An emerging Swedish scientific language

The aim of the project, which is headed by Associate Professor Lena Rogström, is to examine and survey the development of scientific genres during the 18th century.

The 18th century saw the advent of modern science and language standardization in Sweden. These two developments played a key role in the evolution of Swedish as a written language. As a result, scientific language usage came to form a specific genre, designed to communicate the distinctive content and function of different sciences in scientific writing. The emergence of a written scientific genre can be linked to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) and its series of scientific articles. KVA was founded in 1739 and began to publish articles the same year. This area of the history of written Swedish has never been explored in depth. The researchers plan to put this right.

Genres arise in specific “discourse communities” with common goals. These are expressed in a specific text structure and a vocabulary typical of the genre. KVA is arguably a discourse community of this kind. The most important goal of the discourse was to disseminate scientific knowledge in Sweden, thereby improving the country’s economic status. Agriculture, forestry and related sectors were central at first, but attention was also given to other disciplines. The knowledge was disseminated in the form of KVA articles, which were published in Swedish, even though Swedish had not yet been fully developed for scientific purposes. The choice of Swedish instead of the scientific language of the day – Latin – was to have a major impact on the development of the Swedish language as such, and on the establishment of scientific writing in Swedish.

The project is based on theories that language evolves through actual use, a view very much evidenced by the extensive work behind the scientific findings described in KVA articles. The researchers therefore intend to study scientific findings published between 1739 and 1814 to see how scientific genres and an academic vocabulary evolve. The researchers are analyzing the structure and vocabulary of the texts. This enables them to see how the texts were designed to better communicate the progress and goals of the different sciences. One method being used is genre analysis, i.e. the study of textual form. Lexical studies are being made using data-based methods in which comparisons are made with modern lexical material from contemporary academic texts.

The methods may help the researchers to find new approaches to research on the history of language and to develop corpus linguistics as a tool for lexical studies in the history of language. A number of central authors representing different sciences will be studied in particular depth, enabling the researchers to ascertain the potential importance of individuals in genre formation.

The findings will add to our knowledge of how scientific writing was established in Swedish in terms of its structure, content and academic vocabulary.

“From findings to science. A study of the establishment of scientific genres in the 18th century.”

Principal investigator:
Associate Professor Lena Rogström

University of Gothenburg
Professor Hans Landqvist

University of Gothenburg

SEK 4.5 million