Academic English

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.

This entry was posted in English, Language, Swedish.

4 Responses to Academic English

  1. Jerry says:

    My son is attending an international school – all classes except Dutch and Maths are in English. Although it’s sometimes funny to see him finding the English word for something sooner than the Dutch word, I sometimes do worry about his Dutch vocabulary, which probably will not be as extensive as mine when I was his age. So being able to speak a language that so many other people do is, as they say, the future. But at the same time it’s a shortcoming not to know certain words or expressions in your own language. Let’s just hope these kids will be as good in English as their native English speaking friends…

  2. Jayan says:

    I’ve noticed this trend in speaking with my Danish friends. One fellow specifically chose to attend København Universitet rather than Aarhus Universitet (which was much closer to his hometown) because he wanted to receive his higher education in Danish rather than English.

    I have mixed feelings about it, but then, my opinion about it doesn’t affect whether or not it wil happen. I’ll be interested to see if English grammar affects the prescriptive standards of other languages like Latin did for English prescriptive grammar.

  3. Andrew says:

    Yup, English is becoming more and more the current lingua Franca, we’ll see if it gets to permanently retain that position or not (I personally think it will, but that’s me).


  4. Scott says:

    Cool, thanks for this. I knew the level of speaking English was high in Sweden, but not that much. I just started learning Swedish and this has given me some things to think about. I’m documenting it all in my blog –

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