, many important scholars continued to be polyglots, in many cases transitioning from the use of Latin to the local vernacular language in the course of their careers. For example, Galileo Galilei’s earlier works (e.g. Sidereus Nuncius of 1610) were in Latin, but his later works were in Italian; similarly Newton wrote Principia (1687) in Latin, but his later works, such as Opticks (1704) in English (notably, it was republished in Latin translation two years later). French intellectual work began to be published only in French “from the seventeenth century on” (Ostler 2010: 218). As noted in Ostler (2010: 206), the earliest use of German in the scientific sphere goes back to 1687, when a jurist Christian Thomasius from Leipzig “dared … to try lecturing in German, his talk entitled ‘How One Should Emulate the French Way of Life’”; yet, this precedent “was not widely followed for over a century”. The gradual rise of German as a language of science can be traced through its use in “the three academies of science established in Germany in the eighteenth century, Göttingen used Latin, Berlin Latin and then French, while Munich used German from its foundation in 1759”. For a more detailed discussion of the rise and fall of German as a language of science, the reader is referred to Ostler (2010: 205-210).
However, as scientists began to use their local languages, Latin did not immediately fall out of use either. As Gordin points out, while Latin “crossed confessional and political divides easily”, it also “excluded on class lines” so that scientists of the early modern era had to “choos[e] the language to suit the audience”; thus, “when writing to international chemists, Swedes used Latin; when conversing with mining engineers, they opted for Swedish.” Moreover, Spanish universities continued to teach only in Latin until 1813 (Ostler 2010: 218). As scholars increasingly used the local language in their work, translations into Latin and French were often made to enable communication in this scientific Babel. As Gordin points out, “the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss kept his scholarly notebooks, at least through the 1810s, in the same language Julius Caesar used for his”. Nonetheless, the use of Latin in science eventually faded. Ostler (2010: 217) explains: “vernacular publishing fed a demand created by increasing bourgeois education and had supply costs inevitably lower than for Latin literature, since the different language communities were concentrated in particular cities and regions—indeed nations—rather than spread as a thin elite across the whole of Europe”.
By the early 1800s, works in various natural sciences appeared in a mélange of European languages: English, French, and German were “the big three”, but Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Russian, and other languages were being used for publishing scientific works as well. The rise of modern nationalism in the 19th century, with the attendant efforts to standardize many European languages and the flourishing of national literatures, only helped strengthen the use of multiple languages in science. It should be noted, however, that the choice of language by a given scientist was not always a matter of his (rarely, “her”) native tongue, but that of (perceived) prestige. For example, “the great mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), although a German and largely resident in German courts, wrote all his major works in French” (Ostler 2010: 221).
But this multilingual system did not survive for long; as Gordin writes, “partisans of the ‘minor languages’ constantly complained of exclusion, while speakers of the big three grumbled about having to learn the other two”. These considerations of efficiency, which Gordin connects to “19th century European industrialization”, began to change the polyglot system. Having to learn multiple language in order to keep abreast of the developments in one’s chosen field was now seen as wasteful, especially as the amount of scientific literature, in whatever language, grew rapidly. In the mid-1800s, languages with smaller scientific literature began to be pushed out of the scholarly discourse. Gordin discusses the role that publishing models played in this process: at the time when most scientific work was published in the form of books, publishers did not want to risk the expense of translating a book without the support of scientists speaking the target language, but as scientists rarely knew the books’ original languages well enough to judge their scholarly merit, the publication of such translations plummeted. For scholars speaking a language other than English, French, or German, it meant that for their work to be noticed, they had to write in one of the big three languages. For example, Ostler (2010: 206) points out that in this period “articles in Japanese or Russian would often appear with abstracts in German”. Thus, by the last quarter of the 19th century, the earlier scientific Babel was effectively reduced to the three languages, with “published work in the natural sciences … split pretty evenly between English (35 percent), French (28 percent), and German (23 percent)”.
For a brief period, German has become the leading language of science (as discussed in detail in Ostler 2010: 206-207, cf. Ammon 2012: 338): by 1920, its share of publications in natural sciences (approximately 45%) was greater than that of English and French combined. When Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) was founded in 1925, it was urged to make German its language of instruction, primarily because it was then seen as the language of science. In the 1920s, students and scientists from around the world flocked to Germany for continued education, and the founding and development of companies such as Siemens (founded in 1847), Bayer (1863), Hoechst (1863, now part of Aventis Deutschland), BASF (1865), Bosch (1886), Thyssen (1891), BMW (1916), and Mercedes-Benz (1926) promoted German as the language of science-based engineering. But in the second half of the 19th century the use of German peaked across a wide range of different scientific fields. For example, German has become the most commonly used language not only in physics and chemistry, but also in biology, medicine, and psychology. Philology, which in the 1700s was done mostly in English, also became a primarily German-language enterprise in the 19th century. The predominance of German was also evident in other disciplines, such as geography, thanks to the vital contributions of Alexander von Humboldt. A perfect illustration of the role that German played in geography and natural sciences of the late 19th century is Gustav Radde, a geographer, naturalist, and explorer, who was born in the German-speaking city of Danzig but immigrated to Russia, where he eventually received a position at Saint-Petersburg Zoological Museum (cf. Radde 2008). Yet, in his autobiography Radde admits that when he first traveled to Russia, he knew not a word of Russian and had a hard time communicating, except with the educated elites (who spoke German and/or French) and the Yiddish-speaking Jews. Subsequently, although Radde never learned much Russian and all his scholarly works were written in German, he became an important figure in the Russian scholarly community and was even chosen to accompany Russian royals on their trips to “exotic” locales.
