Lyne Starling Trimble Public Lecture: Scientific Babel: English, German, and the Fall of Polyglot Natural Science

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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
American Center for Physics, College Park, Maryland

Owen Gingerich

Scientific Babel: English, German, and the Fallof Polyglot Natural Science

Presented by Professor Michael D. Gordin of Princeton University

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Reception: 5:30 p.m.
Talk: 6:30 p.m.

American Center for Physics
1 Physics Elipse
College Park, MD 20740

RSVP Closed



Communication, especially publication, in the natural sciences today takes place almost exclusively in English. This phenomenon is relatively recent, with a strong shift toward monoglot natural science taking place roughly half a century ago. This talk offers an account of the transformation of communication in the natural sciences from a primarily trilingual situation in 1850 (English, French, and German) to a bilingual situation after the Second World War (English primary, Russian secondary), to the monoglot system of today. In particular, the significant and sudden decline of German, due to political upheaval during the twentieth century (especially the First World War) and cultural processes within the scientific community, was the primary condition for the transformation of a polyglot linguistic system in the natural sciences to a monoglot one.


Michael D. Gordin is the Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Princeton University, where he specializes in the history of the modern physical sciences and Russian, European, and American history. He is the author of several books, including A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table (Basic Books, 2004), Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War (Princeton, 2007), and, most recently, Scientific Babel: How Sciences Was Done Before and After Global English (Chicago, 2015).

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