As the Latin name of Taiwan’s premier academic institution, Academia Sinica, translates into “Chinese Academy,” some of its members are calling for a name change to avoid confusion, but media reports have said that all those being considered are English-language names.
While serving at the academy, my affiliation was always listed at the end of every research paper as “Institute of Mathematics, Academia Sinica.” The first half of the author affiliation was in English and the second half in Latin, a mix that really is neither fish nor fowl.
As not many of those in the academy’s institutes can translate the names of their institutes into Latin, it seems more convenient to translate the name of the academy into English.
Why was the academy’s name translated into Latin when it was established in 1928? The main reason was that Latin was the language of academia until the middle of the 19th century.
Great mathematicians, such as Carl Gauss and Georg Riemann, all wrote their papers in Latin.
Next, German became the dominant language in math, until World War II when its dominance was usurped by English — which shows that whichever language academia considers to be the international language is changeable.
Another reason the academy’s name was translated into Latin is that Latin was the common language of the ancient world.
Still, the status of international languages changes over time. French, which was the lingua franca until World War II, has been replaced by English — although French is still the language used for international exchanges on postal affairs.
Today, English is the world’s common language.
The UK used to be the “empire on which the sun never sets,” and the US has been a superpower since World War II. As the two nations have English in common, English has become today’s lingua franca, not without implying a certain hegemonic power.
During the Cold War era, countries in the Soviet Union used Russion as a common language, so, against this backdrop, the Latin translation of the academy’s name helped avoid hegemonic connotations, as Latin was by then a neutral language.
Unfortunately, the complexity of Latin grammar has led to its disuse, to the point that it has almost exclusively become the language of the Catholic Church, rendering inappropriate a Latinate name such as “Academia Taiwanica.”
In 1887, Polish ophthalmologist Ludwik Zamenhof created the language Esperanto, which he intended to be used as a universal lingua franca.
Esperanto is easy to learn, can be used for academic discussions, and is not the mother tongue of any country or people.
In the past few years, the number of Esperanto learners has sharply risen. Even the UN has used it. UNESCO published a book titled De ideoj al agoj, 70 jaroj de UNESKO to mark the organization’s 70th anniversary in 2015.
Esperanto has received little attention in Taiwan — fewer than 100 Taiwanese can speak it.
However, Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, is one of them.
Esperanto is a developing, democratic language. As the US is one of the world’s primary democracies, many Americans are learning Esperanto.
The academy should adopt a name in Esperanto, such as “Tajvana Akademio” or “Centra Esplora Akademia Tajvana.” It could even be renamed “Centra Esplora Akademio, Tajvano” to avoid conflict between the pan-blue and pan-green camps.
Wang Ju-kwei is a retired professor of National Central University’s Department of Mathematics.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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