Over time, even a three-language model was seen as too burdensome and inefficient. Historical events of the first half of the 20th century would precipitate its demise. The defeat of the German-speaking Central Powers in World War I and the subsequent lingering anti-German sentiments and legislation in the United States went as far as “public burning of some libraries’ German-language books” in the 1920s (Ostler 2010: 208); in the same decade, the American foreign-language education was largely wrecked (as discussed by Gordon). The second cause for the demise of German as the language of science was the Nazi persecution of Jewish scientists in the 1930s. According to figures cited in Ostler (2010: 297), Jewish scientists constituted anywhere between 7% and 25% of all German-speaking scientists, depending on the discipline and the exact time period (although the proportion of Jews in the German population in 1933 was merely 0.5%; Ostler 2010: 297). First fired from their posts and later driven out of Germany, Jewish scholars who survived ended up mostly in the English-speaking world (Ostler 2010: 208).
As French has started to lose its position as one of the languages of science around 1910, English has become the front-runner: by 1940, nearly half of all scientific publications in natural sciences appeared in English (Ostler 2010: 206-207, Ammon 2012: 338). (For additional statistics on the use of English as the language of science in the 20th century, see Tsunoda 1993.) In 1970, about 20% of scientific publications appeared in Russian, yet already in the following decade its share in the scientific output decreased to 10%; cf. Kryuchkova (2001: 414), Ammon (2012: 338).
As the world was moving towards the monoglot model of science in the early 20th century, calls were made for using Esperanto as the language of science. (It should be noted that Esperanto was not the first “artificial” language proposed as a universal language of science; Bishop John Wilkins advocated a use of an artificial language for universal communication as early as 1668, though this part of his proposal has not been successful, unlike his proposed decimal system of measures which was later developed into the metric system.) Like Latin in earlier centuries, Esperanto in the early 20th century was conceived as a neutral and universal language, unimpeded by considerations of nationalism, patriotism, or local particularism. The case for Esperanto was supported for a while by such high-profile figures as winner of the 1909 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Wilhelm Ostwald and the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen. However, later their enthusiasm shifted to another constructed language, Ido; Ostwald eventually abandoned the idea of a neutral universal language for science in favor of “Weltdeutsch” (World-German). But neither of these alternatives was ultimately successful, and nor has Esperanto taken the role of the international language of science.
In order to understand why, it is important to examine the reasons for the current hegemony of English as the lingua franca in the scientific world (and more broadly). As discussed in detail in Mair (2002), there are two main approaches to the rise and continuing spread of English: the “exploitation theory” and the “grassroots theory” (Mair’s terms). The former theory is represented by Pennycook (1994), Phillipson (1992), and in the most extreme formulation in Searle (1983). The advocates of this theory claim that “the spread of English has been engineered by powerful British and American interests even after the removal of direct imperial control through systematic and often semi-secret language planning policies”, doing more harm than good, especially for “individual self-esteem and collective cultural identity” in developing countries by imposing “an ‘Anglo-Saxon’, ‘Western’ or ‘Judeo-Christian’ world view alien to the societies and cultures to which English is spreading” (Mair 2002: 161), or as Park and Wee (2012: 3) put it, “leading to the destruction and devaluation of local language, culture, and identity” and “supporting and renewing relations of power”. Mair also notes that this theory “is not only widespread among British and American sociologists of language or language teaching professionals. It is received wisdom among intellectuals in general, both in the metropolitan and in the developing countries” (Mair 2002: 162). (Considering the profile of a typical Esperantist, as discussed in “State-of-the-Art: Esperanto History”, it is not surprising that the exploitation theory is popular in the Esperantist circles; more on this below.)
