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- v.23(8); 2012 Apr 15
English as the universal language of science: opportunities and challenges
English is now used almost exclusively as the language of science. The adoption of a de facto universal language of science has had an extraordinary effect on scientific communication: by learning a single language, scientists around the world gain access to the vast scientific literature and can communicate with other scientists anywhere in the world. However, the use of English as the universal scientific language creates distinct challenges for those who are not native speakers of English. In this editorial, we discuss how researchers, manuscript reviewers, and journal editors can help minimize these challenges, thereby leveling the playing field and fostering international scientific communication.
It is estimated that less than 15% of the world's population speaks English, with just 5% being native speakers ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language ). This extraordinary imbalance emphasizes the importance of recognizing and alleviating the difficulties faced by nonnative speakers of English if we are to have a truly global community of scientists. For scientists whose first language is not English, writing manuscripts and grants, preparing oral presentations, and communicating directly with other scientists in English is much more challenging than it is for native speakers of English. Communicating subtle nuances, which can be done easily in one's native tongue, becomes difficult or impossible. A common complaint of nonnative speakers of English is that manuscript reviewers often focus on criticizing their English, rather than looking beyond the language to evaluate the scientific results and logic of a manuscript. This makes it difficult for their manuscripts to get a fair review and, ultimately, to be accepted for publication.
We believe that the communications advantage realized by native speakers of English obligates them to acknowledge and to help alleviate the extra challenges faced by their fellow scientists from non-English-speaking countries. Native speakers of English should offer understanding, patience, and assistance when reviewing or editing manuscripts of nonnative speakers of English. At the same time, nonnative speakers of English must endeavor to produce manuscripts that are clearly written. We offer the following guidelines for writing and evaluating manuscripts in the context of the international community of scientists:
- Nonnative speakers of English can write effective manuscripts, despite errors of grammar, syntax, and usage, if the manuscripts are clear, simple, logical, and concise. (We note that native speakers of English sometimes write manuscripts exhibiting good grammar, yet filled with muddled and confusing logic.)
- When possible, reviewers and editors of manuscripts should look beyond errors in grammar, syntax, and usage, and evaluate the science.
- It is inappropriate to reject or harshly criticize manuscripts from nonnative speakers of English based on errors of grammar, syntax, or usage alone. If there are language errors, reviewers and editors should provide constructive criticism, pointing out examples of passages that are unclear and suggesting improvements. Reviewers and editors may also suggest that authors seek the assistance of expert English speakers or professional editing services in preparing revised versions of manuscripts. And finally, all involved should bear in mind that most journals employ copyeditors, whose job it is to correct any lingering errors in grammar, syntax, and usage before final publication of an article.
- Nonnative speakers of English must be aware that reviewers, editors, and journal staff do not have the time or resources to extensively edit manuscripts for language and that reviewers and editors must be able to understand what is being reported. Thus, it is essential that nonnative speakers of English recognize that their ability to participate in the international scientific enterprise is directly related to their ability to produce manuscripts in English that are clear, simple, logical, and concise.
The fact that English is the de facto global language of science is not likely to change anytime soon. Optimizing communication among members of the international community of scientists, and thus advancing scientific progress, depends on elimination of obstacles faced by nonnative speakers of the English language. This ideal can best be achieved when all members of the scientific community work together.
This editorial was inspired by correspondence with Victor Norris of the Université de Rouen, France. We thank Yi Zuo, Karsten Weis, and Laurent Blanchoin for comments on the manuscript and Mark Leader for his excellent edits.
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- 2023 Issues
- January 2023
English really is a universal language
Despite the apparent diversity of languages worldwide, from English to Farsi, from Arabic to Mandarin, there is a universal language network in the brain, as revealed by a recent study from Saima Malik-Moraleda and colleagues (MIT, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon Universities in the US, and Carlton University in Canada).
A long-running criticism of linguistic research (indeed research generally) is the lack of global diversity – especially given there are around 7,000 languages being spoken today. Although there seem to be properties common to all languages, this lack of diversity has hindered attempts to establish whether different languages have differences in neural processing.
