Sometimes in international discussions the three chief languages are allowed, and each separate speech has to be translated into the two others. I was present at such a congress in Copenhagen in 1910 and saw how intolerable this dragging repetition must necessarily be, not least to those who like myself understood English, French and German with perfect ease: anything like a real vivid discussion was excluded by the inevitable delays - not to mention the inadequacy of many of the extempore translations.
With regard to printed works matters are somewhat better, but not quite satisfactory. Most scientific men are nowadays able to read books and papers on their own special subject in the three chief languages, English, German and French; but that is no longer sufficient. One of the most important features of the last hundred years is the nationality-movement, in politics, in literature, in art, in everything. Even small nations want to assert themselves and fly their own colours on every occasion, by way of showing their independence of their mightier neighbours. The growing improvement in higher education everywhere has fortunately made it possible to print books on scientific matters even in languages spoken by comparatively small nations. But what is a benefit to these countries themselves, may in some cases be detrimental to the world at large, and even to authors, in so far as thoughts that deserved diffusion all over the globe are now made accessible only to a small fraction of those that should be interested in them. In my own field, I have had occasion to see the way in which excellent work written in Danish which might have exerted a deep influence on contemporary linguistic thought has remained practically unknown outside of Scandinavia. (See my book Language under Rask and Bredsdorff; I might have mentioned Westergaard and Thomsen as well.) The late secretary of the Berlin Academy, the eminent classical scholar H. Diels, says: "Incalculable are the intellectual losses incurred every year in consequence of the national hobby of small, but highly gifted scientifically active peoples who insist that scientific works (which cannot all of them be translated) should appear in their own, narrowly circumscribed languages." For my own part, though I have spent most of my life studying different languages, I have sometimes been obliged to lay aside as unread books and papers which I should have liked very much to study, but which happened to be written in a tongue with which I was not sufficiently familiar.
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