13
$\begingroup$

Over the years, what language was spoken at the International Mathematical Congress? I assume it is English right now, but it was founded by two German mathematicians, so I assume the language was German once, especially since Göttingen (Germany) was the mathematical center of that time. Is this true? If so, when and why did it change form German to English?

Note: I've written an own answer to this question lately, using the links and information others provided in answers.

$\endgroup$
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Germany was excluded in 1920 and 1924 (as well as Austria) so it's possible this is when the switch happened, if switch there was. $\endgroup$ – VicAche Jun 28 '15 at 11:41
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Plot twist: The language is called "math". $\endgroup$ – Sempie Jun 29 '15 at 9:52
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Sempie, yes, but that is a weird language, since it has different grammars... $\endgroup$ – wythagoras Jun 29 '15 at 9:53
17
$\begingroup$

The proceedings of the first congress were published as “Verhandlungen des ersten Internationalen Mathematiker- Kongresses in Zürich vom 9. bis 11. August 1897”. Most of the papers were in German, a good number were in French, and one only was in Italian. There do not seem to have been any contributions in English. At that time, professional mathematicians could be expected to understand German and French at the least.

The proceedings of this and the following congresses can be found here: http://www.mathunion.org/ICM/ICM1897/

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, I can find all papers, so I would be able to find the answer there, thanks. $\endgroup$ – wythagoras Jun 28 '15 at 18:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It'd be nice if someone could summarize the information in the link as part of this or another answer. As it is, this post is quite close to being a 'link only' answer. $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Jun 28 '15 at 19:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Javier. The summary is in the first paragraph. The link is to a primary source. What else do you want? $\endgroup$ – fdb Jun 28 '15 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ The question is "Over the years, what language was spoken at the International Mathematical Congress?" Even though this is the accepted answer, it only partially answers that question. The recently posted answer by @chaikhosi addresses the question in more detail. $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Jun 28 '15 at 21:47
15
$\begingroup$

Purely on the basis of the link given, the first congress in a non English speaking location which used an English title was Amsterdam 1954. The last one which used a local-language title was Nice 1970. From Vancouver 1974 onwards, all the titles are in English. The last one to specifically use a German title was Zürich 1932.

Not that this proves anything about the lingua franca at each congress. The book "Mathematicians of the World, Unite!" by Guillermo Curbera mentions six languages including Latin that were used at the Bologna conference in 1928 (p88). https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9uDqBgAAQBAJ

$\endgroup$
7
$\begingroup$

Official languages of the early congresses used to be English, French, German and Italian. Also Russian for the congress in Moscow. Since 1970s most talks are given in English but other languages are not prohibited. For example, in Beijin 2002, plenary speaker Lafforgue was speaking in French and showing transparencies in Chinese. (I was present at the talk).

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

I want to share some data and interesting facts:


Table of paper languages each year. Red: Most used, green: Second most used. Source: Own work

Erratum: 1897 host is Switzerland, not Germany.


The table shows the percentage of papers in a given language in a given year.

Main observations:

  • At least in the early days, the language of the host country was the most used language, unless it was a rarely spoken language. (e.g. in Oslo 1936 Swedish wasn't used)

    • Main reason: Traveling was more difficult.
  • The 1% German in 1920 can be explained, because German and Austria were suspended from the ICM.

  • 1958 and further years, English was the main language together with a good number of papers in German and French, and in Russian if the Soviet government allowed them to attend the congress. (You must realize that it was the middle of the cold war)
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting. But Zurich (1897) is not in Germany. $\endgroup$ – fdb Jul 17 '15 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ @fdb Yes, you are right. I edited it. This also explains the German/French mix somewhat better. $\endgroup$ – wythagoras Jul 17 '15 at 18:23
2
$\begingroup$

Here is a nice article entitled "Nobel Prize: How English beat German as language of science" explaining why the language of the scientific world wasshifted from German to English. The most compact explanantion could be put in a single word, namely "war".

But in this article historian of science Michael Gordin fromPrinceton University gives fine details. I give you just a taste:

"German is criminalised in 23 [American] states. You're not allowed to speak it in public, you're not allowed to use it in the radio, you're not allowed to teach it to a child under the age of 10," Gordin explains.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your answer does not adress the question, but rather comments on it. Please use the comment function for this kind of contribution. $\endgroup$ – VicAche Jun 30 '15 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ @VicAche The second part of question was the following: "I assume it is English right now, but it was founded by two German mathematicians, so I assume the language was German once, especially since Göttingen (Germany) was the mathematical center of that time. Is this true? If so, when and why did it change form German to English?" Isn't it an answer? $\endgroup$ – Fallen Apart Jun 30 '15 at 0:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @VicAche this answer is as good as the top voted one: neither provides a complete answer. $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Jun 30 '15 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ @VicAche Just a second ago I have spotted a question that is based on the article I have quoted. But somehow it makes me glad that this sort of articles are spread around the internet and can meet again here. $\endgroup$ – Fallen Apart Jun 30 '15 at 1:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @VicAche I actually think this one answers a broader question. Once again the voting system will have to do its thing ;) $\endgroup$ – hjhjhj57 Jul 2 '15 at 2:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.