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Review of  Languages of Science in the Eighteenth Century

Reviewer: Rolf Kemmler
Book Title: Languages of Science in the Eighteenth Century
Book Author: Britt-Louise Gunnarsson
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.2358

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EDITOR: Britt-Louise Gunnarsson
TITLE: Languages of Science in the Eighteenth Century
PUBLISHER: de Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2011

Rolf Kemmler, Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro / Centro de Estudos em
Letras, Portugal


As the editor Britt-Louise Gunnarson (University of Uppsala, Sweden) states in
her pre-introduction, ''most of the chapters this volume were originally
presented as plenary lectures or section papers at the Symposium on Languages of
Science in the Time of Linnaeus, held in Uppsala in June 2007'' (p. xi). The
Symposium was held on the occasion of the tercentenary of the birth of the 18th
century Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus
Linnæus (1707-1778), who is acknowledged to have devised the basics of modern
biological zoological classification. Four years after this symposium the
results are presented in a printed edition by Mouton de Gruyter, uniting
seventeen articles.

After an introduction by the editor which serves both to inform on the general
theme of languages in the 18th century (with a focus on the Swedish reality) and
on Carl von Linné, she continues with a brief synopsis of the individual
articles, which are organized in four sections.

Section 1: The forming of scientific communities

In the article ''Church, state, university, and the printing press: Conditions
for the emergence and maintenance of autonomy of scientific publication in
Europe'' (pp. 25-44), Charles Bazerman focuses on scientific printing in a time
when knowledge in the natural sciences increasingly came to be a matter of state
and of independent scholars and less of the church dominated universities.
Comparing the advent of printing in China and in Europe, Bazerman puts into
evidence what could be called a secularization of knowledge in learned societies
and academies since the 16th century as well as in scientific journals due to
liberal access to printing. While in the 18th century research activity all over
most of Europe didn't necessarily have to be linked to a university, this began
to change with the German university reforms from the mid 19th century on.

In the article ''Philology in the eighteenth century: Europe and Sweden,'' (pp.
45-61), Gunilla Gren-Eklund offers an overview over 'philology' in eighteenth
century Sweden. Given that the term 'linguistics' is used nowadays mostly for
synchronous linguistics and that the article focuses on a historiographic view
of the scientific dedication to linguistic thought (even in a pre-linguistic
period), it seems more adequate to use the term 'linguistic historiography' and
'Sprachwissenschaftsgeschichte' in the sense of E. F. Konrad Koerner. It seems
quite natural that in 18th century Swedish universities there was not yet any
regular philological (or linguistic) activity, except for studies concerning the
oriental language, which actually coincides with the general picture before the
introduction of philology and language studies in the early and mid-19th century.

In the article ''The Swedish Academy of Sciences: Language policy and language
practice'' (pp. 63-87), Ulf Teleman dedicates himself to the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences (''Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien'', KVA), founded in Stockholm
in 1739. As a learned society that was created emulating the British ''Royal
Society of London'' and the French ''Académie Royale des Sciences'', the KVA's
focus from the beginning was exclusively dedicated to Science (as opposed to the
Humanities). From its beginning the academy opted to use the Swedish language
exclusively in its publications, so it could not avoid dedicating itself to
linguistic topics such as the choice of German/Swedish vs. Latin typeset in its
publications, the orthography of the Swedish language or the policy regarding
the use of foreign words in Swedish normative aspects. Teleman undertakes a
brief linguistic survey, sampling some articles published in the KVA proceedings
(some of which have Latin counterparts published in the proceedings of the
Uppsala Society) by some authors from 1739 to 1775. In his results it seems
quite convincing that the Academy, while not being able to establish any formal
general norms before the advent of the more linguistically oriented Swedish
Academy (''Svenska Akademien'') in 1786, at least contributed to the evolution of
the Swedish scientific language as a substitution to the formerly all-dominating

Section 2. The emergence of new languages of science

In her article ''Scientific literacy in eighteenth-century Germany'' (pp. 91-106),
Renata Schellenberg takes a look at a singular aspect of intellectual culture
and languages in 18th century Germany, concentrating on the public scientific
dispute of biological and philosophical nature between the German Caspar
Friedrich Wolf (1734-1794) and the Swiss Albrecht von Haller (1708-1777) in
books and scientific periodicals since 1758. While the discussion began in Latin
publications by both authors, the dispute was soon held in German in order to be
understood by a broader audience. After the initial dispute ended with Haller's
death, further contributions were made in German by other scholars.

The article ''From vernacular to national language: Language planning and the
discourse of science in eighteenth-century Sweden'' (pp. 107-122) by Anna Helga
Hannesdóttir focuses on Swedish language planning in the 18th century. A
significant part of the article is occupied by a thorough explanation of the
ideas of the American linguist Einar Haugen (1906-1994) on language planning and
the application of Haugen's model on the Swedish reality (pp. 107-115). Less
than 4 1/2 pages (pp. 115-119) are dedicated to what was supposed to be the
article's main concern, namely the various types of contribution Linnaeus made
to the Swedish language. As the author concludes that Linnaeus, apart from
contributing enormously to the creation of a Swedish scientific prose as well as
the introduction of many new lexemes for the Swedish dictionary, did not take
part in any language planning per se, the relationship between Haugen's model
and Linnaeus's role in 18th century Swedish linguistic politics seems somewhat
forced as his role clearly was that of a contributor to the internal evolution
of the Swedish language.

