February 17, 2004

Latin and Science

I spent a four-day weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle, where, in spite of linguists' alleged taste for secrecy, a number of symposia were devoted to linguistic topics:

There was also a topical lecture entitled Language Acquisition and Creolization: How Children Shape Languages by Elissa Newport.

At one symposium, a member of the audience made a comment about the importance of Latin in the development of science, allegedly due to Latin being particularly precise. The alleged precision of Latin is also one of the reasons traditionally given for the study of Latin as a school subject. Now, I have got nothing against Latin. I have some acquaintance with it myself. But this idea about the superiority of Latin is bizarre. I' ve certainly never seen any evidence that Latin is any more precise than any other language, but it is the idea that Latin is responsible for the development of science that really takes the cake. Science as we know it was created by speakers of Greek, preserved and transmitted primarily by speakers of Arabic, and developed in its modern form by speakers of Italian, French, German, English and various other languages. For a time most of them wrote in Latin, but they surely did their thinking in the vernacular. The development of science did not slow down a whit when scientists ceased to publish in Latin. Where do people get this idea?

Posted by Bill Poser at February 17, 2004 07:46 PM