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  • The How of Etymology

    The Logophilia Language Laboratory is designing studies to explore how Etymology Education influences our CognitiveΒ  processes.For details, please see click on the Laboratory page.While we wait for results to come in, here’s a glimpse into our understanding of the matter.

    How Etymology Works

    Pigeon-holing

    Humans are known to be cognitive misers. In plain words, we do not like to think too much; we likeΒ  shortcuts. This behaviour can be seen commonly in the human habit of making stereotypes, heuristics, and categories (examples vary from profound forms of racism to stuff as basic as our taste in music).

    Given our tendency to divide things into categories, it seems unnatural for students to have to learn words one-at-a-time. So, if a student has a target of learning 20,000 words, she/he would probably end up with something like:

    1. 20,000 uncategorised words
    2. 20,000 categories
    3. senseless categories, like alphabetic arrangement (β€œall words starting with β€˜A’”) or phonetic arrangement (β€œall words that sound like β€˜orange’”)

    Etymology Education, in comparison, seems much more natural as a cognitive learning style. When a student learns vocabulary using Etymology Education, the words learnt get organised under roots.

     

    Root

    Language of Origin

    Β Meaning

    Β Neighbourhood

    graph

    Greek

    to write;
    or written

    biography

    cartograph

    graphite

    graphic

    geography

    electrocardiograph

     

    For e.g., when a student learns the root β€œgraph”, the entire morphological neighbourhood of β€œgraph” becomes accessible to him. Which means, the student gets an intuitive understanding of other words derived from the β€œgraph”. Therefore, the root become the a category, or a pigeon-hole, in which its derivatives get automatically placed, with no extra cognitive efforts from the student.

    As the student gains a certain level of advancement in the Etymology Education style of learning, this process of pigeon-holing becomes rapid and to an extent default. When the Etymology student encounters a new word,Β  it becomes natural for him to try and break it up into constituent parts (prefix, root, suffix).
    Hence, it would be highly unlikely for this student to feel the need to memorise word definitions.