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Languages and Their Scientific Output

I know this may be an odd question but I was wondering if anyone could help me answer it. I know that English is the main language most scientists publish their papers in today but I was wondering if there are any contenders?

June 25, 2017



It actually depends a great deal on the discipline; for some topics there are few/no other contenders, while for a few English is actually not predominant. The distribution has also changed over time, leaning more strongly toward English over the past few decades. As an example, here is a broad breakdown of papers on the topic of biodiversity by language (for 2014):

64.4% English
12.6% Spanish
10.3% Portuguese
6% Chinese
3% French

Languages Are Still a Major Barrier to Global Science

For a broader look at "all" scholarly production (2007) we find the following breakdown:

45.24% English
11.01% German
6.51% Chinese
5.66% Spanish
4.94% French

Top languages in global information production

Comparing this to the topic of biodiversity, you can see how the variability plays out by topic.

It is also interesting to note that within countries, some fields of research seem to have more emphasis than others; perhaps this explains the variance. Consider the following % of papers produced within a language (2012; focusing on the topic with the most publications for that language):

English: 45% physical sciences
Chinese: 73% physical sciences
Dutch: 52% health sciences
French: 367% health sciences/social sciences
German: 35% physical sciences
Italian: 41% social sciences
and so on...

The Language of (Future) Scientific Communication

I don't see any sign of this changing; anecdotally I see more and more higher education programs focusing on English as a primary language, which will naturally lead to more scholarship in English. As far as I can tell the only major publishing country with a more even ratio of native language to English is China, though I don't know if that has any long term implications.


Wow. Thanks for taking the time to write all of that.

  • 2320

What about Japanese and Korean, what place are they in the rankings? Japan and South Korea seem to be pretty advanced in terms of science and technology, as well as education.

EDIT: I actually looked through the links you have provided and indeed, just as I thought, Japanese is right after French in the general ranking of scholarly publications.


It used to be German.

Edit: This might be of interest: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29543708

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