Malik-Moraleda’s study broke the mould by recruiting native speakers of 45 languages across 12 language families, such as Indo- European, Dravidian, Uralic, Austronesian and Balto-Slavic. During the tasks, the participants’ brain activity was recorded by brain imaging (fMRI).
One caveat might be that all the speakers were also bilingual in English and the preliminary baseline of locating language processing generally was carried out in English. Listeners then heard passages from Alice in Wonderland in their native language, contrasting with passages in an unfamiliar language. Non-linguistic tests of working memory and arithmetic were also included to see if there were contrasts between language and non-language processing regions of the brain.
Overall, the variation in responses between different speakers of different languages was not greater than the variation between individuals speaking the same language, implying that the brain processes all languages via the same neural circuitry. The results of brain imaging showed the same area in the left hemisphere of the brain being activated specifically for language processing across all languages – and distinct from more general intelligence.
Although this suggests that research using English speakers can be extended universally, there may still be rare processes to be detected. The authors hope to extend their work to include sign languages and more non- Indo-European spoken languages, even Esperanto and Klingon.
- Malik-Moraleda, S, Ayyash, D, Gallée, J et al (2022). ‘An investigation across 45 languages and 12 language families reveals a universal language network’, Nature Neuroscience 25 , 1014–1019. doi: 10.1038/ s41593-022-01114-5
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Universal Language Usefulness and Qualities Research Paper
The world is rapidly globalizing. Different cultures sometimes smoothly, and with extreme tension, rush into a common cultural space of the universal language. Consequently, people are witnessing numerous conflicts, misunderstandings, and contradictions associated with this process. How can the dialogue of cultures be realized in the modern world? What symbolism will be most appropriate for the common language of humanity? Will nations that have been cultivating their national identity for centuries be able to move towards universal communication? As is known, in the world of cultural studies this topic was considered half a century ago as a problem of cultural code and universal language. Global language implementation is designed to significantly reduce these differences, to make cultural systems transparent and acceptable to all people. It must possess several qualities that will assist nations in adapting and learning it. However, the universal language will not eliminate a nation’s cultural identity, and it will bring better communication flow and improved information transfer.
The influence of the universal language, the idea spread of which began in the 60s of the previous century, is difficult to overestimate. The strength of its penetration is quite high, and the perception of the users of the concept of language is ambiguous. By the beginning of the XXI century for the global language, the notions were being actively discussed. Without a doubt, it can be noted that the universal language received the most significant attention in the world in the 20th century, because the English language was emerging as a potential candidate. It undoubtedly contributed to the cultural heritage of the people speaking this language. The use of English as one of the official languages in the work of international organizations has made a significant contribution to its development as a language of international communication . The development of print media has also played a major role in the spread of English. In the middle of the XIX century, the part of the largest news agencies sharply increased. By the end of the XIX century, social and economic factors led to an increase in advertising. English in advertising began to be used quite early.
Universal language usefulness and qualities
Universal language roots.
The clearest example supporting the universal language concept is the widespread use of English in international affairs. If the world uses the global language that was derived from English, numerous countries will be able to adapt it quickly. The English language will either be an origin of the universal language or the resembling language. By the beginning of the XXI century, American influence in the world makes English not only extremely important, but practically the only possible instrument of intercultural interaction not only in various market areas, especially in tourism and advertising, but also in such areas as science and technology. Access to current scientific and technical databases without the use of English is impossible; therefore, it is an obligatory working language of international scientific events . However, it would be erroneous to believe that the globalization of the English language is the result of purely economic and political superiority. Attention should be paid to the peculiarities of the English, which predetermined his victory in a kind of race for global linguistic domination. Therefore, the universal language will bring entirely free information flow without any loss of context, which will be an excellent communication tool among nations.
