How do you feel about English?

influencegraph.pngThrough no more than an accident of birth, I happen to be a native* English speaker. This is fortunate for me as English is the “official” language of science communication (the vast majority of journals are written in English), as well as the major international language in many other human endeavours – including on the internet. The low-quality graphic on the left illustrates what a mongrel the English language is and takes you to an informative Wikipedia page.

My travels on the web and in the world have brought me into contact with people from many countries. We converse in English and I never give that a second thought. So I wonder – if English is not your first language, how do you feel about its dominance in communication? Is it just accepted as fact and taught to you during your science education? Does it ever make you feel a little resentful? Do you wish there were more social networks in your native language? Is there interesting science happening in predominantly non-English speaking regions that we don’t get to hear about?

* I say “native”, but people from my part of the world are blessed with a strong regional dialect (which I’ve long since lost, sadly), derived largely from Frisian and old Norse.

2 thoughts on “How do you feel about English?

  1. I kinda like that there is sort of a universal language that can be used at many places, and I’m happy that English is a language with rather simple structure/grammatics (imagine you’d need to write your scientific papers in Russian or Finnish, or even Japanese!). However, while English seems universal, it’s obviously not, and there are many places where English won’t get you any further. So I always appreciate if people from native English speaking countries don’t take it for granted that others are speaking in English with them.
    Writing your scientifc publications in English can be troublesome sometimes, I spend much of the time figuring out the right words to use (and often get it wrong). OTOH, there’s plenty of papers to “copy” phrases from which helps a lot. Also, if I’d need to write my paper in my own language, I guess that I’d waste equally as much time figuring out a “beautiful/elegant” wording, something that I don’t need to worry about in another language (since I wouldn’t get it perfectly right anyhow).
    Speaking of software internationalization/localization, I started the development of my scientifc web application without any localization system, which, obviously, was a huge mistake. Back then, I thought that nobody would want to use my app in any other language than English, since English is so common in Science. Turns out that localization (especially in French & Spanish, but even in German) is one of our favourite feature requests, and it’s something truly important to many people. I also note in my server logs that people are using translation services from Google or Babelfish to translate our english project web site, which hints at the mass of English-only web sites being an obstacle them.

  2. My entire education and professional life has been conducted in English, as has my personal life for the past ten years. This puts me in the rather strange position of being unable to have a technical conversation in my native Greek; even worse, I find that my proficiency is deteriorating over time, so that I have trouble expressing myself. Immersion for a few days at least restores most of my fluency, but it can be rather embarrassing to resort to a lingua franca in my own country!

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