Yet, not all scholars subscribes to the exploitation theory; its alternative, which Mair (2002) calls “the grassroots theory”, is reflected in the essays published in the volume edited by Fishman, Conrad, and Rubal-Lopez (1996). These authors “emphasize not so much the efforts of Britain and the United States to spread the English language, but rather the demand articulated by those at the receiving end”, viewing the spread of English today as “a decentralized phenomenon, which arises because in many different places, and for many different reasons, individuals opt for English rather than other languages” (Mair 2002: 164). Advocates of the grassroots theory point out that English “is not a ‘national’ language any longer” (Conrad 1996: 21). Therefore, “it cannot now be tied exclusively (or even primarily) to any shared cultural past, any ‘ethnic’ identity, any religion (as Arabic is to Islam), any racial group, or any ideology. One can be an anarchist, neo-Marxist, or Fascist in English as well as one can be a social democrat or post-industrial capitalist” (ibid). Studies conducted within the framework of the grassroots theory challenge the belief that “the English language is only a means for imperialistic purposes” (Haq and Smadi 1996: 473). Surprisingly, English has been shown to be an important medium for the spread of Islam, in the minds of both Muslim scholars (cf. Zaid 1981, Aldosari 1992) and rank-and-file Muslims in Saudi Arabia (Haq and Smadi 1996: 472-473). Their findings also suggest that Saudis recognize English and Arabic as associated with complementary domains and functions, and do not view English as affecting the “expressive ability, logicality, beauty, and sacredness” of Arabic (Haq and Smadi 1996: 474). The Saudi Radio and TV broadcast “a considerable number of programs which preach Islam or talk about Muslims in the world” (Haq and Smadi 1996: 471). Muslims in Malaysia, Sudan and elsewhere also see English “as a splendid medium for the spread of Islam” (Fishman 1996: 633; cf. Omar 1996, Wagi’alla 1996). (The role of English in the spread of the Christian gospel is, of course, far better understood; cf. Ostler 2010: 141-146 for a nice summary.)
Another sphere where English plays an important role—without obvious involvement of imperialist powers—is tourism, even when it does not involve native English speakers on either end. Thus, “the German and Italian tourists visiting Cuba are as much responsible for the spread of English as McDonald’s, Coca Cola Corporation or CNN” (Mair 2002: 164; cf. also Corona and García 1996). This is particularly true when tourism-related services are provided by speakers of smaller indigenous tongues in Mexico (Hidalgo, Cifuentes and Flores 1996), the Philippines (Sibayan and Gozalez 1996) or Kenya (Mazrui and Mazrui 1996), where English is perceived as more neutral (as well as more instrumental for communication with a broader range of tourists) than the national language such as Spanish or Filipino. Similarly, English has been selected as the most practical by the numerous foreign workers in Saudi Arabia (Haq and Smadi 1996: 460).
Mair (2002) “tend[s] to lean towards a moderate version of the grassroots model of the spread of English” for a number of reasons he articulates in the article, the two strongest—in my opinion—being the relative failure of “the well-organized and lavishly funded French efforts to spread the French language” and the sometimes absent “connection between linguistic and commercial expansionism”, as in the case of Japan, whose “firms have penetrated global markets using primarily the English language” (Mair 2002: 165). In addition to these facts that potentially contradict the exploitation model, it is also based on a flawed assumption of a direct link between language and worldview (aka the Whorfian thesis); for a concise and accessible overview of the issue and the evidence against the Whorfian hypothesis, see McWhorter (2014).
In his discussion of the emergence of the contemporary English monoglot model in science, Gordin also appears to lean towards the grassroots model, arguing that it was not conscious choices or ideological concerns about universality, neutrality, or efficiency that led to the development of the current monoglot model (though see Hamel 2006, Tonkin 2011: 112 for the opposing view); rather, it was historical exigencies and practical considerations that made English a de facto language of science. Among such factors, Gordin mentions the “American inability – or refusal – to learn … foreign languages” (which itself resulted from the above-mentioned destruction of the foreign-language education system in the 1920s), the immigration of many European scientists to America in the 1930s and 1940s, and the high costs and the excruciatingly slow progress in the development of machine translation in the 1950s-1990s. The ultimate inability of the Soviet Union to keep up with the scientific and technological progress in the West (cf. Sharansky 2004) is another important factor that allowed English to become the sole language of science. As we look forward to the future of science, it is clear that the continuing geopolitical hegemony of the English-speaking world, as well as the production and marketing models in the publishing business, the costs of language teaching and training, and the potential progress in machine translation, will all play important roles in determining whether the current English-only model of science will continue to exist or for how long. But it is also to be understood that, as Ostler (2010: xv) points out, “when [English] ceases to be convenient—however widespread it has been—it will be dropped, without ceremony, and with little emotion”.
