The Science of Language

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Devotional: The Power of Words

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Proverbs 18:21a

In a faith that is based on the Word of God, it should come as no surprise that words have power. Words are what God used to create the entire universe; God spoke, and then it was. While our own words may not be as powerful as those of our Creator, they still have the power to lift people up or drag them down, to bring them joy or sorrow, and to speak truth or lies to them.

Words also give us the ability to communicate with our Creator. It is with words that we pray for our needs and forgiveness. It is with words that we praise God for our needs being met and blessings received. And it is with words that God chose to reveal His plan for our salvation to us. The existence of words is not accidental — they are a gift to us to be used wisely.

This is why the Bible spends so much time teaching us about the wise use of words. A kind word at the right time can change someone’s entire life for the better, while a cross word at the wrong time can have the opposite effect. When choosing our words, we must remember that the words we use will reflect on the God we follow. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Are our words reflecting this love?

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for loving us enough to give us words to communicate with You. Please help us to use these words wisely so that we can bring Your love to others. Amen.

Greek and Latin: The Languages of Science

Question

Scientists use a lot of big words to describe things they observe. How do they come up with these words?

Research

Most scientific publications today are written in English, but during the Age of Enlightenment, which was known for its scientific and philosophical advances, Latin was the primary language for scientific discussion. Many of the scientific terms we use today came from that era, and since Latin provides an easy frame of reference for other language speakers all over the word, the tradition of creating new scientific terms based on Latin continues to this day. Greek roots are also sometimes used, reflecting the scientific advancements made in Ancient Greece.

Hypothesis

Can you figure out the meaning of long scientific words if you know some simpler Greek and Latin words?

Experiment

Common Greek and Latin Root Words

  • anti (against)
  • audio (hear)
  • auto (self)
  • bi (two)
  • bio (life)
  • dent/dont (tooth)
  • dis (not)
  • ex (out)
  • extra (beyond)
  • ge (earth)
  • graph (write)
  • inter (between)
  • lingua (tongue)
  • magno (large)
  • mal (bad)
  • man (hand)
  • meter (measure)
  • mini (small)
  • mis (wrong)
  • multi (many)
  • non (not)
  • ology (study of)
  • onomy (rules of)
  • ped/pod (foot)
  • peri (around)
  • phon (sound)
  • photo (light)
  • re (again)
  • sub (under)
  • super (above)
  • tele (far off)
  • thermo (heat)
  • trans (across)
  • un (not)
  • uni (one)
  • zoo (animal)

Procedure

Using the Greek and Latin words above, define the following terms:

  • bipedal
  • multilingual
  • periodontal
  • zoology

Analysis

Use a dictionary to confirm if you correctly defined the terms, then for fun, make up some of your own words and see if your friends or family can guess their meanings.

Conclusion

Learning some simple Greek and Latin words can help you to understand the meanings of bigger words that scientists and doctors use every day.

The Stroop Effect

Question

Can too much information affect our ability to speak clearly?

Research

In the 1930s, a scientist named J. Ridley Stroop was inspired by German scientists to study how conflicting information affects spoken reactions. His experiment is called the “Stroop Effect.”

Hypothesis

Do you think it is easier to recognize a printed word or the color of that word?

Experiment

Materials

  • Index cards
  • Crayons or markers in different colors

Procedure

On one set of index cards, write the names of colors in the same color (i.e., write the word “red” in the color red, the word “green” in the color green, etc.). On another set of index cards, write the names of colors in a different color (i.e., write the word “red” in green, the word “green” in pink, etc.). Now flip through cards and, without reading the words, say the color of the word.

Analysis

The printed words themselves have a strong influence over your ability to say the color of the word. Most people take longer to say the correct color or say the wrong color when the color of the word does not match the written word. For an added challenge, try the following variations:

  • Show the cards upside-down or sideways.
  • Use emotional words such as sad, happy, angry in unexpected colors.
  • Show the cards to young children and older adults. Do the reaction times change?

Conclusion

Scientists are still studying this phenomenon, but the Stroop effect has made two things clear: that our brains perform best when we are not trying to multitask, and that our brains give priority to words over other information.

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