Today this is common, but how exactly did it start? I am looking for examples in various languages, and suggest:

  1. Exclude Latin (as more “ancient” or “international” than “foreign”)
  2. Exclude French after, say, Huygens (as well-known: Leibniz, Euler, Jacobi, Dirichlet, etc.)
  3. Exclude anything resulting from a visit or permanent move to the foreign country (thus Cauchy or Riemann in Italian, World War refugees in English, etc.)
  4. Exclude translations not originated by the author.
  5. Do not otherwise exclude (early) English and German!

Bend these rules if necessary. Mathematical physics or celestial mechanics qualify. This ties in with various questions at hsm, but I am hoping for a wider pool of knowledge here. So far I am only aware of isolated(?) examples by Abel, Plücker, Lie, Lorentz, without clear lineage to the present.

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    $\begingroup$ The situation is quite comparable to Latin, so you may want to exclude it, but many scholars during the Islamic Golden Age published in Arabic, even if it wasn't their mother tongue. An early example is خوارزمی (Khorezmi, arabicised in al-Khwārizmī), a striking one is خیام (Omar Khâyyam), who published his scientific work in Arabic, but is also one of the most famous Persian poets. Some of the most prominent examples may not fit your "(from home)" clause, though. $\endgroup$
    – PseudoNeo
    Sep 14, 2018 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ A late example is John Brillhart, Patrick Morton, Über Summen von Rudin-Shapiroschen Koeffizienten, (German) Illinois J. Math. 22 (1978), no. 1, 126--148. MR0476686 (57 #16245). The authors, both American and living in the US, decided for some reason to publish a paper in German. If I remember right, the reviewer complimented them on the excellent English of the Abstract. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ OK, maybe a stretch, but Robert Rankin published a paper in (Scots) Gaelic: mathscinet.ams.org/mathscinet-getitem?mr=28851 This was not, at the time, an official language of the United Kingdom, and not his mother tongue either. A nice twist is that he gave his name in the paper as Rob Mac Fhraing, whereupon the unsuspecting editor sent it back to him to review. $\endgroup$
    – Bort
    Sep 14, 2018 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ While we are collecting recent examples: Jeff Paris, a native English speaker, published a paper in Czech (dml.cz/handle/10338.dmlcz/118206), though I guess it does not count as he was on an extended visit in Prague at the moment. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ A conjecture both deep and profound/ Is whether a circle is round./ In a paper of Erdős/ Written in Kurdish/ A counterexample is found. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2018 at 0:26

5 Answers 5


Maurice Fréchet published some of his work in Esperanto (for example, La kanonaj formoj de la 2, 3, 4 - dimensiaj paraanalitikaj funkcioj) -- it can't get more foreign than that, I presume.

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it can: Peano wrote some of his work in a language which he had invented („Latino sin Flexione“) and which hardly anyone besides him understood. $\endgroup$
    – ThiKu
    Sep 14, 2018 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ which hardly anyone besides him understood seems a bit excessive. It's not that different from Latin. See for instance gutenberg.org/files/35803/35803-h/35803-h.htm . $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ Esperanto is not a foreign language. It is an international language. So if Latin is excluded, so should be Esperanto (... although I am not entirely sure about the purpose of the question). $\endgroup$
    – Algernon
    Sep 14, 2018 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Algernon Curiosity and no nefarious ulterior motive, I promise. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Algernon : I think Latin is different from Esperanto in the sense that it is more likely that someone publishes in Latin for pragmatic reasons (wider audience, prestige of the language) while publishing in Esperanto may be for ideological reasons (wanting to promote Esperanto). $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 17:48

It seems that some (many?) Japanese mathematicians published their articles in german around the start of the 20th century until around the 40s. It seems that publishing in German was quite common around that time as Germany was probably the world leading country in several areas until the sad times began around 1930.

A famous example is Tadashi Nakayama whos first 15 papers are all in German: https://projecteuclid.org/download/pdf_1/euclid.nmj/1118801606

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    $\begingroup$ Nakayama was a student of Takagi. Takagi also published his classic articles in german, but also he studied with Hilbert. $\endgroup$
    – efs
    Sep 14, 2018 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ In the 70's, it was quite common for Japanese mathematicians to write in French, even in japanese journals. $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2018 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ Was it common in Japan at that time to learn another language (maybe even in school)? Or did those people learn German just for reaching a wieder audience in math journals or did the papers even get translated by someone due to their importance? $\endgroup$
    – Mare
    Sep 14, 2018 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ French is not a language of interest in this question, but it is the main language of publications by Kiyoshi Oka (1901-1978), a renowned complex analyst. He spent a few years in Paris, which may explain the choice of language. On the other hand, his works on iterations of holomorphic functions from 1930s, undoubtedly influenced by (slightly earlier) French reserach, are in Japanese. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2018 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ Oh right. Nakayama (1935-), Shoda (1928-), and earlier in both English and German: Takagi (1902-, at first from Göttingen), and in the same journal, Fujisawa (1888-), Kitao (1887). Anything earlier? $\endgroup$ Sep 17, 2018 at 18:09

