From Gutenberg to ICT: The New Lingua Doctus – Threat or Opportunity?

Agata Mróz


Communication is the most important process for each society. As the basis for the cultural heritage transfer, it determines the society’s existence. The more complicated the social structure becomes, the more efficient and sophisticated ways of information transfer needs. Therefore the cause of all the changes, that took place during the media evolution, was the will for overcoming the three major barriers in communication: spatial, temporal and economic.

Nowadays we are witnessing the situation, when all the hills we had to climb on that way, have already been reached. With inventing ICT we have reached the top: the basic barriers mentioned above do not cause much trouble anymore. This situation should fill us with euphoria and pride. However, having old barriers behind doesn’t actually mean no problems to cope with. Development of ICT is bringing new questions and new threats itself. The new problems are connected not only with the technical side of communication (as it was before) but, first of all, with philosophical and ethical issues.

One of those issues is a language of media and the consequences of the particular language usage. Language itself is not only the element of the structure of communication process. It also is an integral part of our identity. Our mother tongue is one of the elements that show us (and others) who we are and what we identify ourselves with. That’s why I consider that problem very important.

When we look back through the process of the evolution mentioned above, we notice two events, which (apart from the informational growth) had a crucial influence on the language usage in media: 1. invention of the printing machine (J. Gutenberg, 1450), 2. invention of the computer (J.P. Eckert, J. W. Mauchly, 1946).

With the first invention we left homogeneous world of Latin hand-writings and entered McLuhan’s heterogeneous galaxy of Gutenberg. Until that moment there was a domination of Latin (lingua doctus – ‘language of the learned’) in media. The capability of using it was a privilege of high-educated. Language was then the barrier which was dividing educated from non-educated, pushing the second ones into the space of social exclusion.

J. Gutenberg’s invention, together with the beginning of Reformation (Martin Luther, 1517), were the two events which made publishing in mother tongues (national languages) possible and (what’s maybe more important) desirable. The diversification of the media language sphere and shrinking space of social exclusion were the first result of that events.

The second invention takes us into M. Castells’ galaxy of Internet, the space of globalisation. New Media hasn’t followed the previous direction taken in the language sphere. On the contrary, ICT has turned back from the diversity of national languages to the idea of one common language. English, sometimes called the Latin of our times, became the official international language of electronic media. This domination is the straight consequence of the place of invention (USA), media expansiveness and intense, constant development. The major opportunity, that this change brings to international (intercultural) communication, is the possibility of overcoming the old linguistic barriers. That’s a great advantage, unless we keep the reasonable proportions.

Recently in Poland we can observe a growing tendency of depreciation publishing in Polish. Any scientific publication in English seems to be, in general, considered as more valuable than the same text published in Polish. The official explanation of the situation is, that the first one may have potentially greater number of potential readers. In my opinion this explanation is unjustified. I’m sure that this also happens in other non-English countries. English then pretends to be considered not as a lingua vulgaris (‘common, ordinary, usual’), but as a new lingua doctus. It makes me state, that this language unification, which creates a new space of exclusion inside the scientific society, is dangerous for our identity.

Considering that fact, there’s a strong necessity to promote publishing in national languages. Therefore last year we made a decision to open Multilingual Internet Catalogue of Scientific Publications, which will be installed on one of the machines in the Multimedia Laboratory at Social Science Dept., AMU. It’s projected as a free Internet advanced communication utility, which gives the scientific community all over the world maximum information about the successively published analogue and digital scientific publications mainly in national languages, a database catalogued according to the rules of the traditional library catalogue. Each position will be presented in at least two language versions: the national and English (as an alternative), but our intention is to translate all the entries into as many languages as possible.

We hope that this kind of initiatives give chance to defend publishing in mother tongues and, consequently, our identity.