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Endangered Langauge

DW staff (nda)January 31, 2009

As a language of scholarship, German is "on its deathbed," with most academics speaking at conferences and publishing their research in English, the German Culture Council warned this week.

Lab technicians work with cells in a research lab
German as a language of science is in danger according to the Culture CouncilImage: AP

The days when the scholars of the world learned German so they could read the latest findings in science, engineering and the arts are long gone. In science today, only one percent of the papers published are in German, the council said.

An increasing number of foreign academics coming to Germany for research or conference purposes add to the pressure on German scientists to present and work in English, as many visitors arrive with very basic or no German skills.

The council said that foreign guest professors coming to Germany to teach or to join research institutes were "under the impression they do not need to learn German, because English will do."

This was because a knowledge of German was not necessary in order to be able to communicate in universities and non-university research establishments with German colleagues.

Most German academics prefer to publish in English

As well as making it easier to speak with foreign colleagues, German academics also prefered English over their native language when it comes to publishing their work, the council said. It therefore called for the increased promotion of scientific publications in German.

The council admitted its concern over the future of the language, saying that the loss of scientific German could lead to a loss at scientific thinking, because "science thinking is connected to language and culture." The fear was, it added, that German as an international scientific language could suffer in the long term.

"Upholding the scientific German language has nothing to do with protectionism or nationalism," Olaf Zimmermann, the council secretary, said. "On the contrary, it concerns the security of cultural diversity and cultural self-sufficiency."

Zimmermann called for more funding of the arts, where German was still a significant language.

He demanded that all academic conferences held in Germany be conducted in both English and German, not English alone. "It should be natural therefore that during international conferences in Germany, German should be one of the working languages."