However, while the English monoglot model continues to rule in the world of science, a number of scholars who explicitly or implicitly adopt the exploitation approach to the spread of English (Fiedler 2010, Tonkin 2011, Ammon 2012, inter alia) examine its consequences both for non-English-speaking scientists and for the development of science itself. As pointed out by Ammon (2012: 342), “calling English the ‘lingua franca’ of science camouflages the actual language divide”; in this respect, today’s English-only model is quite different from the medieval Latin-dominant model: while Latin was (perceived as) a neutral language, the choice of English today gives unfair advantage to some but not others. As noted in Ammon (2003, 2012, Tonkin 2011, inter alia), scholars who are speakers of language other than (standard) English are effectively forced to produce written work in English, following all the “text conventions” of scholarly writing, which is both difficult and time-consuming—and an additional expense, if editors are hired for the task. (The challenges of writing scholarly prose in a foreign language are examined in detail in Breuer 2015.) Still, for many scholars who work outside the English-speaking world “the economically-caused difficulties are worse” than language-related ones: funding limitations do not allow them to travel to conference, buy equipment, pay experimental subjects, etc.
Negative consequences of the monoglot model are not limited to the careers of scientists from non-Anglophone countries. Thus, Tonkin (2011: 105) claims that it is “erroneous” to equate “scientific advanced circumscribed by the English language” with “scientific advancement in general”. Similarly, Ammon (2012: 342-349) provides some data showing that publications in English (including those in non-Anglophone countries) have a larger global impact than those published in other languages. Consequently, several journals have switched their language of publication to English. There is also bias in favor of English in the global bibliographical databanks and citation indexes, such as the Social Science Citation Index, the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, the Science Citation Index, and the MLA Bibliography (cf. Tonkin 2011, Blanke 2015). The problem concerns not only recent publications, however, as classical texts in various disciplines that were written in a language other than English are now receiving less and less attention from scholars and students—unless English translations are available. Ultimately, scholars of the past who made pioneering contributions to their fields but published them in languages other than English receive less credit than they deserve. Academic libraries too often purchase exclusively or predominantly titles in English, as neither their budgets nor their personnel allocations allow them to build collections in other languages.
Can anything be done to mitigate this linguistic injustice, referred by some as “linguistic imperialism” (Phillipson 1992, 2008; also Tonkin 2011, Park and Wee 2012)? In this respect, Gordin (2015) and Ammon (2012) agree: as the causes of the imbalance concern mostly the “cost-benefit thinking” and practical rather than ideological considerations, realistically only modest improvements can be made to change the current situation. One approach that is most widely practiced today is for non-Anglophone scholars to learn more English, but while this solution works to improve individual scholars’ careers, it does nothing to change the underlying injustice. Yet, some scholars suggest that this solution is not only “wrong” in ideological terms but also more complicated in practice than requiring English-speaking scholars to learn foreign languages. For instance, Ammon (2012: 350) claims that “the analogous cure for non-Anglophones to learn English or rather more English is harder to put into practice [than making Anglophones learn foreign languages], because the required skills are much higher”. I am, however, baffled by Ammon’s statement: why would it be harder for, say, Japanese speakers to learn English than for English speakers to learn Japanese if the ultimate goal is to be able to understand (and perhaps even produce) scholarly works in the target language?! If anything, the devastated system of foreign-language teaching in the United States (as mentioned above) and the virtual nonexistence of teaching even the basics of English grammar mean that it would be arguably harder for English speakers to learn foreign languages rather than the other way around.
Another idea, proposed by Jonathan Pool (1987: 17) and developed by Van Parijs (2003) and Ammon (2012: 351), is to arrange for some system of “financial compensation for non-Anglophones from the side of the Anglophones … for their language learning and the extra time they require to handle a foreign language”. However, it is not clear to me how such a system of “English-language tax” could be implemented. As Ammon (2012: 351) points out, “measuring the adequate size of compensation would be difficult, not to speak of doing justice to different language distances from English like, for example, of the distant Korean versus the close Dutch”.
A different approach to the issue of linguistic injustice is taken by van Parijs (2003), who proposes to think of this issue not only in terms of inter-personal distributive justice, but as a form of inter-community cooperative justice. He agrees with other scholars that a person’s mother tongue is not an “economically irrelevant characteristic” and therefore “as illegitimate a basis for discrimination as race, gender, or faith” (p. 154). Instead, he treats “linguistic competence … as a productive skill”, on a par with a person’s other talents or personal assets. But van Parijs (2003) takes the issue of linguistic (in)justice further and considers it in the inter-community cooperative model. He compares two non-overlapping linguistic communities which speak different mother tongues and where one learns the language of the other, but not vice versa, to two people living in the same house and having different standards of cleanliness. The person with higher standards of cleanliness would vacuum the house as soon as the smallest amount of dust and dirt becomes apparent, while the other resident, the one with the lower threshold of dirtiness, never gets to do any cleaning because all of it is done by the more fastidious person before the threshold that would trigger the less fussy lodger to do the cleaning is reached. Without any power relationship or altruism being involved, the less cleanliness-minded lodger has his standards satisfied without doing any work. Even on the assumption that the less cleanliness-minded occupant does not contribute to the dirt, this does not seem fair, van Parijs (2003) notes. His only solution to this dilemma is to strike an explicit deal involving some compensatory performance, such as the second lodger cleaning the toilet or doing the dishes. After considering a number of economics models and how they apply to the issue of linguistic injustice, van Parijs (2003) comes to the conclusion that “whenever a language is the object of asymmetric bilingualism, the linguistic group whose mother tongue it is must pay half the cost of this learning, in a comprehensive sense that should cover both the explicit cost of language tuition and the huge implicit opportunity cost of having to learn a language rather than devoting one’s (children’s and own) time to other activities” (p. 167). Yet he admits that figuring out the exact costs, especially when it comes to the “implicit opportunity costs” is near-impossible, and it might be easier in practical terms, and perhaps even more mutually beneficial, to “replace cash transfers by tolerance for, indeed promotion of, free-riding in other dimensions, for example by making an electronic version of all English-language scientific journals available free of charge to all academics outside the English-speaking world, or by waiving intellectual property rights on the reproduction of English publications in any country in which English is not the mother tongue of the majority” (pp. 167-168).
