Science and Language

by Rawdah J

It is safe to say that I love Science, and languages – whether it is picking up a language or literature books for fun! It may also be safe to say that Scientists don’t usually get a good rep for being effective communicators or relatable to the general public. It is under the assumption that Science destroys the beauty of a haiku, or the romance of a sonnet or the subtle details in a short story.

Here, I will share a short poem by the famous Walt Whitman:

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In this poem, the first stanza shares how astronomer – the scientific figure – makes the stars utterly boring that he – the literary figure – found greater beauty in enjoying the beauty of the stars itself. Do scientists really suck the fun out of everything? Isaac Asimov wrote a wonderfully articulate reply here all the way back from 12 August 1979. (Have we come a long way if we are still fighting the Science VS Language battle at present day..?) His concluding paragraph was curt, but beautifully phrased.

“All of it; all of it was discovered after the death of Whitman in 1892 and most of it in the last 25 years, so that the poor poet never knew what a stultifed and limited beauty he observed when he look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Nor can we know or imagine now the limitless beauty yet to be revealed in the future – by science.”

For people who are inclined towards Science, the beauty lies in the curiosity of wonder, and endless WHYs. How can we fully appreciate the stars, if we don’t know what they are made up of? Would they not be as beautiful if we get to know them?  Why do they twinkle? Do they make us twinkle? [similar to relationships, isn’t it?!]

Science and Language are more intertwined than we can possibly imagine. There are studies on linguistics, the parallels between Science and Literature, as well as Science and Arts. I’d like to have faith that Science and Language are not mutually exclusive – how can they be? – as they have so much more to offer together. They are almost impossible without each other.

How can we understand Science, if we do not understand the medium of language it is in? How can we truly understand physiology, and processes in Science, if we are not able to fully appreciate the verbs and tenses in the explanation? e.g. ‘The water flows due to gravity’ is not the same as ‘the gravity flows due to water’ (sorry, Newton). The order of the subject and verb in this sentence makes a vast difference. How are we able to differentiate this? Language of course!

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[That was so damn funny. I slapped my knee on that one.]

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The reason we are able to get these jokes, is because we are able to process the language play on the Science words.

So, what about Science on Languages? The syntax and semantics of language is Science itself. The study of discourse structures and evolution of language (yes, evolutionary language exists!) is Science. These involve processes and orders, principles, and sets of rules. Sounds familiar? The final products of language in good stories or poems are often mellifluous and transcendent. Just like Science! But going into pedantic details of the processes and rules – this is not meant for everyone.

As future and present Science communicators, it is important to note that language is integral to Science and vice versa. We should keep in mind that what is said can be perceived differently.

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In fact, I have found a haiku (I personally find haikus to be concise & time-efficient) that will appeal to people with Science and/or Language inclination.

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May we continue to make every endeavour to promote the long-running marriage of Science and Language!

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