European Journal of Language Policy

The role of a single lingua franca in scientific inquiry

Benefits and risks

European Journal of Language Policy (2021), 13, (1), 29–46.

Abstract

This paper discusses the role of English as the current lingua franca academica in contrast to a multilingual approach to scientific inquiry on the basis of four perspectives: a cognitive, a typological, a contrastive and a domain-specific one. It is argued that a distinction must be drawn between the natural sciences and the humanities in order to properly assess the potential of either linguistic solution to the problem of scientific communication. To the extent that the results of scientific research are expressed in formal languages and international standardised terminology, the exclusive use of one lingua franca is unproblematic, especially if phenomena of our external world are under consideration. In the humanities, by contrast, especially in the analysis of our non-visible, mental world, a single lingua franca cannot be regarded as a neutral instrument, but may more often than not become a conceptual prison. For the humanities the analysis of the conceptual system of a language provides the most reliable access to its culture. For international exchange of results, however, the humanities too have to rely on a suitable lingua franca as language of description as opposed to the language under description.

Cet article a pour objet la prise en compte du rôle de l’anglais en tant que lingua franca académique, en contraste avec une approche plurilingue de la démarche scientifique, sur la base de quatre perspectives : cognitive, typologique, comparative et spécifique à un domaine. Il est généralement admis qu’il est nécessaire d’appréhender différemment les sciences ‘dures’ des sciences humaines, afin de déterminer quelle stratégie linguistique est la mieux adaptée pour la communication scientifique. Etant donné que les résultats de la recherche scientifique sont transmis dans des langues formelles à l’aide d’une terminologie internationale standardisée, l’emploi unilatéral d’une lingua franca ne pose pas de problèmes, notamment s’il s’agit de phénomènes liés au monde naturel. Par contre, en sciences humaines, et plus particulièrement dans l’analyse du monde non visible, lié à la cognition, une seule lingua franca ne peut être considérée comme un instrument neutre, car elle serait perçue comme un enfermement. En effet, dans le domaine des sciences humaines, l’analyse du système conceptuel d’une langue est le moyen le plus fiable d’accéder à la culture qu’elle véhicule. Cependant, pour partager les résultats et les analyses, même les sciences humaines doivent compter sur une lingua franca appropriée comme moyen de description par opposition à une langue comme objet de description.

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Author details

König, Ekkehard