#EngKnowledge: The History of Scientific English

In this era, world science is probably still dominated by the use of English. It can be seen from a large number of research papers written in English to reach a global audience. However, English had not been the lingua franca for European intellectuals prior to the 1600s. They, including Isaac Newton, published their works in Latin.

There were several reasons to write science in Latin. The first one was about its audience. Latin was deemed more suitable for international scholars. On the other hand, English was only able to reach a more local audience.

Scholars also continued writing in Latin due to a concern for secrecy. To put preliminary ideas into the public domain could jeopardize them. This concern about intellectual property rights showed the humanist idea of the individual, rational scientist inventing and discovering through private intellectual work, as well as the nexus of science and commercial exploitation.

The third factor which hindered the use of English in science was its linguistic inadequacy. English did not have sufficient necessary technical vocabulary. Likewise, its grammar was unable to represent the world in an objective and impersonal way, and to discuss the relations.

Ultimately, several members of the Royal Society were interested in language and involved in various linguistic projects. They encouraged science to be published in English and a suitable writing style to be developed. Many of the society’s members also wrote their monographs in English, one of whom was Robert Hooke after conducting his experiments with microscopes in Micrographia (January 1665). Two months after the publication of Micrographia, Philosophical Transactions, world’s longest-running scientific journal, was introduced.

The development of scientific English thus saw a formative period in the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, German was the most prominent European language of science in the 1700s. By the end of the 18th century 401 German scientific journals had been inaugurated as opposed to 96 in France and 50 in England. The substantial lexical growth of scientific English occurred in the 1800s as the industrial revolution required new technical vocabulary. Furthermore, new, specialized, professional societies were formed to encourage and publish in the new areas of study.

Sources:
Cambridge IELTS 5
The Secret History of the Scientific Journal, https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/philosophicaltransactions/

Compiled and written by @fathrahman for @EnglishTips4U on Monday, December 24, 2018

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