However, regardless of whether the perceived linguistic injustice is corrected through a financial arrangement or by allowing “free-riding” by the linguistically disadvantaged group in other areas, it seems to me that although such remedial mechanisms would mitigate one sort of injustice, they would simultaneously create other injustices instead, depending on how exactly it is implemented. If a system is set up to tax individual scholars based on their native language (i.e. native English speakers paying some compensation to scholars whose native language is one other than English), it does not seem fair at all as it would penalize English speakers for the “dumb luck” of being born to English-speaking parents—frankly, on a par with discriminating against Jews, gays, or members of any other group determined by one’s birth. Applying the term “free-riders” to them, as Ammon (2012: 351) does, thus implicitly comparing them to people actively avoiding taxes or military conscription (where it exists), does not seem fair either. If, on the other hand, such an “English-language tax” system is set up to tax scholars in English-speaking countries across the board, it would penalize the ever-growing number of scholars who (for whatever reasons) immigrated to an English-speaking country and made an effort to learn English in favor of those who preferred to stay in the comfort zone of their native country and mother tongue.
An alternative proposal for correcting linguistic injustice, discussed in Ammon (2000, 2012: 350) and Fielder (2010) calls for “more tolerance toward non-native and non-inner-circle English”, essentially going back to the ideas of “Basic English” originally developed by C. K. Ogden in the 1920s and 1930s (see Allerton 2002). But as Ammon correctly notes, it is not easy “to delimit communicatively functioning norm tolerance from the non-functioning ‘everything goes’” (ibid). Fiedler (2010) mentions a number of other factors that “seem to hamper its chances of realization … [including] traditions in foreign language learning and teaching, the heterogeneity of lingua franca communication and psychological reservations” (p. 201). Tonkin (2011) also mentions additional problems with instituting such “Basic English” or “English-as-Lingua-Franca” in scientific communication, including the “extreme lexical and grammatical ambiguity” resulting from a drastic reduction of vocabulary; such ambiguity contradicts the need for extreme precision of expression characteristic of scientific discourse. Ammon’s additional suggestion is to arrange for “periodical comprehensive reports in English on publications in other languages … specific to fields and as manifold as possible and to be monitored by bilingual experts from both non-Anglophone as well as Anglophone backgrounds” (p. 352). Yet, in this respect too he remains rather vague as to the implementation of this idea.
Besides affecting individual scientists and the scientific community as a whole, the observed Englishization of science also has negative effects on the languages other than English: as their domains of use are shrinking, so does “the capability of scientists to use their own language in scholarly discourse” (Tonkin 2011: 107). In large part, this problem concerns the necessary terminology, as documented in Phillipson (2003: 81). Hultgren (2012a, b) presents results of an empirical investigation of this “presumed failure of the national Nordic languages to develop adequate scientific terminology, particularly in the natural sciences where publication in English is particularly widespread”. This study’s objective was “to examine whether Nordic terms exist and the degree to which they are established”. To investigate this issue, Hultgren (2012a, b) asked “five researchers working within each of the three disciplines Chemistry, Physics and Computer Science in each of the five Nordic countries to state the local equivalents of 25 discipline-specific English terms”, which “have been selected to reflect cutting-edge scientific developments, and have been extracted using a corpus analytic method from all abstracts published in the ten highest ranking journals within each discipline in the past two years”. In a later study, Hultgren (2013b) investigates the issue of “domain loss” by examining it from a different empirical angle: she looked at “the language practices of 10 scientists delivering undergraduate courses in chemistry, physics and computer science at the University of Copenhagen”. Focusing on lexical borrowing from English into Danish, she found differences among scientific field, “with the sub-domain computer science exhibiting significantly more lexical borrowing than physics and chemistry”.