The obvious examples would include pretty much anyone who was not born speaking any of the "Congress" languages. They (or should I say "we", being Polish) would publish their mathematics in a more widely spoken/read language in order to increase the chance of its being read and understood. Let me however give some less obvious answers involving two Polish students of Sophus Lie (still having to do with dissemination of the ideas, perhaps tailoring to the intended audience). Kazimierz Zorawski (1866-1953; PhD 1891) published over 70 works in his lifetime, roughly half of them in German and half in Polish (understandable). However, there are also 3 works in Czech (1914-1915). He was a member of the Czech Academy (since 1910), but otherwise had no Czech connection. Another student of Lie, Lucjan Emil Boettcher (1872-1937; PhD 1898), published mainly in Polish (with some early and late exceptions in German and French), but his most cited paper is "Glavnyshiye zakony skhodimosti iteratsiy i ikh prilozheniya k' analizu" ("Main laws of convergence of iterations and their applications to analysis"). He published it in 1903-1904 (in parts) in Russian, in "Bulletin de la Societe Physico-Mathematique de Kasan".

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. Do you have a sense of when each “Congress” language started to be used in this way? From other answers I get the impression that it was maybe 1870s for German from Scandinavia (Bäcklund, Lie), slightly later for English and German from Japan, and that writing in one another’s “Congress” language (other than French) remained exceptional until much later. $\endgroup$ Sep 17, 2018 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @FrancoisZiegler: I did not study the subject of international mathematical cooperation in depth, but I agree with your impression. I would date institutional use of Congress languages to the Heidelberg Congress in 1904-- there were 4 plenary talks, one each in German, English, French and Italian. See the book by O. Lehto, Mathematics without Borders, mathunion.org/fileadmin/ICM/Lehto/… $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2018 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ Ah sorry... By “used in this way” I meant “used in order to increase audience” (e.g. from Poland), not “used at ICM”. $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2018 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ My misunderstanding. The only early 19-th century Polish mathematician publishing in a foreign language (in this case, French) ``from home" was Kajetan Garbinski (1796-1847), a geometer, a professor of the University of Warsaw, who spent some time studying in Paris. But I do not have any titles at hand. Jozef Maria Hoene-Wronski (1776-1853) writing solely in French does not count, as he lived in France since 1800. Although Wronski apparently specifically declared that he chose to write in French rather than Polish in order to increase his audience. $\endgroup$ Sep 19, 2018 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! From East, I also notice Archiv für wissenschaftliche Kunde von Russland with e.g. two papers of Lobachevsky (1855, 1858) which may however be translations. Lobachevsky also published in French, the Bolyais in Latin and once German (1851). $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2018 at 6:44

Many Scandinavian mathematicians published in German. I don't know any very early examples, but some prominent ones in the 19th and 20th century. From Finland you have Mellin (1883-) or Nevanlinna (1921-). Mittag-Leffler published mostly in French, but also some articles in German (1875-), Italian (1899-), and English (1900-).

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    $\begingroup$ One 20th century example is Jakob Nielsen. He published some papers in his native Danish, some in German, and some in English. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Mosher
    Sep 14, 2018 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ One must say that Nielsen actually was a German citizen for the first 30 years of his life. (His hometown had been occupied in the German-Danish war 1864 and only came back to Denmark in 1920.) He did his PhD in Kiel with Max Dehn. $\endgroup$
    – ThiKu
    Sep 14, 2018 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Sophus Lie often published in German; he was Norwegian. $\endgroup$
    – Ben McKay
    Sep 14, 2018 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Well, he actually was a professor at Leipzig from 1886 on. But it is true that he published in German before that date while still being in Norway. $\endgroup$
    – ThiKu
    Sep 14, 2018 at 20:27
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    $\begingroup$ Looking at some of the usual suspects it seems to me that publishing in French or German was not uncommon. Lindelöf (the father) had papers in French e.g. in 1861 and 1871 (although Helsinki belonged to Russia at the time), also his son published in French, Mittag-Leffler wrote much in both French and German, Bäcklund seems to have written all his work from 1874 on in German, von Koch (somewhat later) seems to have written in French. $\endgroup$
    – ThiKu
    Sep 16, 2018 at 16:41

A surprisingly recent example:

Don Zagier:
Een ongelijkheid tegengesteld aan die van Cauchy
Proc. Koninkl. Ned. Akad. v. Wetensch. (Indag. Math.) 80 (1977) 349-351

There are also several papers in French in Zagier's list.

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    $\begingroup$ curious for the early date; Zagier would later become professor at Utrecht University. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2018 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Also recent: numdam.org/item/ASNSP_1965_3_19_1_113_0 Manin, Juri I. Moduli fuchsiani Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa - Classe di Scienze, Série 3 : Volume 19 (1965) no. 1 , p. 113-126 $\endgroup$ Sep 18, 2018 at 2:00

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