In the article ''From Latin and Swedish to Latin in Swedish: On the early modern
emergence of a professional vernacular variety in Sweden'' (pp. 123-138), Lars
Wollin takes a statistical look at the evolution of the relationship between
Latin and Swedish in the lexical area up until modern times. As in other
European languages, the direct use of Latin, so typical for scholarship until
the 18th century, came to be substituted by an increased use of loan words and
Latin lexemes.

Under the title ''Science and natural language in the eighteenth century: Buffon
and Linnaeus'' (pp. 141-155), Richard Sörman explores linguistic aspects of the
scientific controversy between the Frenchman Georges-Louis Leclerc, Count of
Buffon (1708-1788), who in his ''Histoire naturelle générale et particulière'' (36
vols., Paris, 1749-1789) rejects Linnaeus's taxonomic approach to classifying
nature. Considering that the article is meant to be an objective scientific
text, it seems unusual that the introduction ends with the following anticlimax:
''The main conclusion, however, is that Buffon's critique of modern scientist's
use of language is far from out of date and that it raises the general and
ahistorical question of the effective value of abstract language as a tool for
understanding and describing reality'' (p. 142). From the historian's point of
view, such an attitude as displayed by the author might be considered dubious,
as his main role should be to describe and not to judge. Essentially, Buffon's
difficulty with Linnaeus's method seems to be a different perception of how the
extralinguistic nature might be described by linguistic means, and what style
would be more adequate. In conclusion of this seemingly more literary than
linguistic study, one question remains unanswered -- did Linnaeus comment on
Buffon's criticism? If so, what was his reply?

The last article in this section is entitled ''From theory of ideas to theory of
succedaneum: The Linnaean botanical nomenclature(s) as 'a point of view on the
world' '' (pp. 157-168), by Philippe Selosse. Based on the term ''succedaneum''
which is frequently used by Linnaeus with the approximate meaning of
''substitute,'' the author offers a more philosophical than purely linguistic
approach to Linnaeus's taxonomy.

Section 3: The spread of scientific ideas

In the article ''Linnaeus’s international correspondence: The spread of a
revolution'' (pp. 171-191), Ann-Mari Jönsson offers an outlook on the scientist's
correspondence as one of the means used by Linnaeus to divulge his scientific
results. Dedicated to Linnaeus's scientific revolution, the real content of the
article is, not so much dedicated to linguistic aspects but rather to the
history of science.

Under the title ''The influence of Carl Linnaeus on the ''Encyclopaedia
Britannica'' of 1771'' (pp. 193-206), Rosemarie Gläser takes a look at the
influences of Linnaeus's work on the first edition of the ''Encyclopaedia
Britannica''. After short considerations on Linnaus's British connections, Gläser
offers some information on the first edition of the ''Encyclopaedia Britannica,''
trying to situate this Scottish encyclopaedia project. Even though there seems
to be some confusion with regard to the French ''Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire
raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers,'' which, contrary to the
author's reference (p. 196), did not include the term ''française'' in its title,
the proof the author offers for Linnaeus's influence on the ''Encyclopaedia
Britannica'' seems convincing.

The article ''Linnaeus and the Siberian expeditions: Translating political empire
into a kingdom of knowledge'' (pp. 207-226) by Kenneth J. Knoespel is dedicated
to Carl Linnaeus's response to the findings of the expeditions to Siberia from
1724 on. After the presentation of some ''Russian dissertations'' associated with
Linnaeus (p. 210-219) it becomes evident that while the biologist's interest was
getting to know new species his linguistic goal was their naming.

In the last article of the third section, Palmira Fontes da Costa offers an
outlook on ''The introduction of the Linnaean classification of nature in
Portugal'' (p. 227-243). Beginning her considerations with the Marquis of
Pombal's reform at Coimbra University (1772), where Linnaeus's works were
mandatory in the newly created studies of natural history, the author duly
mentions the Italian Domenico Vandelli, as well as Félix Avelar Brotero, who,
while also adhering to Linnaeus's classification, voiced his misgivings about
the limitations of his classification. While the former, who even corresponded
with Linnaeus, can be said to have initiated academic science at Coimbra
University, Brotero is held as the father of Portuguese Botany. The fifth and
last section of the article is dedicated to ''Classification and the Muses.''
Whereas the reflex of Linnaeus's work in Portuguese poetry might be interesting
for Portuguese studies, this is clearly not a linguistic but a literary chapter.
This might not be deemed problematic. The same, however, cannot be said if we
consider that throughout the book any citation of non-English text is duly
translated in relation to the original texts (although not all of the
translations appear similarly adequate, but it seems acceptable that they serve
foremost for understanding what otherwise wouldn't be understood by all
readers). It appears somewhat problematic that the article's author refers to
English titles when talking about the works of Portuguese authors (p. 228). The
references, however, show that the referred works really have Portuguese titles.
Any translations of such source texts should have been (but are not) accompanied
by the original text.

