Technology and the Language Problem

Technical science has developed and is developing at an ever increasing rate. The selection of thousands of new terms is forced upon the scientists by circumstances. Chaotic development which might be the cause of much misunderstanding can only be avoided in international agreement in the scientific world. This has been recognized and has partially been solved for the natural sciences through an extensive use and adaptation of Latin and Greek roots or affixes. Technology, however, offers problems which cannot be solved by these means. The ancient languages cannot provide terms for a science which has developed recently and which requires a constantly increasing vocabulary. A planned language which takes into consideration the manifold problems of technology seems the only solution for this rapidly extending field of scientific activity. A language which can serve these needs in the international field must be open to permanent extension and development. What, then, are the minimum requirements of a technical nomenclature? Its elements should be invariable and monosignificant, i.e., of one meaning only. Its roots should be those common to the European languages. The affixes, partly in existence in our national tongues, should be "one for each job", precisely and clearly defined. It should permit of indefinite extension to fulfil the needs of future developments. The language should have a regulated and simple system of grammar with which it should be possible to describe and define new processes and phenomena.

The experiments of the International Electro-Technical Commission with Esperanto have shown that such a system can be devised, and it can be a system which is far more complete and perfect than Esperanto. A final stipulation which is accepted in interlinguistic circles is that it should be easy and should not be a new burden on technicians.

Decimal classification and the method of illustrating international technical dictionaries has proved of great value, but valuable as these methods are they cannot replace a much needed terminology or a technical code which could be applied with equal ease in all countries by international agreement.

A decision to promote an ethnic language to the rôle of an auxiliary means of communication cannot offer any solution to science. The nomenclature which is demanded by science can only be the result of a co-operative effort of technicians and linguists. It must be based on a planned, regular, and easy language material which does already exist in the various systems of auxiliary language. Such a code or nomenclature can be developed without regard to tradition and colloquial usages of our national tongues.

Much pioneering, although little known, has been done in this field, and the preliminary examinations have led the Sovietrussian Academy of Sciences and, on their suggestion, the International Federation of National Standardizing Associations, to make comparative studies. The conclusions reached on this work done prior to the outbreak of war in 1939 were that a regular, constructed language lends itself, practically and potentially, to a precise and logical development which no ethnic language has so far achieved.

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James Chandler 1997.