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Library Journal Review
An interesting problem with this book is that Gordin (history, Princeton Univ.; The Pseudoscience Wars) approaches the question of a common scientific language from the perspective of underdogs: languages that could have become the global standard but failed. Thus, we learn a great deal about Russian; Esperanto and its offshoot, Ido; and German. Likely this has to do with the author's fluency in Russian and his inexperience with Latin. Consequently, it is hard to glimpse the world before "global English." We hear a great deal about what people thought of the ubiquity of Latin in the past, but that ubiquity is not discussed in depth. Similarly, Gordin frequently references the triumvirate of English, French, and German but neglects to adequately describe the time of their prominence. His lack of death on French seems particularly odd, especially in contrast to the time that is given over to constructed languages such as Ido. VERDICT Despite some issues, Gordin identifies a real issue: nonnative English-speaking scientists today must choose between identity (expressing themselves in their native language) and communication (using English to reach the largest audience). The readers who will enjoy this book the most are those with an interest in the history of translation, particularly during the Cold War.-Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., Emerson Coll., Boston (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gordin (history of science, Princeton) has written an excellent book on the history of the languages of science--how written and how read. Communication, Gordin observes, is a matter primarily of language, but in science that language may differ from the language associated with one's "identity." Gordin provides a chart that shows the evolution of languages in which science has been published in the last two centuries. English rose from 37 percent in 1800 to 92 percent in 2005. In each of the 11 chapters, the author stresses one language, relating that language to others and the culture of the times. Latin is covered in one chapter, Russian in four chapters, German in two, the constructed languages of Esperanto and Ido in a chapter apiece. French and English permeate all. Though the author describes scientific languages in general, he emphasizes chemistry, which seems to have its own nomenclature. The many quotations are translated into English but presented in the original language in the footnotes. The lingering question: Will Chinese become dominant? Probably not, since most Chinese scientists publish in English. This volume complements, but is more scholarly than, Scott Montgomery's Does Science Need a Global Language? (CH, Jan'14, 51-2633). This book is for linguists and historians of science (particularly chemistry). Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. --Robert Edward Buntrock, independent scholar