"Andrew Usher" <email@example.com> wrote in message news:firstname.lastname@example.org...
> The use of Latin in the sciences and other learned fields basically > ceased in the 18th and 19th centuries. I have long wondered why people > accepted the use of national languages exclusively in this endeavor > where international understanding is more imperative than any other.
Languages were not really considered "national" before the 20th century. E.g. Galileo was the first scientist of lasting historical importance to publish in the vernacular, but this was not because Italian or Tuscan was a "national language:" it was just more convenient for Galileo's current needs.
Cf. (a century later) Newton published in both English in 1671 (Fluxions) and 1704 (Optics) and in Latin in 1687 (Princip. Math.) Another century later Alexander von Humboldt chose to publish in French and Latin as well as his native German; another century Einstein published only in German.
> It is true, that the use of Latin by 1700 had already passed almost > everywhere else, but its last remaining use should still have been > enough to support it, given that Latin was the one language that every > educated man in the Western world knew, and that Latin, having such a > long tradition of use, was at least suitable for scientific and > technical purposes as any other language at the time.
The suitability of Latin to publish genuinely new information is open to challenge. I would suggest Linnaeus's plant catalogue (1753-1779) was the last great attempt to use Latin as the international language of science. He nevertheless had to coin a lot of new words -- and the Linnean System of nomenclature worked in any language, thus did not require Latin for its adoption or use.
20th century scholar Derek de Solla Price was the first to notice the growth pattern of modern science (since Galileo or Newton) -- a tenfold growth in the volume of new knowledge published in each half century. This means the volume of information grew a millionfold in 300 years. During this period investigators have used four successive "languages of science," Latin, French, German and English. I believe the character of languages had less to do with this change than the contingencies of politics, viz. unique features of the German academic system of the 19th century and the American research machine of the 20th.
Non-scientists tried to go their own way by maintaining Latin as the core of higher education (e.g. prerequisite for admission to Oxbridge up to about 1960) and from about 1800 adding Greek (which among late Victorians displaced Latin as the preferred language for show-off quotations) and adding to the "research" curriculum a whole lot of Middle Eastern languages reconstructed from writing (also handy for Biblical scholarship, a hot topic i the 19th century) not to mention Persian, Sanskrit, and Chinese and Japanese studies besides. This offered a curriculum that appeared competitive with hot science in the Victorian period -- but which failed to transform the whole world the way science successfully did: and never supported any scholarly lingua franca. -- Don Phillipson Carlsbad Springs (Ottawa, Canada)