Izzit? – ‘Monolingual ghettos’ make for dire science

The Economist writes that there are both advantages and disadvantages to having English as an academic lingua franca. While there are benefits to non-anglophone scholars learning English, there are also concerns that a “monolingual ghetto” is “bad for science.” 

The article in The Economist is based on a paper published in the journal PLOS Biology, which found that nearly two thirds of the papers containing the terms “conservation” and “biodiversity” and accessible through Google Scholar were in English, with Spanish coming a distant second.

The article mentions the example of work done in Chinese in 2004 on the transfer of H5N1 flu from birds to pigs. The paper went largely unread outside China while “critical time was lost.”

The solution, says the writer (or writers) of the article, is “to encourage multiculturalism wherever practical.” Both anglophone and non-anglophone scholars should ensure the abstracts and keywords of their papers are available in other languages, while specialised machine translation systems also have a role to play.