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Review of  The Dominance of English As a Language of Science: Effects on Other Languages and Language Communities

Book Title: The Dominance of English As a Language of Science: Effects on Other Languages and Language Communities
Book Author: Ulrich Ammon
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.2485

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Ammon, Ulrich, ed. (2001) The Dominance of English as a
Language of Science: Effects on Other Languages and
Language Communities. Mouton de Gruyter, hardback ISBN:
3-11-016647-X, xiii+478pp, DM256.00, Contributions to the
Sociology of Language 84

Reviewed by Liwei Gao, University of Illinois at Urbana-


This volume collects twenty-two articles on the dominance
of English in sciences throughout the world. These articles
are divided into four chapters. The first chapter provides
overall perspectives and general models. The papers in
chapter two deal with the issue in countries with a
history of the English language dominance. Section three
discusses the dominance in reference to countries with a
history of foreign languages for science other than, or in
addition to, English. And the papers in the last chapter
explore the issue by focusing on countries with their own
international language of science.

In the first article, English - the Accidental Language of
Science, Robert B. Kaplan argues that the dominance of
English in the worldwide science register is not "the
outcome of a conspiracy" (p. 19). Instead, it is the
consequence of the accidental "confluence of a number of
political and economic forces" (p. 19). Even so, Kaplan
also recognizes that the spread of English not only
endangers small languages, but also has severe consequences
for the development of sciences in other languages.

The article by Angeline Martel is When Does Knowledge Have
a National Language? Language Policy-Making for
Science and Technology. In this paper Martel proposes a
heuristic framework for understanding the dynamics of
language policies in sciences. In reference to the
language situation in Quebec, Martel holds that the
development of language of science is intertwined with so
multifarious factors that it must be understood within a
certain context.

The article by Miquel Siguan, English and the Language
of Science: On the Unity of Language and the Plurality of
Languages, holds that in today's global village a common
language of communication is necessary for the fast
circulation of scientific information, and history has
chosen English for this role. Nevertheless, since English
is a language with its own cultural tradition (rather than
a pure instrument of rationality), the subordination of
other languages to English may signify the limitation and
impoverishment of cultural traditions of these languages.

In the fourth article, English in the Social Sciences,
Abram de Swaan points out that even though English, as the
universal medium of social sciences, provides "the
opportunity of developing and testing universal models and
theories of human societies" (p. 78), it is, however, not
neutral. On the contrary, the employment of this medium
favors American ideas and authors. So, Swaan suggests that
English may be still used in social sciences, but used
critically, e.g., without the acceptance of American
conceptions and practices.

The next article is The Dominance of English at European
Universities: Switzerland and Sweden Compared, by Heather
Murray and Silvia Dingwall. The similarities and
differences discussed in this paper cover, among other
things, the respective national language situation, higher
education and research, patterns of linguistic dominance,
patterns of change, and attitudinal differences. For
instance, regarding the attitudinal reaction towards the
use of English as the vehicle of scientific communication,
the authors hold that English is generally welcomed in both
Switzerland and Sweden.

The last article in Chapter 1, The Expansion of English as
a Language of Science and Communication: East and Southeast
Asia, is contributed by Grant D. McConnell. In this paper
McConnell attempts to describe and measure to what degree
English functions as a language of science in East and
Southeast Asia. To do so he classifies East and
Southeast Asian countries into three categories on the
basis of the number of speakers of the first largest
language, of the second largest language, and of all the
other languages. McConnell then makes two hypotheses
regarding the receptiveness to English as a language of
science by each group of countries. In light of the
available data, his two hypotheses seem to be both

Richard B. Baldauf Jr. authors the first article in
Chapter two, Speaking of Science: The Use by Australian
University Science Staff of Language Skills. In this paper
Baldauf notes that in Australia the universality of science
is segmented by language and language selection. Whereas
English as a language of science has apparently facilitated
the communication among scientists, this medium comes with
a price and the linguistic barrier for the communication of
science still exists. Baldauf proposes nine ways to create
a more healthy linguistic environment for Australian
scientists. He also indicates that it is essential that
scientists themselves initiate changes to strengthen
equality and access within the community of scientists.

The following article is The Penetration of English as
Language of Science and Technology into the Israeli
Linguistic Repertoire: A Preliminary Enquiry. In this
article Bernard Spolsky and Elana Shohamy conclude
that English has penetrated the "Israeli linguistic space
not just via the mass media and tourism, but also through
the demands of science and technology and the education
associated with both" (p. 175). Nevertheless, given the
high level of terminological development in and the
ideological attachment to Hebrew, the authors hold that the
penetration is not likely to be a threat to the continued
dominant position of Hebrew.

