From a purely economic point of view the existence of many languages represents a barrier for exchanges, given the cost of the information. This is an opinion shared by the scientific community.
But as this is a market distortion element, it implies a “trade off” between agents, where some gain, those whose native language is being used as the vehicle and do not need to pay learning or translation costs and others lose, those who must face these costs.
This is not a trivial matter and Spanish, a superpower, is on the front line of the battlefield of vehicular languages. One only needs to glance at the Cervantes Institute’s 2012 report on Spanish (1) to get an idea of its value for our country:
Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world and occupies the same place in international communications. Moreover, for demographic reasons, the percentage of the world population who speak Spanish as their native language is increasing, while the proportion of Chinese and English speakers is in descent.
Sharing Spanish increases bilateral commerce between Spanish speaking countries by 290%. It has been estimated that 15% of the gross national product (GNP) is linked to language.
And in the world of science, although it is obvious that English is considered to be its only vehicular language, the reality could be quite different. According to the mentioned report, the number of scientific journals in Spanish currently included in the ISSN database constitutes 4.4% of the world total, which, in absolute terms, means that its increase has been superior to 75% with respect to 2001. Although, as a matter of curiosity, it should not be forgotten that the larger part of scientific literature is produced by patents and not by these journals (2).
Historically, Spain has taken the leading role in the Spanish speaking world, representing more than 50% of the scientific articles published (3) and 44% of patents in Spanish. This has meant significant economic and political returns, as the representative of this Community on a worldwide basis and especially in Europe, where it is considered to be the natural bridgehead to enter this Market.
Yet something is stirring within the Spanish speaking community and, as in the case of China, other countries claim a place of hegemonic power in the World.
This means that the community patent project, excluding Spanish as a vehicular language in favour of English, French and German, may imply a risk to the Spanish position of leadership. It is sufficient to look at the graphic of the current situation of the annual volume of patents in Spanish and worldwide to understand this:
and how it would be after the approval of this format:
Our European partners should not see the stubborn position of Spain in defense of its language as a frivolity, it is something that goes beyond the specific effects which might be created by a ruling.
Spain is at a crossroads where it must decide how to respond. Going for both Europe and Latin America should not be a problem but these two regions should do their part, not only Spain.
(2) Thanks to the characteristics of the figures of Industrial and Intellectual Property (homogeneous, comparable, with sufficient information, reliable, etc.), these have become recurrent and attractive. Moreover, in some areas they are the most relevant source of available data: WIPO 2012: Patents and utility models requested worldwide during 2011, 2.81 million SCImago: Scientific articles published worldwide in 2011, 2.6 million.
(3) These countries occupy the following places in the SCImago Journal & Country Ranking (Spain – 9, Mexico – 28, Argentina – 36, Colombia – 53)