Languages in which science is written

A few days ago, in a Facebook group that I participate in, a researcher asked whether he should submit all his scientific articles, or more succinctly, papers, to the same scientific journal, or journal, or if he should diversify, meaning, always submit to a different one. The consensus in the responses was unanimous – diversify. I noted, however, that this diversification should not only apply to journals but also to languages. This led me to wonder, in which languages are we publishing the research we conduct?

An investigation had to be carried out. Starting from the premise of English dominance, I posted a survey in the same group, ‘In which language do we publish?’ which was validly answered by 1,013 participants from different parts of the world. The results are revealing.

Firstly, it was confirmed that English remains the lingua franca in which researchers publish their dissertations and scientific findings, with 63% publishing solely in English, in addition to 4.8% who justified do it because it was their native language. In the comments, a Brazilian researcher stated that he had exclusively published in English thus far, while a German researcher justified exclusive English publication due to the convenience and ease it offered as his ‘native language’ in science. On the other hand, an Italian researcher found it odd that some choose to publish only in English because it was their native language. She mentioned that she publishes in Italian, French, and English and wondered why these didn’t learn another language.

Regarding diversification towards a second publication language, it is a trend, although, according to the survey, it is far from being a dominant action. 24.2% stated that they published more in English than in their native language; 3.1% more in their native language than in English; 1% in English, which is their native language, and in another language; and 0.5% added that they considered publishing equally in English and their native language. In the comments, a Polish researcher justified publishing more in his native language than in English because the papers he published were related to it. On the other hand, other researchers mentioned that they had submitted a paper in another language for the first time, such as Italian and German.

Diversifying into a third language, beyond English and the native language, is a task that, according to the survey, 1.9% of the participants have begun to undertake. In my case, I mentioned that I had started publishing in Portuguese, in addition to Spanish and English, because my research topics and geographical area were connected to this language. An American researcher stated that, in addition to English as his native language, he had published in Spanish and Catalan. Meanwhile, a German researcher based in Brazil commented that he published in English, Portuguese, and Spanish but had decided to publish less in English because his papers were not accessible to the populations he worked with.

Only 1.1% stated that they publish exclusively in their native language. In this regard, a Colombian researcher commented that he was aware he should start publishing in English, but that it was a complex task for those whose native language was not English. On the other hand, a Canadian researcher mentioned that he only published in French.

Diversify Languages? Yes

Diversifying the languages used in the publication of scientific research is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it relates to the accessibility and visibility of information. Not all scientists and academics have English as their native language or are proficient enough to read in this language, so publishing in other languages expands the access and visibility of research. Secondly, it is linked to inclusion and diversity. By publishing in various languages, it is possible to reach non-specialized audiences who, for various reasons, have an interest in this type of literature. Additionally, it facilitates access to information in their native language for the communities that have been the subject of research. Lastly, but not least important, is language preservation. Publishing in other languages contributes to the promotion and use of less-spoken languages, which is of special interest for their preservation.

In the conducted survey, a trend towards publishing in other languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Catalan was observed. This raises the question of whether Romance languages are leading this diversification or if it was a coincidental occurrence. And what about other significant languages like Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Russian, or Arabic? Further research is needed.

And you, as a researcher, in which languages do you publish?

* This text was originally published in Spanish on the UTB Research blog.

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