Secondly, the universal language must possess an important quality of flexibility and simplicity, which will be useful for nations to adopt it without undergoing intensive learning. Adjustability is manifested at different levels of the language system. The word order, the pledge category, the ability to use the same word as a noun and a verb, great derivational capabilities – all this works on the flexibility of the universal language as a communicative tool. Moreover, global grammar must have a higher degree of unification than most world languages. For example, the category of sex can be completely transmitted by the word and does not require additional manifestation with the help of articles, as in German or Spanish . A predicate can easily do without a subject. The case forms of nouns in universal language might be practically absent except for some personal pronouns, compared with, for example, Finnish, which has fifteen types for each noun. It should be a sample of the highest degree of unification of the grammatical system. The simplicity is key, because in Latin the verb had 120 possible forms, and in modern German, it had 16, then English operates only five types, of which only three are actively used . Therefore, English is the possible candidate for a universal language, if it will not be artificially designed. By being flexible and simple, it will be easily learned and used effortlessly, thus making its implementation natural and logical.
Loss of cultural identity
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the implementation of universal language will partially eliminate cultural identity. Spreading the process of globalization in all spheres of life in modern society makes people think about their ethnic identity. Erasing national language, which is on the verge of ethnicity, can show that the process of globalization is a destructive factor influencing the original tradition and culture of the people. The first refutation point is that countries should make a move about ancestral languages. Countries throughout the world should force each university and school to teach the ancestral language to everyone. Opportunities should exist for each to learn, speak, and write the original language. According to Peng’s study, it is important to preserve cultural identity for a student to study effectively . In addition, parents should teach their children about history and cultural background, because it is the core of one’s identity. Parents should help their children to understand their religion, language, ethnic group, culture, and familial history. Therefore, children would know about their identity and how their ancestors lived by having more information about anthropology, history, religion, and geography. According to Miles, the culture-based behavior model needs to be anchored and preserved, because the lack of it leads to identity-related issues . If cultures are understood through the prism of the concepts of linguistic and ethnic identity, they can be characterized as an ethnicity that has its traditions and customs, a defined territory, core values that are passed down from generation to generation.
In conclusion, economic and political factors have the greatest influence on the implementation and development of measures to promote linguistic unification, the stability of its status and system, including communicative models and traditional ethnocultural discourses. The universal language concept might either emerge from other international languages or be completely designed. In both scenarios, the English language will have a profound effect. There are benefits to having a global language, such as lexical freedom, flexibility, and unified communication tool. Intensive migration flows and the recognition of the principles of tolerance and human rights as the basis of modern public life should be taken into account when developing language implementation measures. Peaceful coexistence is possible only if the integration component of any modern society is taken into account. However, the loss of cultural and ethnic identity can be a major problem, which will be an opposing idea for a universal language. Linguistic policy in the global world is a vast concept: the planning and regulation of language status are often carried out at the ideological level.
- J. Nivre, “ Towards a universal grammar for natural language processing, ” Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing , vol. 9041, no. 1, 2015. [Online]. Web.
- A. M. Blackburn, L. Cornish, and S. Smith, “ Gifted English language learners: Global understandings and Australian perspectives ,” Journal for the Education of the Gifted , vol. 39, no. 4, 2016. [Online]. Web.
- H. Rose and N. Galloway, “ Debating standard language ideology in the classroom: Using the ‘Speak Good English Movement’ to raise awareness of global Englishes ,” RELC Journal , vol. 48, no. 3, 2017. [Online]. Web.
- R. Kumar and R. Yunus, “ Linguistics in language education, ” Contemporary Education Dialogue , vol. 11, no. 2, 2014. [Online]. Web.
- A. C. Peng, L. V. Dyne, and K. Oh, ” The influence of motivational cultural intelligence on cultural effectiveness based on study abroad: The moderating role of participant’s cultural identity ,” Journal of Management Education , vol. 39, no. 5, 2014. [Online]. Web.
- A. Miles, “ Addressing the problem of cultural anchoring: An identity-based model of culture in action ,” Social Psychology Quarterly , vol. 77, no. 2, 2014. [Online]. Web.
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IvyPanda. (2022, January 16). Universal Language Usefulness and Qualities. https://ivypanda.com/essays/universal-language-usefulness-and-qualities/
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IvyPanda . 2022. "Universal Language Usefulness and Qualities." January 16, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/universal-language-usefulness-and-qualities/.
1. IvyPanda . "Universal Language Usefulness and Qualities." January 16, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/universal-language-usefulness-and-qualities/.
IvyPanda . "Universal Language Usefulness and Qualities." January 16, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/universal-language-usefulness-and-qualities/.
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