Section 4. The development of scientific writing

The articles in this section can summarily be described as text linguistic
studies of 18th century texts. As these articles will be mostly of interest to
specialists in Swedish linguistics, I will limit myself to a brief
characterization of each article.

The first two articles are dedicated to some linguistic aspects of Carl
Linnaeus's works. In his article ''Linnaeus as a connecting link in Swedish
language history'' (pp. 247-261), Bo Ralph offers some insight into stylistic
aspects of Linnaeus's contributions to Swedish language history, based on the
scientist's notebooks and travel records, ending by an overview of those whose
style his writing might have influenced.

In a slightly different approach, but also analysing works of the Swedish
scientist, Han-Liang Chang takes a look into the conventions ''Calendar'' and
''aphorism'' in Linnaeus's Latin works ''Philosophie Botanica'' and ''Fundamenta
Botanica'' in his article ''Calendar and aphorism: A generic study of Carl
Linnaeus’s ''Fundamenta Botanica'' and ''Philosophia Botanica'' (pp. 263-278).

In his text linguistic article ''The reflective cultivator? Model readers in
eighteenth-century Swedish garden literature'' (pp. 279-301), Andreas Nord
provides an analysis of 18th century garden literature. Using the concepts of
''social semiotics'' and ''appraisal theory,'' his aim is to characterize the
analysed texts according to being action-oriented or knowledge-oriented in
relation to the ''model reader.''

The last two articles by Britt-Louise Gunnarsson (''The linguistic construction
of scientificality in early Swedish medical texts,'' pp. 303-332) and Päivi Pahta
(''Eighteenth-century English medical texts and discourses on reproduction,'' pp.
333-355) are dedicated to medical texts. Whereas the former offers a focus on
medical treatises in the Transactions of the Royal Swedish Academy, the latter
focuses on reproduction in English texts.

The book ends with a subject index (pp. 357-365), which is to be applauded, as
proceedings normally do not tend to offer such an index.


This volume is remarkable in its broad linguistic approach, both promising and
offering new insights. It falls, however, short of fulfilling the promise made
by its title. For someone specialized in 18th century linguistics, a publication
dedicated to ''Languages of Science on the Eighteenth Century'' must have a strong
attraction, even more so considering the advertising message divulged in
LINGUIST Llist 22.4199. But although the publisher concedes that ''a particular
focus is placed on the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778)'', the further
affirmation ''The book covers writing in different European languages: Swedish,
German, French, English, Latin, Portuguese, and Russian'' is not really matched
by the book's contents: as a matter of fact, fourteen (!) of the texts are
related to Sweden, Swedish, or to Carl Linnaeus, whereas only three are
dedicated to other countries or languages.

While it seems evident that such a reference might have been omitted for
marketing purposes, the Swedish domination of the collective of individual
articles should have been more obvious. The lack of a subtitle that explains the
''Swedish Connection'' could mislead potential buyers as well as readers and the
absence of any reference to Sweden or the Swedish language on the back cover
blurb reinforces this impression.

The various parts of the books cannot really be regarded as chapters of what
would be a monographic publication, but simply as articles by seventeen authors
from Sweden (8), the US (3), France (2), China/Taiwan (1), Finland (1), Germany
(1) and Portugal (1). Obviously, the fact that the volume in reality constitutes
the proceedings of an academic symposium is not problematic. As there is an
increasing tendency to deprecate proceedings in evaluations of academic
publications, the editor's choice of a publication as a collection of individual
articles seems wise and cannot be criticized.

Aside from the fact that throughout the whole book there is a multitude of
unproven affirmations concerning information that is not public domain, most of
the articles do, however, show the quality and scientific seriousness that is to
be expected of such a publication.

It may seem that the book contributes but little to our knowledge of language
history and linguistic historiography of 18th century Europe as a whole. There
can, however, be no doubt that it should prove quite useful and interesting for
anybody interested diverse aspects of the history of the modern Swedish language
especially since the 18th century.


Alorna (Marquesa de), Leonor d'Almeida Portugal Lorena e Lencastre. 1844. Obras
poeticas de D. Leonor d'Almeida Portugal Lorena e Lencastre, Marqueza d'Alorna,
condessa d'Assumar e d'Oeynhausen, conhecida pelo nome de Alcipe, tomo IV,
Lisboa: Na Imprensa Nacional.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Rolf Kemmler is an auxiliary researcher in the field of Portuguese linguistic historiography with the Centro de Estudos em Letras (CEL), University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD, Vila Real, Portugal). He received his doctorate in Romance Philology from Bremen University (Germany) in 2005, with a thesis entitled 'A Academia Orthográfica Portugueza na Lisboa do Século das Luzes: Vida, obras e atividades de João Pinheiro Freire da Cunha (1738-1811)', published in 2007. His research interests focus on the history of Portuguese orthography as well as the history of Portuguese and Latin-Portuguese grammar.

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