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English Is Dominant Language of Science in Latin America

English overtakes Spanish and Portuguese, study finds.

October 8, 2021
 

English has become the dominant language of science in Latin America, with the use of Portuguese among Brazil-based authors in particular declining, according to a new study.

According to the report from Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information, articles in Portuguese now make up less than 15 percent of Brazil’s output in the Web of Science database of indexed research, down from almost 30 percent in 2009.

Even in the research database SciELO, which was set up to aid scientific communication in the region, the share of Brazil’s output that is in Portuguese has fallen from about 70 percent in 2009 to well under half in 2020.

Spanish-language research has seen less of a decline: although its share of Web of Science papers among the output of countries like Argentina and Mexico has fallen in recent years, the proportion in SciELO has remained relatively stable.

However, English-language research has overtaken both Spanish and Portuguese to become the most-used language in SciELO, with almost 20,000 papers indexed in 2020, as opposed to about 17,000 in Spanish and fewer than 9,000 in Portuguese.

“English has become the dominant ‘lingua Americana of science,” says the report, with “growing international collaboration” and the benefits of “enabling access of research findings to a global network of researchers” a key driver of the trend.

At the same time, the report says that such collaboration is focused on working with researchers outside Latin America -- especially the U.S., Spain, Germany, France, Britain and, increasingly, China -- with in-region collaboration being “uniformly low.”

It says that regional collaboration as a share of research output for Latin America was less than 2 percent in 1981 but had only risen to around 3.3 percent in 2020. This was even lower than the Middle East, another global region that has struggled to foster local collaboration.

Even in Brazil, the most collaborative country in Latin America, according to the report, out of 127,400 papers involving collaboration, 10,000 had a regional co-author but only one-quarter of these were authored solely within Latin America.

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Jonathan Adams, chief scientist at the ISI, said it was “most concerning” that research collaboration within Latin America remained so low given the common challenges faced by nations in the region. Similar to the Middle East, he suggested that regional funding coordination could aid the situation.

“There are significant potential benefits for the creation of a regional research organization to enable further research growth, training and capacity building to tackle common challenges across the region,” he said.

“The European research framework has undoubtedly boosted achievement and is a model that could work equally well in Latin America.”

Despite the findings on collaboration, the report does find that research output in Latin America has grown more rapidly than most other parts of the world over the past 40 years, with the number of Web of Science-indexed papers growing by more than 20 percent since 1981.

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