English is not the ideal language to communicate ideas and concepts effectively. It is not precise enough and implies an inequality between scientists based not on their scientific qualities, but on their origins and social levels.
During one of my post-docs, I found myself on the terrace of a university campus, surrounded by colleagues. This group included representatives from Italy, Germany, France, Germany, Russia, Serbia and Switzerland. As usual, we spoke English. During that break, we no longer talked about work, but about everyday life, politics and so on. Outside our usual subjects, the dialogue was no longer as smooth as in our lab-meeting and journal clubs. Looking back, I saw myself, surrounded by this diversity, each speaking a language that did not belong to us. At that time, I felt a lack of logic and optimum in the current situation.
I was thus led to wonder about the language used to communicate between scientists and about the current state of the situation.
Cost of learning English
For a vast majority of scientists, English is a foreign language. This means that we have to go through the "Second Language Study" phase, which begins, in the best of cases, during childhood. The school gives us some basic notions, but the level reached barely allows us to have a basic discussion[Hutterli 2013] (edudoc.ch/record/112622/files/forum_sprachen_2013_e.pdf). When you enter university, you feel the need to upgrade. For the lucky ones, they can spend a year of exchange in the United States or Great Britain, or take language courses. But for the most part, this will be done through solitary and incomplete learning. In any case, this means an investment of time and money.
All this time spent studying English is lost to learning other subjects.
This is where a inequality appears between future English-speaking scientists and others:
Anglophones will be able to invest all their study time in scientifically relevant subjects while others will have to use part of their time to learn English.
Level of English
Although we are all convinced that we have a good level of English, all we have to do is open an English novel or go to an English pub to realize our mistake. Proof of this is the advice given by scientific journals, such asNature :"You may wish to consider asking a colleague whose native language is English to read your manuscript and/or to use a professional editing service[…]".
The problem of fluency in English is also evident at international scientific congresses. People with very relevant questions do not speak out for fear of speaking in an unfamiliar language, while Anglophones speak with ease. Meals at congresses are symptomatic. How often are groups formed according to the language of the people? We are so much more comfortable in our mother tongue!
The mother tongue influences the way one thinks and solves problems. The use of English implies, as described above, an advantage, and therefore, a predominance of Anglo-Saxon thought.
The Esperanto : an alternative
First, being a neutral language, not belonging to any ethnic group, or rather, belonging to all humanity equally, it does not favour any linguistic region. With a lexical base close to Latin and Germanic languages, accompanied by a grammar close to Asian languages, it puts everyone on an equal footing. Moreover, its regularity and clumping logic mean that with a small lexicon you can build a large quantity of words. The learning curve of Esperanto is very beneficial for everyone, regardless of their mother tongue. Which brings us to the second point.
Secondly, its ease of learning makes it accessible to all. One year of learning Esperanto is equivalent to 10 years of learning English ! The time to reach an excellent level is therefore very low and its cost very low. It is therefore not necessary to invest in stays abroad to master this language. A worker’s son will therefore have the same linguistic potential as a banker’s son. Moreover, since his learning is very fast, he does not preterite the mother tongue by allowing time for individuals to practice it. It is indeed a problem of English. By not allowing enough time to practice its mother tongue, English contributes to the extinction of languages around the world. **Esperanto therefore also makes it possible to save the world’s linguistic diversity.
Thirdly, Esperanto is constructed in such a way that an expressed idea will be very close to what you want to express. Its clumping and regular characteristic makes it possible to express subtle finesse in a very easy way. Thus, the flow of ideas will not be hindered by the poor control of the participants but rather accelerated, facilitated.
It’s all very well as a speech, but since no one speaks Esperanto, it’s useless! To that I would answer in two ways. First, by learning Esperanto, you learn the workings of languages (metalinguistic knowledge), which makes it easier to learn other languages. For example, it has been shown in a German school that students who learned Esperanto for two year followed by three years English were better at English than students who took five years of English classes! So by learning Esperanto, even if no one talks about it around you, you will have saved time.
Secondly, we are not alone, as Esperanto is experiencing a strong resurgence of interest, for example withduolingo orAmikumu, an application to connect Esperantists is proving very successful among people who want to practice or learn Esperanto.
Third, Esperanto can help dyslexic students (see my previous post about this subject. The portal ateliersdys.ch works for example on the creation of teaching materials that use Esperanto to help students overcome their difficulties.
The use of English implies inequalities and is not ideal for accurate information transmission. Esperanto is an ideal alternative in many aspects and helps learning other languages. Its only weakness at the moment is its low use in the scientific community. An initial effort is required, but if it is made, it will have great benefits for research.
A list of Esperanto associations around the world can be found at http://www.esperanto.net