Due to such (perceived) negative effects on the local languages from English, some countries have instituted protectionist policies and institutions that are designed to guide lexical choices, both in the scientific domain and in a broader context. The protectionist role of the Académie française and the Academy of the Hebrew Language (Hebrew: HaAkademya laLashon ha’Ivrit) in guarding French and Hebrew, respectively, from an onslaught on English loanwords is very well-described. Yet, it has also been noted in the literature that the actual usage often disregards the Academies’ recommendations (see, e.g., Hamm 2002 for a good discussion of the French case).
Going back to Hultgren’s work, in yet another study (Hultgren 2011), she investigated the hypothesis that “the choice of code at the lexical level is […] socially meaningful”; she shows, however, that “interviews with the scientists themselves suggest that their choice between Danish and English lexical items may not be associated with any social meaning at all”. She argues instead that the choice between Danish and English terminology depends on “communicative functionality” rather than “ethnolinguistic authenticity”.
Given the concerns about domain loss, language death, linguistic injustice, learning costs, and other disadvantages of English being the sole language of science, at the expense of other “ethnic languages”, it would be reasonable to consider the possibility of switching the dominant language of world science from English to Esperanto, a neutral and universal language, as discussed above. However, advocates of Esperantism in science need to address a number of feasibility questions (some of which were suggested to me by Jonathan Pool, personal communication), such as:
(a) Can science in the 21st century function effectively in Esperanto, a language that was not designed with that expressed purpose in mind?
(b) Would Esperanto be able to survive as the language of science without state backing? (The role of the state as an institution necessary for the survival of lingua francas is discussed in detail in Ostler 2010.)
(c) What costs—in terms of money, individuals’ time, and psychological impact on scholars—would such replacement of English by Esperanto entail?
(d) How would an effective switchover to Esperanto be designed?
(e) What is to be done about the massive body of existing scientific literature accumulated before the proposed switchover, whether in English or in other languages?
(f) What would be the optimal duration of a transition period in such a switchover?
(g) Is the dominance of English in global science destined to disappear even without concerted effort, as discussed in Ostler (2010)?
(h) Is the development of technical means for satisfactory automated translation of scientific literature foreseeable for the time that the proposed switchover to Esperanto would take?
A negative answer to (a) or (b) would mean that a switchover to Esperanto as the sole language of science is impossible. (For now, the answer to question (a) appears to be positive; see Blanke and Blanke 2015, but a further consideration of this issue is advisable.) A positive answer to (g) or (h) would mean that such a switchover is unnecessary. Moreover, the lack of clear answers to the other questions means that no specific proposal for a switchover can be put forward, yet. Another question that requires some further investigation and careful thought is this: if a switchover to Esperanto as the sole language of science were to occur, could the status of scientific lingua franca taint Esperanto and bring it under fire, much like English is today, for being an “elitist language”, which “lead[s] to the destruction and devaluation of local language, culture, and identity”, and “support[s] and renew[s] relations of power” (in the words of Park and Wee 2012: 3)? Although Esperanto is neutral from the ethnic/national standpoint (setting aside the treatment of Esperanto speakers as a “quasi-ethnic minority” in Fettes 1996, discussed in more detail in “State-of-the-Art: Esperanto Linguistics”), and thus cannot be accused of providing a preferential status to a certain ethnic or national group, it is not impossible to conceive how a similar argument can be constructed on ideological grounds. Considering the profile of a typical Esperanto speaker today and the correlation between Esperantism on the individual and societal levels and such measures of economic and political power as GDP and educational levels, discussed in “State-of-the-Art: Esperanto History”, this is not as outlandish a proposition as it may seem at first glance. For example, several authors have shown that an average Esperanto speaker is well-educated and well-off (e.g., Gledhill 2014: 323), and the spread of the Esperanto movement is limited largely to the relatively richer, more socially developed and technologically advanced areas of world. More generally, it is worth pondering what connection English still has to American or British culture, worldview, or “mental structures”, considering its wide-spread nature, both as a native and a non-native language, and whether a similar connection might emerge between Esperanto and a particular culture—either geographically- or ideologically-based—where it becomes particularly rooted. Further research into, and hopefully a better understanding of these issues, is clearly called for before any massive (and expensive!) switchover to Esperanto can be reasonably undertaken.
In the meantime, it is important to consider the role of both English and Esperanto in a broader context. While, as discussed above, science and tertiary education have become virtually English-only enterprises—and secondary education in many countries is becoming increasingly English-heavy—the linguistic landscape outside the Ivory Tower walls is far more complex, varied, and changing. In his 2003 article, Mark Fettes described five idealized models of interlingual communication (his “geostrategies”), which have emerged in modified forms in various environments and used for different types of interlingual communication. Fettes writes: “these [models] include mediation by human or electronic translators, widespread plurilingualism, and the spread of lingua francas — either languages with a powerful political and economic base, such as English, or “planned” international languages, such as Esperanto” (p. 37). The five models are labeled “Technologism”, “Language Brokers”, “Plurilingualism”, “World English”, “Esperantism”. (The relationship between machine translation, essentially Fettes’ “Technologism”, and Esperantism is also explored in Gobbo 2015.) In what follows, I review each model, what it entails, in what types of contexts it is currently used (if at all), and what can be predicted for its future.