Rodolfo Jacobson authors the next article, Aspects of
Scholarly Language Use in Malaysia: Switching Codes in
Formal Settings. In this article Jacobson documents that
code-mixed speech occurs not only in informal settings, but
also on formal occasions. Jacobson also addresses the issue
whether the presence of English in Malay-English speech
actually reveals biculturality as it does with Mexican
Americans in the United States. The author shows that the
role of English in Malaysia functions "merely as being a
neutral linguistic tool rather than an instrument of
acculturation" (p. 190).

The next article is English in Science Communication in
Hong Kong: Educational Research Output, which is
contributed by William Y. Wu, Dennis W. K. Chan,
and Bjorn H. Jernudd. This paper attempts to investigate
WHEN Chinese or English is selected as language of
publication in educational sciences. The data basically
confirm their two hypotheses: 1) articles on primary
education content are more likely to be written in Chinese,
and 2) the use of the Chinese language is favored in
articles dealing with Chinese-language content subjects.

Jerzy Smolicz, Iluminado Nical and Margaret Secombe
co-author the next article, English as the Medium of
Instruction for Science and its Effects on the Languages of
the Philippines. This article argues that although in the
Philippines English becomes the dominant language for the
instruction of science, the language of academic discourse,
business, and also diplomacy, it does not force any of the
major or even the minority Philippine languages into
distinction. At the current stage the vernacular is still
generally the language of the home and the neighborhood,
and Filipilo, the national language, still functions as the
symbol of unity and linguistic identity.

The first article in Chapter Three, The Impact of English
as a Language of Science in Finland and its Role for the
Transition to Network Society, is written by Harald
Haarmann and Eugene Holman. In this article the authors not
only present the manner in which English obtains the
dominant language status in sciences in the 20th century
Finland, which is evidenced by, e.g., the use of English as
an active language of scientific writing, but also
investigate the impact on the Finnish usages and norms
from English, which includes the influence on the Finnish
phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, and also
pragmatic systems.

The next article by Peter Medgyes and Monika Laszlo, The
Foreign Language Competence of Hungarian Scholars: Ten
Years Later, compares the result from a study of the use of
foreign languages in Hungary in 1989 with that from
another study in 1999. The comparison shows that while the
overall number of foreign languages used in Hungary has
dwindled, the proficiency in English of an average
scholar has risen substantially. And the importance of
English is even more evident in terms of scholarly
publications. In light of such evidence the authors point
out that Hungary is gradually becoming a country where
English is a second language.

The last paper in Chapter three, Swedish, English, French
or German - the Language Situation at Swedish Universities,
is contributed by Britt-Louise Gunnarsson. Based on the
study of the language situation at one university,
Gunnarsson establishes that English is being widely used in
Swedish higher institutions and becomes the dominant
language in doctoral programs and research. The author
warns that this situation, in the long run, will impoverish
Swedish, which may be represented by its failing to be an
effective medium of academic communication. So, the author
proposes that attempts should be made to curb the current
linguistic trend that is leading to the more and more use
of English in Swedish universities.

The first article in Chapter four is The Languages of
Science in France: Public Debate and Language Policies.
In this paper Claude Truchot discusses the conflict between
French and English, the attempt to plan language pluralism
in the sciences, the gradual shift to English in the
circulation of scientific information, and the maintenance
of French in "secondary information" (p. 325). The author
ends the article by noting that although the issue
concerning the languages of science is not debated as
heatedly in 2000 as in the 1980s and even later, some
problems concerning this issue still exist.

Roland Willemyns' article English in Linguistic Research in
Belgium first surveys the Belgian publication
infrastructure, which features a shortage of Belgian
journals on linguistics. The paper then points out that
given the effect of the Belgian legislation on the language
of instruction, "the role of English seems to be limited to
a language of science" (p. 338). Nevertheless, there also
exists a heavy borrowing of the linguistic terminology from
English, e.g., in sociolinguistics. Consequently, the
article cautions about the possible disadvantageous impact
from English on the linguistic development in Belgium.

