As any modern student knows, nearly all published research these days is in English. That's just the way of the world. But it didn't used to be that way. Many of the most pivotal pieces of scientific literature in the world, like the writings of Riemann, Cantor, Einstein, Galois, Schrödinger, (Gregor) Mandel, Linnaeus and many, many others were written in German, French or Latin. These days, publishing in a language other than English hurts your credibility, and is largely discouraged.

When did English become necessary for publishing scientific literature?

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    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/q/56007/20058 Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:08
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    In chemistry the most important language was german, until the end of WW2. So that's one (of several) reasons. But your title and the question in the text are actually different. The answer for the second question is that you want your work to be accesible for as many people as possible therefore you need to write in a language which many people understand.
    – user64845
    Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 19:10
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    As DSVA says, the answer is WW II.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 13:25
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    I think the question need to be more specific (field + geographic region), as there was no definitive change. For instance, publishing in math in French is still respectable and reasonably common. (Though French mathematicians need to be able to read papers in English, even if they do not write much in English.)
    – Kimball
    Commented Dec 12, 2017 at 15:29

2 Answers 2


English became the dominant international language of science across the first half of the 20th Century.

To summarize an excellent BBC article on the subject:

  • At the beginning of the 20th Century, there were three main language of science, French, English, and German, essentially corresponding to the biggest economic and political powers of the time (England, France, Germany, and the USA).

  • After World War I, Germany and the German language were essentially ostracized by the victorious nations, including an (unconstitutional) ban on the language in the United States. Europe was also generally weakened as a power.

  • The continued devastation of World War II and the rise of the US as a technological superpower cemented the collapse of German. French took longer to decline, but network effects and relative power had their impact eventually.

Thus, by the middle of the 20th century, English had become, in general, the dominant language of science. It was by no means absolute (and still is not), but its dominance has further strengthened over time. How long this will last and what will replace it are for anyone to guess.


The world will generally publish in the language that is most economically profitable because said countries will usually provide the most support and have the ability to actually turn research into something practical. This is the way it has always been. The USA was not always an economic powerhouse but right now they are. There was a time when things were written in Arabic, Greek, and Aramaic as well for the same reason.

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