Someone at the Guardian asked:
But who cares what language science is in, especially – you or I might ask – when it’s one we speak? In 2001, an editorial in the journal Nature Cell Biology argued (in English): “The use of a universal language for communication in science is unavoidable, and resisting this concept for the sake of cultural difference would seem to be counterproductive.” Maybe language barriers in print aren’t all that important. A chemist might reasonably say that they can follow a paper published in another language pretty easily: once you know what you’re doing, you can get pretty far just by reading the equations. The English used in scientific publications tends to be more standardised and simplified than the language you might hear in the street.
But academic publications make up only one element of scientific discourse, and I was left wanting to hear more about face-to-face communication. How do non-native speakers deal with English as the working language of labs, of conferences, of funding bodies and international collaborations? Gordin recognises that there are questions of power and privilege at play here, but he might have gone further into the language strategies that lie behind the day-to-day work of modern scientific research. Other questions are left hanging, not least the place of Chinese, Hindi, Swahili or even Spanish in the history of science: where are these languages now, and where might we expect them to figure in future?
If only medical science mattered, even a layperson could answer!
My (O’Leary for News) father lives in a care home across the way from me. It is amazing how easy it is to communicate across language barriers with respect to health care issues.
Most local staff are new Canadians. Ottawa is where they land (it can be found on a map, and Canadians are nice* ).
Staff language skills vary by origin. But I have never had a problem communicating.
How be this: Medical science is a universal language. Could that be exported to other sciences?
*if you are not a terrorist.