It is often said that languages for specific purposes (also named special languages or technolects) are the product of a division of labor. Although this concept was introduced only as late as 1776 (by Adam Smith, in An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations), the idea that professions or occupations of all kind are characterized by a particular vocabulary that is not understood by all native speakers was already manifest in the writings of medieval scholars (for instance, in Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia). In the Middle Ages most Romance languages conquered a more or less wide range of domains. The question arose whether they were also appropriate to serve as a medium of scholarship. The disciplines taught at the universities (arts, theology, law, medicine) had a strong Latin tradition; their knowledge was popularized by means of translations, which enriched the vocabulary and the syntactic flexibility of the emerging languages. Thus, the translators—sometimes organized in “schools”—contributed to the elaboration of the target languages and to their emancipation from Latin. Aside from the septem artes liberales, however, a second group of (seven) disciplines without Latin roots (called artes mechanicae) established and introduced mainly native vocabulary typical of the respective occupational fields. During the first centuries of modern times, more and more scholars felt that their mother tongue should take the place of Latin as a means of propagating scholarship and new findings. In the 17th and 18th centuries, French held the lead among the modern languages in nearly all fields of knowledge; it maintained its dominant position among the Romance languages until the second half of the 20th century. On a global level, German was a strong rival in the humanities and several scientific disciplines in the 19th century; for many decades, however, English has been the universal medium of communication in the scientific community. This process has given rise to many discussions about language planning measures to be taken in order to curtail the Anglo-American supremacy. Before the 18th century, special languages did not have a strong impact on the physiognomy of developed languages. In the sphere of academic disciplines, translations of canonical Latin texts entailed a general re-Latinization and, as a consequence, a process of convergence of the Romance languages. The technical languages of trade and artisanry were highly fragmented so that their special vocabulary was used and understood only in limited geographical areas. In the Age of Enlightenment, the growing prestige of experts, on the one hand, and philosophical considerations about the optimization of language(s), on the other hand, led to increasing harmonization efforts on national and supranational levels. Organizations were founded with the purpose of creating and standardizing terminologies for various kinds of subjects (technical products, medicine, etc.). Special languages, far from being homogeneous varieties, are differentiated vertically. Linguists use to distinguish between three levels of communication: specialists inter se (e.g., physician—physician), specialist—skilled worker (physician—nurse), and specialist—layman (physician—patient). Studying how technical terms seep into common language and what changes they undergo during this process is a great challenge for linguists.
The expression language of the economy and business refers to an extremely heterogeneous linguistic reality. For some, it denotes all text and talk produced by economic agents in the pursuit of economic activity, for others the language used to write or talk about the economy or business, that is, the language of the economic sciences and the media. Both the economy and business contain a myriad of subdomains, each with its own linguistic peculiarities. Language use also differs quite substantially between the shop floor and academic articles dealing with it. Last but not least, language is itself a highly articulate entity, composed of sounds, words, concepts, etc., which are taken care of by a considerable number of linguistic disciplines and theories. As a consequence, this research landscape offers a very varied picture. The state of research is also highly diverse as far as the Romance languages are concerned. The bulk of relevant publications concerns French, followed at a certain distance by Spanish and Italian, while Romanian, Catalan, and Portuguese look like poor relations. As far as the dialects are concerned, only those of some Italian cities that held a central position in medieval trade, like Venice, Florence, or Genoa, have given rise to relevant studies. As far as the metalanguage used in research is concerned, the most striking feature is the overwhelming preponderance of German and the almost complete absence of English. The insignificant role of English must probably be attributed to the fact that the study of foreign business languages in the Anglo-Saxon countries is close to nonexistent. Why study foreign business languages if one own’s language is the lingua franca of today’s business world? Scholars from the Romance countries, of course, generally write in their mother tongue, but linguistic publications concerning the economic and business domain are relatively scarce there. The heterogeneity of the metalanguages used certainly hinders the constitution of a close-knit research community.
Aidan Pine and Mark Turin
The world is home to an extraordinary level of linguistic diversity, with roughly 7,000 languages currently spoken and signed. Yet this diversity is highly unstable and is being rapidly eroded through a series of complex and interrelated processes that result in or lead to language loss. The combination of monolingualism and networks of global trade languages that are increasingly technologized have led to over half of the world’s population speaking one of only 13 languages. Such linguistic homogenization leaves in its wake a linguistic landscape that is increasingly endangered. A wide range of factors contribute to language loss and attrition. While some—such as natural disasters—are unique to particular language communities and specific geographical regions, many have similar origins and are common across endangered language communities around the globe. The harmful legacy of colonization and the enduring impact of disenfranchising policies relating to Indigenous and minority languages are at the heart of language attrition from New Zealand to Hawai’i, and from Canada to Nepal. Language loss does not occur in isolation, nor is it inevitable or in any way “natural.” The process also has wide-ranging social and economic repercussions for the language communities in question. Language is so heavily intertwined with cultural knowledge and political identity that speech forms often serve as meaningful indicators of a community’s vitality and social well-being. More than ever before, there are vigorous and collaborative efforts underway to reverse the trend of language loss and to reclaim and revitalize endangered languages. Such approaches vary significantly, from making use of digital technologies in order to engage individual and younger learners to community-oriented language nests and immersion programs. Drawing on diverse techniques and communities, the question of measuring the success of language revitalization programs has driven research forward in the areas of statistical assessments of linguistic diversity, endangerment, and vulnerability. Current efforts are re-evaluating the established triad of documentation-conservation-revitalization in favor of more unified, holistic, and community-led approaches.
Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade and Carmen Ebner
Taking a sociolinguistic approach to prescriptivism in English usage, this article presents different methods by which highly frequent usage problems can be analyzed as to their current acceptability. These methods comprise different ways of studying a selected number of well-known items—try and/try to, the placement of only, the split infinitive and the dangling participle—focusing on their treatment in British and American usage guides from the beginning of the prescriptive tradition onward, combined with the application of special elicitation techniques to probe the views of informants. Such a multi-modal approach represents a distinct improvement from earlier attempts at presenting targeted groups of informants with attitude surveys only. By studying representative samples of British and American usage guides, the article shows that attitudes became more lenient across time (though not for all usage problems analyzed), with the sociolinguistic variable age playing an important role in the process, but also that instead of usage guides becoming more descriptive in the course of the history of the tradition, today in effect two trends can be distinguished in the type of usage advice given. While one trend indeed shows an increasingly descriptive approach to the items treated, a continuing proscriptive approach characterizes usage guides published down to the beginning of the 21st century.