Ulrich Ammon authors the next paper, English as a Future
Language of Teaching at German Universities? A Question of
Difficult Consequences, Posed by the Decline of German as a
Language of Science. In this article Ammon first reviews
the evolution of the languages of science in the 20th
century. He then discusses the effects of the dominance of
English as a language of science on the declining
international languages of science and their speakers. The
author finally discusses the advantages and disadvantages
in the introduction of English for teaching in the non-
English-speaking countries.

The next article is contributed by Rudolf de Cillia and
Teresa Schweiger, English as a Language of Instruction at
Austrian Universities. This paper describes the situation
that in Austria the legislation provides regulation
regarding the knowledge of the state language, but it does
not regulate the knowledge of English. Even so, to a
certain extent English is still used as a language of
instruction, particularly in the fields of natural sciences
and most extensively at universities of sciences and

The article The Presence of English at Swiss Universities
is contributed by Urs Durmuller. In this article Durmuller
reports that in German-Speaking Swiss universities, the use
of English is generally not resisted, whether on homepages,
or in teaching upper-level courses. In contrast, in French-
speaking, especially in Italian-speaking, Switzerland, the
use of English is not as readily accepted. The paper ends
by suggesting, quoting Beda Stadler (personal
communication) that "it is important for students to be
very familiar with scientific English. For graduate
students it is a must. If possible, also undergraduate
students should get exposed to the English technical
terms." (p. 403)

The next article is English as a Language of Science in
Russia, written by Tatjana Kryuchkova. In this paper the
author holds that in Russian sciences, English is currently
used much more extensively than before 1985, when Russian
was the predominant language of sciences. This being true,
the main function of English in Russian sciences is only "a
mediator language between Russian sciences and the
international scienctific community" (p. 422), although
more and more Russian scientists have now considered
English a necessary part of their professional development.

Vera Lucia Menezes de Oliveira e Paiva and Adriana Silvina
Pagano's article English in Brazil with an Outlook on its
Function as a Language of Science first discusses the
spread of English in Brazilian polular music, T-shirts,
etc., and the public opinion about the penetration of
English. It then explores the use of English in Brazilian
universities and research labs, e.g., English used as the
language of science textbooks and technical manuals. In so
doing the authors point out that the main role of English
in Brazil is "a gateway to science, culture, and
technological advancement" (p. 441). The authors also pose
some questions regarding the possible side-effect
caused by the spread of English in Brazil.

The last article in this collection is entitled English as
a Language of Science in Japan: From Corpus Planning to
Status Planning, contributed by Fumio Inoue. In this
article Inoue discusses the status of English in Japan in
terms of the concept of corpus planning and status
planning. In so doing the author points out that as
Japanese higher education becomes more and more open to
foreign students, the use of English in universities seems
to be necessity. Meanwhile, the author notes that in this
sense "the English Language seems to have lost its
nationalistic color of the past, and seems to have become a
medium of global scientific communication (p. 468)".

COMMENT (Content)

This volume collects the articles that examine the
dominance of English as a language of science in the Inner
Circle, the Outer Circle, and also the Expanding Circle
countries (Kachru 1986). In so doing the documentation of
this issue achieves its comprehensiveness. Moreover, the
significance of this collection extends far beyond the
linguistic domain, given that the choice of languages used
in the field of sciences has also, among other things,
technological and ideological implications.

Concerning the contribution to linguistics, especially
sociolinguistics, this volume discusses the some of the
mechanisms for language spread, language shift, or even
language death. This helps to enrich the theories of
languages in contact. Regarding the technological
significance, some articles in this collection discuss the
benefit or harm to the development of technology in
choosing one language over another as the language of
science. These discussions may, to some extent, provide
helpful guidance for the optimal choice of language(s) of
science. And in terms of the ideological significance,
certain articles point out that the choice of one language
versus another as the language of science may exacerbate
the inequality already existent in the society and
eventually endanger the social democracy. In this sense,
these discussions are ideologically significant.

Certain viewpoints expressed in this collection may warrant
further discussion. For instance, several authors, e.g.,
Robert Kaplan, hold that the spread of English in the
world is "merely the outcome of the coincidence of
accidental forces" (p. 19). This is true to a great degree,
but may not be the entire picture. The existence of the
governmental as well as non-governmental agencies of the
English language, e.g., the British Council, is a testimony
of the non-accidental forces at work to proliferate English
worldwide. As Phillipson (1992) notes, the enormous EFL
(English as a foreign language) industry also figures
prominently in the increasing penetration of English in
every corner of the world.

