German for international scientific and academic communication

Authored by: Ulrich Ammon , David Charlston

The Position of the German Language in the World

Print publication date:  September  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138717657
eBook ISBN: 9781315157870
Adobe ISBN:


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In the action field of academic communication, there is ample evidence of how the historical German-language community made the gradual transition to using its own language. The transition to German as an academic language was a protracted process which began in the late Middle Ages with the turn away from Latin, occasionally interrupted by intermediate turns, primarily towards French in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (cf. Pörksen 1983, 1986, 1989; Schiewe 1991, 1996) and which was completed only in the second half of the nineteenth century (for an overview, see Skudlik 1988, 1990: 4–24). This progression can be explained with reference to the formation of nations in Europe. With all its diversions and delays, German history follows substantially the same principles as that of other European nations (Andersen 1983; Gellner 1983). In synoptic form, typical features were the development of roofing written varieties based on a continuum of dialects; emerging from this, a standard variety, or rather several of them, largely unified the language with reference to regions (cf. Ch. B.1; B.2); followed, then, by the large-scale shift in the German-language community from academic communication in foreign languages (Latin, French) to communication in German. In parallel with the formation of standard German varieties, a community for communication in German was also secured beyond state and national boundaries, especially between Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Based on the economic power and performance of its academic institutions and industrial research, this German communicative community represented one of the three globally leading academic centres, alongside the French-speaking and English-speaking communities. During these developments, German ultimately became one of the three internationally dominant languages for academic and scientific communication, alongside English and French. The German communicative community expanded to include foreign-language speakers in many countries. Along with the internationalism of scientific languages, communicative communities made up of native speakers and foreign-language speakers arose, but, because of the extensive multilingualism among the individuals participating, these communities overlapped and were not separate. Alongside the three most important academic centres, other, smaller centres were formed, e.g. with the Italian and Dutch languages.

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