Language of description

Henry Gee h.gee at NATURE.COM
Wed Oct 25 15:59:00 CDT 1995

     The good thing about Latin is that it imposes a kind of discipline on
     the user as regards grammar and syntax that enhances usage in ANY
     language. The fact that it is dead somehow enhances this attribute.
     Ever since educationalists came up with the conceited notion that
     education should be 'fun' and 'relevant', students in the UK are not
     taught the basics of English grammar. The poor prose of our scientists
     is testament enough to that. But I was lucky enough to have learned
     Latin for a few years, which helped me with my English -- and was of
     great use later when I learned German

     Henry Gee
     h.gee at

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Language of description
Author:  "MICHAEL A. IVIE" <ueymi at MSU.OSCS.MONTANA.EDU> at Internet
Date:    25/10/95 15:20

I know no interesting zoologist who can write eloquently in Latin, and
I doubt that I want to.  If we are going to have our students learn a
foreign language (and I am in strong favor of that), lets make it a
language that is useful for something beyond sterile descriptions.  When you
learn another's language, you learn a little bit about another culture,
viewpoint, geography, food, etc.  Why do we want to know any of that about
the Romans (sorry, not modern Romans) when we can learn about Brazilans,
Kenyans, Swedes, or Japanese?  I stand by me earlier comments:  let
people write in the language they choose, and let us learn to understand
them.  Most will write in English by choice, but I would rather read a
good description in Swahili than a bad one in any language.  The inconvience
is just too small in reality to destroy good writing in science.  If
you have a large body of literature in any one language, learn to read
it.  If it is the odd article, use a dictionary or ask for a translation.

Otherwise, stop carping about a non-existant and non-desirable one-world
language for science.  We are suppossedly the ones who understand the
advantage of the keeping the evolutionary diversity of the world.  What
do you think languages are?

Mike Ivie
Montana State University

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