Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before And After Global English

Hardcover | April 13, 2015

byMichael D. Gordin

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English is the language of science today. No matter which languages you know, if you want your work seen, studied, and cited, you need to publish in English. But that hasn’t always been the case. Though there was a time when Latin dominated the field, for centuries science has been a polyglot enterprise, conducted in a number of languages whose importance waxed and waned over time—until the rise of English in the twentieth century.
 
So how did we get from there to here? How did French, German, Latin, Russian, and even Esperanto give way to English? And what can we reconstruct of the experience of doing science in the polyglot past? With Scientific Babel, Michael D. Gordin resurrects that lost world, in part through an ingenious mechanism: the pages of his highly readable narrative account teem with footnotes—not offering background information, but presenting quoted material in its original language. The result is stunning: as we read about the rise and fall of languages, driven by politics, war, economics, and institutions, we actually see it happen in the ever-changing web of multilingual examples. The history of science, and of English as its dominant language, comes to life, and brings with it a new understanding not only of the frictions generated by a scientific community that spoke in many often mutually unintelligible voices, but also of the possibilities of the polyglot, and the losses that the dominance of English entails.
 
Few historians of science write as well as Gordin, and Scientific Babel reveals his incredible command of the literature, language, and intellectual essence of science past and present. No reader who takes this linguistic journey with him will be disappointed.

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From the Publisher

English is the language of science today. No matter which languages you know, if you want your work seen, studied, and cited, you need to publish in English. But that hasn’t always been the case. Though there was a time when Latin dominated the field, for centuries science has been a polyglot enterprise, conducted in a number of langua...

Michael D. Gordin is the Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Princeton University and the author of The Pseudoscience Wars, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:424 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.2 inPublished:April 13, 2015Publisher:University of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022600029X

ISBN - 13:9780226000299

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

Introduction: Talking Science

Chapter 1: The Perfect Past That Almost Was
Chapter 2: The Table and the Word
Chapter 3: Hydrogen Oxygenovich
Chapter 4: Speaking Utopian
Chapter 5: The Wizards of Ido
Chapter 6: The Linguistic Shadow of the Great War
Chapter 7: Unspeakable
Chapter 8: The Dostoevsky Machine
Chapter 9: All the Russian That’s Fit to Print
Chapter 10: The Fe Curtain
Chapter 11: Anglophonia

Conclusion: Babel Beyond

Acknowledgments
List of Archives
Notes
Index

Editorial Reviews

"A book that no one with an interest in scientific communication or in the nature of disciplinary language can afford to ignore."