This week we would like to take up an issue which does not only pertain to current events in field of Classics, but to an ongoing global development: The growing significance of the English language for international communication.
Even if English has not reached all areas of the world yet, it surely appears to be on its way of becoming a full-fledged lingua franca. As such, it enables people from all over the globe to communicate with each other and thus brings a number of practical as well as economic advantages. For one, it allows FIEC to write but one blog entry on this topic to all its readers speaking completely different mother tongues. Yet, there may be a downside to this development. We have to ask ourselves whether or not we should allow English to become the ONLY language of international importance.
An Austrian petition, which was launched a few days ago, addresses this very problem. More specifically, it calls into question a decision made by the FWF, Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (“Austrian Science Fund”), which is an essential institution giving financial support to Austrian scientific research. A couple of years ago, those responsible for the fund decided that applications to it were to be submitted in English only. They argued that it would thus be easier to find suitable evaluators for the individual projects in need of funding.
The supporters of the petition, on the other hand, consider this restriction a step into the wrong direction. Particularly in the field of humanities, they argue, a multilingual approach has to be taken since scholars from all over the world have been communicating in several languages for a long time and because considerable parts of the relevant literature is French, Italian, German etc. Therefore, it can be claimed, that a qualified evaluator definitely has to be acquainted with a number of languages in order to understand the context of any given application in the field of, e.g., Philosophy or Classics.
Apart from that, languages are not mere practical tools, but carry the cultural identity of the peoples by which they are spoken. To strengthen the use of one universal language might means to lose a great portion of our cultural diversity, a problem that reaches far beyond academic discourse.
To read and sign the petition and help allow German applications to the FWF, please follow this link.
The issue is certainly worth some discussion. It might as well be of interest what native speakers of English think about this topic. Does the quality of academic writing in English, as a whole, worsen because of the high number of non-native speakers using it for their theses and articles? After all, it is inevitable that some aspects of any text get lost in translation.
We invite every one of you to share your thoughts on this issue. Please comment on the entry and let us know your perspective. We would be pleased to see a lively discussion.