Course description

The natural sciences, and the life sciences in particular, employ an enormous vocabulary of technical terms, presenting a sizeable challenge to the beginning student. The complexity of these terms is owed in part to the fact that many were formed from Greek and Latin words, in order to allow for easier communication within a multilingual scientific community at a time when most of its members learned these languages as a core part of their education. This course provides a basic exposure to the Latin and Greek elements of scientific language in order to facilitate understanding of technical vocabulary and enable students to use appropriate language in communicating with both specialists and the general public. It also provides an overview of the history of scientific communication in order to allow students to both appreciate and improve upon current methodology for the dissemination or research.

This syllabus is also available as a PDF.

Learning goals

  • Acquire a working vocabulary of the fundamental Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes key to understanding scientific terms.
  • Develop competency in using unfamiliar words to communicate and comprehend scientific results in oral and written contexts.
  • Gain the skills necessary to identify the Greek and Latin elements of scientific terminology and give their meaning.
  • Understand the historical processes leading to the development of current scientific terminology.

How to succeed in this course

This course does not presume previous knowledge of Greek or Latin. Nonetheless, as it covers a broad period of history and includes many unfamiliar concepts, ensure that you do the following:

  • Examine the course readings before class and make brief notes in your own words to ensure that you understand the concepts they describe. This will help you to digest the information more thoroughly and save you hours when studying for the tests and final exam.
  • Start learning the vocabulary each week before class, and review it daily using flashcards or one of several online programs. Try to link Latin and Greek roots to words you already know, and point these connections out to the rest of us.
  • Ask questions; chances are that someone else is wondering the same thing as you, regardless of how silly you might think it sounds. Come to my office hours if you don’t understand something we covered.