In addition, Swaan (p. 74) holds that the adoption of large
numbers of loan words does not affect the morphology
(grammar, syntax, and pronunciation) of the borrowing
language. This may be true in some cases of borrowing. It
is yet one side of the story. As Sankoff (2001.In press)
argues, in certain cases the borrowing of vocabulary from
another language does show its impact on the syntax and also
the phonological systems of the borrowing language.

Another point is concerning the concept of "International
English" (p. 356) discussed by Ulrich Ammon, which is akin
to the concept of English as an international language --
extensively discussed in Karchu (e.g. 1992[1982]). As Ammon
himself notes, given "the fact that the non-native speakers
of English have come to be much more numerous than the
native speakers" (p. 356), the proposal for "International
English" is at least empirically viable, other than being
just utopian, as is apparently assumed by Ammon. Most
importantly, as Smith (1992) has demonstrated, the
problem of mutual unintelligibility among speakers of
non-native varieties of English is not as serious as
commonly assumed.

Furthermore, the view of Ammon that the comprehension
difficulty encountered by non-native-speakers of English
"should be these individuals' responsibility" (p. 357) and
consequently should be solved by themselves prompts further
considerations. As Kachru (1992 [1982]) points out,
whenever English is started to be used by a country or
region in which English is not the native language, be it
for science, technology, literature, or modernization, it
undergoes a process of reincarnation that is linguistic as
well as cultural. Kachru (ibid.) considers most such
changes pragmatically determined, given the fact that non-
localized variety of English is not capable of adequately
expressing what is unique to a certain culture. In other
words, if speakers of different varieties of English
have problems understanding each other, it can be, on the
whole, attributed to the different national linguistic and
cultural contexts, instead of to the individual

Here one more inference ensues. Even if it is ideologically
correct that every country have their right to linguistic
peculiarities (Ammon 2000), they cannot establish their own
norm of English that is not entailed by their unique
cultural and linguistic characteristics. In other words,
they cannot simply dictate the norm of their own variety of
English on a capricious basis. Instead, every country
should still strive to establish the norm in such a manner
that their English is still intelligible to speakers of
other varieties of English. Only in this way may it be
claimed that these countries still use ENGLISH, whatever
the variety is.

(Format and editing)

Editor Ammon's brief introduction in the Preface provides
useful summaries and also draws connections to related
research. Another welcome feature is the positioning of
references immediately following each paper, which provides
the reader with convenience who wishes to check a source of
reference. The eight-page subject index, which lists items
in the alphabetical order, makes the collection more user-
friendly. What is even more remarkable is that each article
contains a list of its contents right in the beginning,
which is very helpful to the reader, especially to those
that need to find details in the article in a short time.

It is somewhat a pity, though, that some editing problems
exist in this collection, which may have been avoided with
careful checking. For instance, in line two on page Vii and
line one on page viii, there is problem with the use of
quotation marks. In line four on Page 64, "viceversa" is
inadvertently used for "vice versa". In the last line on
Page 68, there is inappropriate blank space. In line
eighteen on page 117, there is a font problem with the word
"prevalent". In line one on page 142, "lead" seems to be
mistakenly used for "led". And in Ammon's article, the
subtitle for the first section seems to have been missed.

In conclusion, The Dominance of English as a Language of
Science: Effects on Other Languages and Language
Communities should make a huge contribution to the
sociology of language. The book can serve well as a
textbook for graduates in sociolinguistics. It is also an
invaluable book to anyone who is interested in the study of
the English language, researchers and non-researchers as


Ammon, Ulrich. (2000) Towards more Fairness in
International English: Linguistic Rights of Non-Native
Speakers? In Robert Phillipson, ed. Equity, Power and
Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 111-

Kachru, Braj (1986) The Alchemy of English: the Spread,
Functions, and Models of Non-native Englishes. Oxford; New
York: Pergamon.

Kachru, Braj, ed. (1992) The Other Tongue: English Across
Cultures. 2nd ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Phillipson, Robert. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford;
New York: Oxford University Press.

Sankoff, Gillian. (2001. In press) Linguistic Outcomes of
Language Contact. In Jack Chambers, et al., eds. Handbook of
Sociolinguistics. Oxford, UK; Malden, MA: Blackwell

Smith, Larry E. (1992) Spread of English and Issues of
Intelligibility. In Braj Kachru, ed. 75-90.

About the Reviewer

Liwei Gao is a graduate student of linguistics at the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research
interest is sociolinguistics.


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