Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Galileo's sociolinguistics and free software

Just came across an interesting quote from a law professor in the free software movement on Europe's shift away from diglossia:
[W]ith the name Galileo Galilei, we associate two of the most important cultural responses to the quandary of possessed physics.

The first is an insistence upon freedom from censorship, that is "e pur si muove" -- determination to prohibit the ownership of physics by an entity rich enough and powerful enough to define its physics as the only permissible physics, the only available physics, for most ordinary people. And second, the first significant attempt in the history of the West to write scientific literature at the state of the art in a vernacular language, accessible to everyone.

Galileo Galilei's decision to publish in Italian is as important as his decision to risk confrontation with the Church, for what it says about the fundamental pillars of free science in the history of the West. Not merely, in other words, an insistence upon the freedom of ideas to work their will in skilled hands, but a determination that the ideas which motivate the world, which explain its behavior and which render it controllable, should be universally accessible to people regardless of their ability to acquire enough social surplus to have Latin.
I'm not sure whether the details of his account are accurate, but this has always been one of the strongest arguments against diglossia. The availability of universal free education goes a long way to mitigating the problem; but it's still not cost-free, since all the time devoted to learning the high language is time that could have been devoted to learning something else. (Of course, there are also practical issues regarding the quality of teaching provided - but that's another story.)


bulbul said...

I understand much of the controversy resulted from Galileo's "Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo", but only a part of it was due to the fact that it was published in the vernacular. The rest (majority perhaps?) was that Dialogo was sometimes deliberately ironic and sarcastic. Especially the character of Simplicio (who defended the traditional Aristotelian view) sounded very suspicious to the inquisition and not just because of his name: he was portrayed as someone rather slow on the uptake.
FYI, Galileo's contemporary Pierre de Fermat (of the Last Theorem fame) also wrote in the vernacular and established much of the natural science terminology in French. Or so I'm told.

David Marjanović said...

Europe's shift away from diglossia

...and toward schizoglossia...?