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  • Defending the language with bullets: If you can read this in English, thank a soldier

Comments Aug 6, 2008 8:26 pm

Military might, as you've said, seems to have little control over the prevalence of a language. I would argue that cultural supremacy - economically or, in this century, scientifically - have done better to transform national language identity. After all, the British empire was first and foremost a trade empire in India (though in other places, sheer mass of colonists helped, too).

But I keep thinking of what helped propel American English to international dominance: physics (yes, political leadership and having enough troops to have bases in occupied territories helped too, but physics is all I'm well-read on). In the decades before World War 2, physics discourse was dominated by the Germans. It was only after we got the prewar and postwar brain drain from the occupied powers and, indeed, most of the damaged nations of the war, that English really took off as the language of scientific discourse. Of course, on the other side of the world, we competed with Russian and Chinese, but winning the Cold War certainly clinched that battle. Now you're hard-pressed to find even a mid-class scientific paper that isn't at least translated into English.

Reply to at 8:26 pm