I begin with the World English model, described by Fettes as follows (p. 39):
“World English. The most widespread second language of the present day, English, might make the world interlingual by becoming so well integrated in educational and social systems worldwide that it was accessible to all at minimal cost. One variant of World English is unilingualism; however, if the world’s majority were motivated to keep cultivating their autochtonous languages, and if any related economic or social costs could be compensated, English might become the world’s “second native language”, transcending but coexisting with a multiplicity of other languages.”
As noted above, this model has emerged in the scientific field in the course of the 20th century and has essentially driven other languages out of use in that enterprise. However, as the research reviewed above shows, English has not yet become “so well integrated in educational and social systems worldwide that it [is] accessible to all at minimal cost”; hence, the discussion of linguistic injustice with respect to the scientific field (see discussion above).
Outside of the domain of science (and tertiary education), the use of English as a lingua franca is widespread, yet not overwhelming. A recent study published in PNAS Online (Ronen et al. 2015) shows that although English plays a central role in the interlingual transmission of information, several other languages—particularly, French, German, and Russian—serve the same function at a different scale. (The following discussion is based on the visualization of the information flow based on book translations; Wikipedia and Twitter results are less “bushy” and mostly show the same patterns. See also the team’s website.) Predictably, French ties several other Romance languages (Corsican, Picard, Occitan, Walloon, and others), Berber languages (such as Tamashek, Tamazight, Kabyle), and many Niger-Congo languages spoken in francophone Africa (including Bambara, Wolof, and Lingala) to the global information flow network. Also unsurprisingly, Russian ties in numerous Uralic (e.g. Udmurt, Khanty, and Nenets), Turkic (e.g. Gagauz, Karachay-Balkar, Crimean Tatar, and Chuvash), and Caucasian languages (Chechen, Dargwa, Avar, Ingush, and others) spoken in the territory of the Russian Federation and more generally the former Soviet Union. (Other links are rather unexpected, however: for example, Malagasy and Amharic appear interrelated in the information flow chart and both are connected to the Russian “hub”.) A number of other languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Yiddish, and Polish, find themselves deeply interconnected to many other languages; curiously, Esperanto also exhibits such multiple information flow ties. Several other findings of this study are worth noting. First, some languages with large numbers of speakers, such as Mandarin (labeled “Chinese”), Hindi, and Arabic, are relatively isolated in these networks. Conversely, some languages with smaller populations play more significant “hub” role in the information flow that would be predicted purely from their numbers. Thus, Dutch is a disproportionately significant hub compared to Arabic, which has about 20 times as many speakers. These discrepancies between population size and significance in the global context arise from the fact that some languages are spoken by richer and more online-connected populations. Earlier research (see Lewis 2011 and Pereltsvaig 2011a) has already pointed out the disproportionate representation of certain languages online, particularly in Wikipedia: for example, Swedish, with its population of approximately 10 million, has 5.6 times as many Wikipedia articles as “Chinese”, whose population figures exceed 1 billion (data accessed on April 30, 2015). Curiously, even many languages considered endangered (e.g. according to the UNESCO list of endangered languages) are overrepresented in Wikipedia: from the merely “vulnerable” Belarusian and Basque to the “definitely” or “severely endangered” Newar (in Nepal) and Breton. Esperanto, with its over 214,000 Wiki articles, places 32nd—not a bad result for a language with only about 1,000 native speakers. (Notably, Esperanto was only the 11th language to have its own version of Wikipedia.)
Although this study investigated only electronic information flow, its results clearly show that the World English model is not the predominant one outside of the Ivory Tower walls (and outside of North America). Instead, the findings of this study show that the “Plurilingualism” model, at least in a curtailed form, dubbed by Fettes “Elite Plurilingualism”, where at least a small minority of the population achieves functional plurilingualism speaking several (rather than “many”) languages, is more common than suggested by Fettes. This would probably be even more evident if spoken interactions could be quantitatively studied in the same fashion, in places like Marrakech, where people speak Arabic, Hassaniya, Moroccan Arabic, French, Tashelhit, and other languages, or in Dagestan, where highlander shepherds speak the languages of the groups living at lower altitudes, as well as Avar and Russian, in addition to their native Andic and Tsezic languages (cf. Nichols 2013). However, a truly plurilingual world where “knowing many languages is as normal as knowing many people” remains as unattainable an ideal as Fettes depicts it.
