The problem of vocabulary in the popularization of Science

The spreading of English as Lingua Franca for Science in the 19th century, provoked the emergence of different treaties and essays to improve the writing and oral skills of native and non-native speakers. This book, written in 1947 could be a sample of this. Try to go through its pages (thanks to Google Books) and share with other students all those feelings and new concepts learnt derived from its reading.

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4 thoughts on “The problem of vocabulary in the popularization of Science

  1. I agree with the idea that any science must be made accessible to lay people. As is the case with LSP, scientist like using a language of their own so as to remain a group of their own. In the globalised world we are living, and thanks to the mass media, we are more and more interested in everything going on around us, which also includes science. Vocabulary can always be made accessible, by using more informal synonyms, reformulations, rephrasing, etc. As the books suggests, sometimes the difficulty in the concept itself rather in the vocabulary. Once again, this can be solved by presenting it in simpler terms. In these times of crisis we are living, I think that research and development are vital. One way of promoting them, and especially of raising awareness about them, is making people have a desire to learn about science, because after all it affects us in our everyday lives. And simplifying the terms used to do so, both technical and non-technical, is a good beginning.

  2. Activity 2.6: The spreading of English as Lingua Franca for Science in the 19th century, provoked the emergence of different treaties and essays to improve the writing and oral skills of native and non-native speakers. The book: The problem of vocabulary in the popularization of Science, could be a good sample of this. Try to go through its pages (thanks to Google Books ) and share with other students all those feelings and new concepts learnt derived from its reading.

    Hereafter I listed the most relevant sentences of the 18 pages sample of W. E. Flood’s book: The problem of vocabulary in the popularization of science:

    “We are faced with an anomaly: a community which is dependent upon science but whose members are singularly ignorant of science.” p.1
    “Ann ill-informed and over-credulous public is incapable of critical judgement; it is exposed to exploitation by all” p.1
    “Provision should be made for people after they have left school. They must be able to extend their knowledge, particularly in fields which are new to them, and to keep in touch with current advances. (…) Such science, especially designed for the ‘man in the street’, is commonly called ‘popular science’” p.2
    “The science provided at present by the press is far from satisfactory. (…) There is a shortage of middle-grade magazines of the right quality.” p.3
    “I have noted a tendency on the part of some authors and lecturers, when presenting science to the ordinary man, to use an exaggerated general vocabulary. (…) instead of setting the stage in a clear, straightforward manner, he obscures the scene y the use of ‘high-collar’ language.” p.8
    “Pure scientific writing is essentially informative (…) and – of great importance – readily intelligible.” p.8
    “If a teacher or author uses such [technical] terms (without explanation) it is probable that he will not be understood; the difficulty he has created is purely a mater of vocabulary.” p.9
    “For the purpose of experiment I examined one of the more serious publications, the well-know Penguin Science News. In the foreword to the first number it is stated that the series ‘will attempt to give the general reader an inkling of what is going on in the world of science’. (…) I took two numbers at random and examined the first 1000 words of each of the articles, and recorded the different words outside the 10000-word zone which were used without explanation. (…) Roughly one-third of the words were high-collar general words. (…) Some of them would have been known by a reader who had studied science at grammar school, some were common words but used in specialised senses (e.g. ‘resolve’, ‘efficiency’), some were highly scientific (e.g. ‘autolysis’, ‘anaerobic’, ‘quadrivalency’). The books are provided with glossaries in which certain technical terms are explained. This indicates an appreciation of the problem of vocabulary” p.13
    “The ordinary person, unless he has had some training in science, possesses a very small scientific vocabulary. The assumption must be kept at a very elementary level.” p.17
    “The first essential requirement in the solution of the vocabulary problem is that an author or lecturer shall give conscious attention to the words which he uses. He must deliberately avoid the use of technical terms which are not necessary to his exposition and must explain those terms which are necessary but which the reader is unlikely to know.” p.17
    “A more profitable approach to the problem seems to be to start from the position of the author and to determine (if possible) the minimum scientific vocabulary which must be assumed in order that satisfactory expositions of popular science may be made. Suppose that such a word-list can be constructed and that it is not unmanageable in size. An author can then state that his book is written within the standard vocabulary. The standard list will indicate the smallest set of words which an intending reader must know. (…), he can check his own vocabulary against the standard vocabulary and take steps to remedy any shortcomings. p.18
    “Vocabulary control does not mean that an author may not go outside the prescribed word-list. If the word he requires is not in the list (…) He may decide that he will need the word so often in the development of his subject that it is worthwhile for him to ‘teach’ it (using the words of the list to do so) and for the reader to learn it. p.18

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