Yesterday I listened to an interesting episode of Word of Mouth, BBC Radio 4′s programme about language, which looked at academic English. They talked to staff and students in Swedish universities about how English has taken over from Swedish as the main language of higher education and research in Sweden. One researcher explained that if you want an international audience to read your research, you have to write it in English, and that it can be a challenge to get research papers in Swedish published, so most people don’t bother. As a result, many academics are unable to discuss their work in Swedish as they’re so used to doing so in English and don’t have all the relevant vocabulary in Swedish.
The students said that most of their textbooks and classes are in English, especially at postgraduate level, and that most of their written work has to be in English, which can be quite a challenge, even though their spoken English is very good.
This is an example of domain loss, i.e. in the domain of higher education and research in Sweden Swedish is being replaced by English. This is a common occurrence when languages are endangered and in decline, and Sweden isn’t the only place where this is happening – the situation is similar in Denmark, according to this paper, and probably in a number of other countries.
The presenter of the programme also pointed out that even native speakers of English may need help with Academic English, the particular style of writing used in higher education and research. This made me think that the current position Academic English is similar to that occupied by Latin until the 18th century.