European Journal of Language Policy

The hegemonic position of English in the academic field

Between scientific diglossia and academic lingua franca

European Journal of Language Policy (2021), 13, (1), 47–74.

Abstract

English has achieved a hegemonic position in the field of science and technology and is gaining ground as the means of instruction in higher education. These developments have raised concern in numerous circles about the effects of the reduction of multilingualism in the academic fields, and some authors have warned against a possible scientific diglossia that might reduce all language but English to the status of non-academic languages. In this paper we argue that this approach is insufficient because it misses two fundamental points: on the one hand, it reduces the scientific field to only one of its dimensions, namely publication in scholarly articles, whereas academic life includes many other scholarly activities; on the other hand, the number of academic languages has actually increased in the last decades. Confronting these approaches, we propose to understand the aforementioned evolution in terms of a socioeconomic transformation which has triggered a number of new language choices. Plurilingualism has been a traditional feature of communities with an academic language, and we illustrate this plurilingualism with Catalan, a language that regained the status of academic language in the 1970s and is currently used side by side with Castilian and with English. To finish, some considerations are raised about the risk that English goes beyond its role of academic lingua franca and becomes appropriated as a legitimate vehicle of in-group interaction among members of other communities.

L’anglais a atteint une position hégémonique dans le domaine de la science et de la technologie et gagne du terrain comme moyen d’enseignement dans l’enseignement supérieur. Ces développements ont soulevé des inquiétudes dans de nombreux cercles quant aux effets de la réduction du plurilinguisme dans les domaines académiques, et certains auteurs ont mis en garde contre une éventuelle diglossie scientifique qui pourrait ramener toutes les langues sauf l’anglais au statut de langues non académiques. Dans cet article, nous soutenons que cette approche est insuffisante car elle manque deux points fondamentaux : d’une part, elle réduit le champ scientifique à une seule de ses dimensions, à savoir la publication dans des articles savants, tandis que la vie universitaire comprend de nombreuses autres activités savantes. De l’autre, parce que le nombre de langues académiques a en fait augmenté au cours des dernières décennies. Face à ces approches, nous proposons de comprendre l’évolution précitée en termes de transformation socio-économique qui a déclenché un certain nombre de nouveaux choix langagiers. Le plurilinguisme étant une caractéristique traditionnelle des communautés avec une langue académique, nous l’illustrons avec le catalan, une langue qui a retrouvé le statut de langue académique dans les années 1970 et qui est actuellement utilisée côte à côte avec le castillan et avec l’anglais. Pour terminer, une certaine considération est soulevée quant au risque que l’anglais dépasse son rôle de lingua franca académique et devienne un véhicule légitime d’interaction de groupe entre les membres d’autres communautés.

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Vila, F. Xavier