Ulrich Ammon's Ist Deutsch noch internationale Wissenschaftssprache?

Review by John Rutledge

WESS Newsletter

Spring 1999, Vol. 22, no. 2

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

Ammon, Ulrich. Ist Deutsch noch internationale Wissenschaftssprache? Englisch auch für die Lehre an den deutschsprachigen Hochschulen. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1998. 339 pp.

Ulrich Ammon, an important authority on the recent fortunes of the German language, poses and answers questions which should be of interest to everyone in German studies, including, to what extent is German still an international language of scholarship? Persons in the Romance languages can also find useful information here since statistics are usually given for those languages as well.

A nostalgic first chapter summarizes the glories and international status that the German language enjoyed before World War I. Where and how is German still used as the language of scholarship? German remains the major language for publishing in German history and literature. In these fields English has not superseded German as the principal language of publication. Other "niche" fields in which German is a major language include Finno-Ugric studies, Assyriology, Slavic Studies, classical archaeology and classical philology. Ammon doubts that music and theology-even Lutheran!-are any longer special preserves of the German language. These observations about the importance of German in supposedly "pre-eminently German" fields are based, in part, on an examination of older versions of Sheehy when Balay (1996) should have been used.

Sociolinguistic developments are usually complex. Ammon adduces many reasons for the decline of German as a world-wide scholarly vehicle, among them: 1) the two world wars and National Socialism, which resulted in loss of territories, suppression of the study of German, and anti-German sentiment; 2) the large number of scholars whose principal language is English, not German; 3) the close correlation between economic power and research achievements; that is, GNP relates closely to scholarly productivity (which favors the English-speaking countries); 4) the special role of the United States as the center of the "mental map"; 5) globalization and the consequent inability of any given country to separate itself economically from all the others, which places a premium on a lingua franca; 6) increased subject specialization leads to fewer and fewer colleagues with whom one can really talk, and, hence, increases the importance of a global scholarly language, namely English; 7) the "halo effect" or prestige factor of English.

Ammon also speculates a bit about future development, particularly about the trend towards greater use of English in German universities. English tends to dominate in highly international fields, particularly the hard sciences. Yet the English used in articles on chemistry tends to be formulaic and less nuanced than language used in social sciences and humanities where more "nuanced" expression is required.

Although much of this monograph is an interpretation of questionnaires, the author laces his text with interesting findings based on inventive uses of a variety of sources. Despite an annoying tendency to reduce findings to mathematical formulae, this is a rewarding reading experience.


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