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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 185  

Travails of the english language in scientific writing

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. D Y Patil Medical College, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication25-Mar-2019

Correspondence Address:
Himadri Bal
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. D Y Patil Medical College, Dr. D Y Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/mjdrdypu.mjdrdypu_254_18

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How to cite this article:
Bal H. Travails of the english language in scientific writing. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth 2019;12:185

How to cite this URL:
Bal H. Travails of the english language in scientific writing. Med J DY Patil Vidyapeeth [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Jun 16];12:185. Available from: http://www.mjdrdypv.org/text.asp?2019/12/2/185/254770

Scientific writing has two dimensions – one is the content and the other is the appropriateness of the language used to convey it to the readers. Newton wrote his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica in Latin, Marie Curie published her pioneering work on radioactivity in French and Einstein's initial papers were written in German. Nevertheless, today, we cannot deny that English is almost exclusively the language of science. Latin, by and large, has become history in scientific writing. There is a hypothesis saying that the anti-German feeling following the World Wars edged out German language from scientific writing and the later predominance of the US in science and technology replaced French with English. British colonialism is the other reason put forward for the dominance of English in the scientific field.[1] However, usage of English by those who are not conversant with the language can at times become an impediment. Recently, some such gaffes noticed in certain articles raised a question in my mind regarding the importance of appropriate language in scientific writing. What I want to stress is not the correctness of grammar or spellings, but the use of words and phrases to express a viewpoint.

Titles of some case reports seized my attention. The title of one case report reads “One-sided Brain over the Head…”[2] The report pertains to a dermatological entity where a portion of the skin of the scalp has folds and furrows resembling the gyri and sulci of the brain. The first impression on reading the title was is it a case of a single-lobed brain which is protruding outside the head similar to an exomphalos?

The other observation on titles is we frequently come across titles reading “Rare Case Report…” The adjective “rare” is commonly prefixed to a case report probably to heighten its importance. The question that arises is what is rare, the “case” or the “report”? So, should it be rephrased as “Report of a Rare Case” instead of “A Rare Case Report”?

An author from an Asian country writes “… new approach that still requires further modification and next studying to get the finalized effective designed tool.” Another sentence reads “… villagers have to well participate.” One can understand what he wants to convey, but while reading, it is a bit jarring to the ears.

It is stated that English has originated from a number of languages such as French, Latin, Greek, and Anglo-Saxon. Along with the richness provided by such a multilingual origin, the English language has a wide variation in idiomatic usage.[3] However, this universal language often becomes a limitation in the realm of scientific writing for nonnative speakers of the language. An editorial states that 15% of the global population speak English and of these only 5% are native speakers.[4]

The editorial of the Integrative and Comparative Biology of Oxford Academic mentions.[5]

“In a recent assessment of one of the most prestigious journals published in the United States, I examined the titles of the articles in the issues from the past 5 years. Most contained grammatical errors. Many of the articles, although deserving an “A” for scientific content, scarcely merited a “C”-were the article to be submitted as a composition for a high school class in English.”

There are umpteen nonnative English speakers who write impeccable English. If the desire is there, one can improve one's written English and this can create a positive impression on your peers and colleagues.

Therefore, is it time for the authors of scientific writing to pay some attention to the language in addition to the scientific content?

  References Top

Why English Is The Language Of Science – Harrow House. Available from: https://www.harrowhouse.com/language_of_science.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Dec 13].  Back to cited text no. 1
Date P, Jain S. One-sided brain over the head: Cutis verticis gyrata. Med J Dr DY Patil Vidyapeeth 2018;11:245-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
Grange R. The use (and misuse) of English in urological papers. Arab J Urol 2011;9:63-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Drubin DG, Kellogg DR. English as the universal language of science: Opportunities and challenges. Mol Biol Cell 2012;23:1399.  Back to cited text no. 4
Heatwole H. Editorial – A plea for scholarly writing. Integr Comp Biol 2008;48:159-63.  Back to cited text no. 5


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