Review | Scientific Babel – Michael Gordin

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This year, about 2.5 million scientific articles will be published. Roughly 90% of them will only exist in English. So how and why did English become the default language for scientific work? If that question interests you, you might appreciate Scientific Babel.

Scientific Babel is about the languages we use to create scientific knowledge, and how the “language of science” has changed over time. It’s partly a history of science, and partly a discussion of how languages and cultures rise and fall.

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Language and Duolingo

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I went to a secondary school which at the time emphasised language teaching. Students were encouraged to take two different language GCSEs – one in Year 10, and one in Year 11. My class had Italian, then French.

Even though I had completed 4 years of French by the end of secondary school, I never clicked with the language. As I learn most readily through reading and writing, I found the gaps between spoken and written French confusing. So while the written side of GCSE French came easily to me, trying to speak in French was frustrating.

Italian was far more enjoyable –  the logical connections between how words are pronounced and spelt made the language easier for me to understand. I enjoyed the language so much that I’ve repeatedly considered revisiting it.

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