Copyright: Maren Winter

Is German a dying scientific language?

German scientists have been discussing whether their mother tongue still is (or should again become) an important international scientific language.

German was, alongside French and English, one of the leading scientific languages in the 19th and early 20th century. Scientists like Max Planck and Sigmund Freud even spoke German at US American universities. Then the allied academies of science imposed a scientific and linguistic boycott against German and Austrian scientists. With a dampened international importance after the First World War, German was excluded from international scientific federations, congresses and publications. This has been a loss that has not been compensated later on.

Later, the USA advanced to become the most important scientific force and English to the most important international scientific language essentially knocking French out of the running.

Some scientist state that today, even inside Germany, English is increasingly used as the only scientific language. Ralph Mocikat from the German Research Center for Environmental Health says that this is mainly true for natural science and technical disciplines. At conferences with only German speaking participants, speeches are almost always given in English and applications for research funding must be submitted in English. Mocikat also observes that more and more universities convert their study programs into English. The philologist Jürgen Schiewe believes that German, as a scientific language, is being replaced by English and that this process is being pushed by the Bologna process which aims to produce a European Higher Education Area with US American standards. Other scientists doubt that the German language is completely lost in the natural sciences and the technical disciplines in German universities. Most scientists agree that German is inside Germany still the most important scientific language in the humanities, the social sciences, in law and economics – and even internationally used in philosophy.

Still, German apparently cannot compete with English as international scientific language and will not be able to do so in future. Instead, it seems that German will be abandoned in more and more scientific fields. Alexander Kekulé of the Medical Faculty at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg says that by using English as a lingua franca scientists from all over the world can communicate fast, precisely and with consistent definitions. Only because of the collective language and the internet, Kekulé says, scientists from developing and threshold countries can participate in the global discourse. But there are many scientists who do not agree with Kekulés perception. Most of them are convinced that content cannot be perfectly translated from one language into the other and that monolingualism has a negative effect on scientific creativity and innovation. And there are also some scientists who are anxious that this might disservice German scientists who are forced to do research in a foreign language.

Featured image credit: Maren Winter via Shutterstock

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Janna Degener

Janna Degener

Visit her website at Janna Degener
Janna Degener is a linguist and anthropologist. As a freelance journalist she is specialised in educational issues and she mainly writes for online publications including ABI, Goethe, Go-out and for German magazines such as Arbeitsmarkt or UNICUM. She also gives scientific and journalistic courses at universities including Universität zu Köln, Freie Universität Berlin and Leuphana Universität Lüneburg. She also produce radio and video content related to social projects and consumer interest topics.
Janna Degener

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2 thoughts on “Is German a dying scientific language?”

  1. German will rise again. In the footsteps of the german Wirtschaft and military power. You will see it. German will be the frabca lingua in EU because UK will leave the EU. God save the queen. 🙂

  2. This is nonsense. There is much more invented in Germany than in France and GB. In 1900 each second book in the world was written in German!