This was the submission of a journalist at ‘Science in French, in Quebec and around the world,’ a scientific conference organized as part of celebrating the ‘International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development’ (IYBSSD).
Rearguard combat or, conversely, a completely new vanguard? It will have escaped no one that the English language has become the lingua franca in the field of science. For many researchers, publishing in English is so obvious that they do not even try to discuss its preeminence. Vehicular language, would it have become transparent? On the contrary, we must question its significance, bet the chief scientist Rémi Quirion, during the Forum in Montreal (Canada) “Science in French in Quebec and in the world”, which he set up.
It will thus be noted that more than 320 million people speak French on the five continents , our language occupying the 5th rank behind English, Chinese, Hindi and Spanish. And that there could be 400 to 600 million French speakers in 2050, perhaps more than 770 million in 2070… What to do with this situation so different from that of the 20th century when three countries, France, Switzerland and Belgium, represented the nine tenths of the Francophonie, French being now more than 60% African? Lead the battle against English? Indeed, a backward-looking fight lost in advance.
Beware of the “Macdonaldization” of science
It is a different constructive path that could take shape: to make French, which had – still has – a tradition of “scientific language”, the standard-bearer of a much broader movement, that of true multilingualism. This might seem natural in those Latin American laboratories where scientific ideas are exchanged in Spanish or Portuguese; in Europe, where these exchanges take place in German, Dutch, Finnish etc.
Even the African continent, of which some of the 2,000 languages could indulge in scientific expressions if they are called upon, would find their way! If the specialized articles are written in English, “symbolic capital” obliges at the international level, it is indeed in their own language that the scientists should be able to elaborate their discoveries before explaining them and gaining the confidence of their compatriots…
A disturbing joke circulating today? That some no longer manage to speak clearly about their work except to express themselves in globish, “global English” with vague cultural references. Beware of the standardization of ways of thinking, of what Anne-Claude Berthoud calls with scathing irony the “Macdonaldization” of science! “Monolingualism leads to the uniformity of knowledge, while plurilingualism is a condition of its universality”, warns the professor-researcher at the University of Lausanne.
Below the Jura, at a time when artificial intelligence is increasing its capacity to facilitate translations, it seems wise to review what the Toubon law of 1994 “relating to the use of the French language”, formerly decried, good.
Challenges, a news blog, first shared this post.