A Brief Post on the History and Use of Scientific English

So you may have seen my post on The Basic Characteristics of Scientific English, but what is it all for and where did it come from? What is the history of Scientific English? If you have wondered these questions, you have certainly come to the right place!

XJF380222 Thomas Sprat, 1683 (oil on panel) by Dahl, Michael (1656-1743); Private Collection; (add. info.: Thomas Sprat (1635-1713) Bishop of Rochester and Dean of Westminster); Swedish, out of copyright

History

Elements of Scientific writing has been identified as far back as the 14th century. The first codified example (at least for English) was by the Royal Society through Thomas Sprat‘s emphasis on it in his work History of the Royal Society of London (1667). This set down principles that members of the Royal Society should follow in their scientific writing. It is also the modern foundation for scientific language today.

Truly modern scientific writing came about as a product of the Cold War. Scientific writing became widely standardised as American (and Western) scientists had to communicate with each other and exchange information. This established English as the dominant publication language for science (and a reason why many journals only accept English-language manuscripts). Moreover, as the US had major resources to put into science at this time. American (US) English (and not British English as it had been before) became the basis for a new type of Scientific Writing. This is why many forms of Scientific English have many grammatical similarities with American English, such as the use of the Oxford (serial) comma.

Modern times

Today, scientists around the world use scientific language (and in many different languages). (Scientific) English remains the dominant language used in science for communication and for publication. Today, you see it most often in forums, seminars, conferences, articles, manuscripts, flash presentations, and conference presentations. You find it just about anywhere where two or more people are discussing (either orally or through writing) science, technology, medicine (sometimes called Medical language) and engineering.

At least for English, scientific language is more easily recognisable in writing. This is due to a general familiarity (or lack of being formal) when using spoken English. However, both oral and written scientific language still follow the same basic characteristics (see first link in the post) that distinguishes it from other forms of language (like business English).

Stay tuned for my next post, which will be on theĀ basic Grammar used by Scientific English.

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