The next two models—“Language Brokers” and “Technologism”—are related in that both scenarios presuppose that most people remain monolingual and the interlingual communication is mediated either by professional translators and interpreters (“Language Brokers”) or by fully automatic translation (“Technologism”). As noted by Fettes, the Language Brokers model presupposes that “translators and interpreters [are] efficient and numerous enough” (p. 41); however, this is increasingly less so. Highly qualified translators—who need to be experts not only in matters of language but also in the subject matter of the texts they translate—are gradually becoming more rare; customers of translation companies, especially in the technical and biomedical fields, increasingly value low price and quick turn-around over higher quality. As a result of these developments, the translation industry has been shifting to automated and computer-assisted modes of translation. It thus appears that the Language Brokers model is being replaced by the Technologism model.
Yet the pure Technologism model, where fully automatic translation makes linguistic barriers disappear and “recorded speeches and printed texts will become virtual media, accessible through whatever language the listener or speaker prefers” (Ostler 2010: xix, cf. also pp. 250-266), is far from being realized in an adequate form yet. Despite the long-term efforts and multi-million-dollar investments, progress in the field of machine translation has been painfully slow. Early machine translation projects relied on thorough analysis of natural languages, but as linguists’ understanding of language is far from complete, such projects made relatively little progress in six decades. More recent approaches to the machine translation problem, exemplified by Google Translate (GT), eschew analyzing linguistic structures and instead harness the vast and multilingual nature of the internet as a corpus. In effect, GT is an example of the “Teletranslation” idea (Fettes 2003: 41-42), characterized by “the interlinking of translators around the globe with subject matter experts, intelligent multilingual databases, machine translation systems, and telecommunication service providers” that makes translators and interpreters “accessible at any time, from any point on the planet, at rates that are readily affordable for small businesses and perhaps even for individuals”. In about a decade since its inception, GT has been extended to support 90 languages, including (as of December 2014) Chichewa, Malagasy, Myanmar (Burmese), Sinhala, Tajik, and Uzbek; more languages are scheduled to be added. (Esperanto has been supported by GT since February 2012.)
However, GT has been widely (and in my opinion, justifiably) criticized for failing to provide accurate translation or even approximations that can help the reader to understand the gist of a foreign language text. While it can handle many simple sentences from structurally simple languages (for example, translating from Spanish into English), all too often, the “translations” produced by GT are not merely puzzling or inaccurate renditions of the original text but are not even coherent texts in the target language. Lee Gomes in an article in the Forbes Magazine describes GT as having “the fluency of a barely competent human translator, one who happens to be both distracted and drunk”. Failures to handle grammatical aspects of source or target language, such as tense, gender, or case, as well as simply nonsensical and absurd errors produced by GT have been extensively documented (see Pereltsvaig 2015b). The main reason for these failures derives from GT’s algorithms, which are based on statistical matching rather than traditional rule-based analysis and on translating via “mediating languages”. For example, when translating from Farsi to Icelandic or from French into Russian, GT first translates from the source language into English and then from English to the target language (e.g., Boitet et al. 2010). In some cases, a chain of several mediating languages is used; for instance, when translating from Ukrainian into other languages, GT first translates from Ukrainian into Russian, then from Russian into English, and only then from English into the target language (to translate into Ukraine, the same chain in reverse is used). As a result, errors that would arise in one-step translation are multiplied (cf. Pereltsvaig 2011b). Because of the central role of English as a “translation hub”, in effect, GT combines Technologism with the World English model.
The fifth and final model of interlingual communication in Fettes (2003) is Esperantism; he writes: “An invented language (not necessarily Esperanto itself), designed as a global auxiliary language in which fluency can be achieved at low cost, might make the world interlingual. If it became customary to use such a language for all translingual communication, the burden of linguistic accommodation would be both small and equal for all. If the language retained its auxiliary status, bilingualism would become a near-universal condition” (p. 43). As noted above, of the various auxiliary languages Esperanto is arguably the most successful one, but the evaluation of its success on the global scale depends on whether one considers the issue in qualitative or quantitative terms. As noted by Piron (1994), Fettes & Bolduc (1998), and Fettes (2003), in qualitative terms Esperanto has achieved a great success as its community “does indeed manifest the high levels of linguistic diversity, integration, equity and efficiency required by interlingualism” (Fettes 2003: 43). But in quantitative terms, Esperanto’s success is rather modest as it is now spoken to some degree of fluency by “about one person in 40,000 among the world population”, a number that “compares poorly with the global prevalence of plurilingual individuals, speakers of English as a second language, and users of texts translated by human and mechanical means” (ibid). It is up to the Esperanto community to translate the qualitative success of Zamenhof’s project into a quantitative one.
To read an overview of scholarship on Esperanto Linguistics, click here.
To read an overview of scholarship on Esperanto History, click here.
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