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December 16, 1983

The Dominance of Scientific English: One Language or Two?

Author Affiliations

From the Divisions of Clinical Pharmacology (Dr D. Robertson) and Cardiology (Dr R. M. Robertson), Departments of Medicine and Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tenn.

JAMA. 1983;250(23):3196-3198. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340230048026

THE DISSEMINATION and ascendancy of the English language is surely one of the most remarkable events of modern times.1 As recently as the year 1500, the language was restricted to a modest portion of the island of Britain and claimed no more than 5 million speakers.2 There were larger numbers of people speaking French, German, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Hindi-Urdu, Quechua (Inca), and perhaps other tongues. There was certainly no reason then to have anticipated the bright future of English as a language of wider communication. Indeed, at that time, French was rapidly becoming established as the language of culture and diplomacy. The extent to which French was to develop as an international language is illustrated by the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna, where the victorious nations conducted all proceedings in French, the language of the defeated country.

It was only in the 19th century with the worldwide