I have always been fascinated by words.

Words have the power that most people are generally unaware of, but that will be the subject of one of the future posts.

I have decided to collect some interesting and less-known words related to neuroscience and creative thinking. My dictionary is continually growing, and if you have your own words you wish to add to this list, please contact me, and we will build this dictionary together.


NB: Click on the image to pause the slide-show.


Interesting Facts about Words

and How They Influence Our Thinking


What Can Words Tell Us About Our Origin?

Words constitute language. There are less than twenty language families in the world, and each of them reveals mutual origins of peoples who use them. The most studied is the Indo-European family that consists of around 500 languages spoken in Europe, Asia and India. The most diverse is Niger-Congo family that is made of more than 1.500 African languages. The origin of some languages is difficult to trace, like Basque which bears no resemblance to any living or extinct language. The continent with the highest number of extinct languages is North America – all of these languages once belonged to the Native Americans. Some languages have less than 10 users like Yaghan in Chile, Kanoe and Guato in Brazil, Itonama and Cayuvava in Bolivia, Yuchi in the USA, Malak-Malak in Australia and Ainu in Japan and Russia. (Source: Wikipedia)

Words and languages are like living organisms – only the strongest survive. Some words are so useful in describing a particular invention or a concept that they spread across other languages. During the history, different languages dominated the world – Latin during the Roman Empire, French during the reign of Louis IV (that is why a dominant language is also called Lingua franca) and nowadays English. English became a lingua franca partly due to Britain’s colonial domination and partly through the USA’s world dominance in the 20th century. The world needed a global language for the practical purpose of communication in science and commerce and with the growing influence of mass media, and later the Internet, the dominance of English in pop culture led to it becoming the current lingua franca.


How Do Words and The Use Of Language Influence Our Thinking?

Can we perceive things outside our language, the things we have not yet formed words for?

Throughout the middle of the 20th century, there was a belief among the linguists that certain people were not able to perceive the things they did not have a word for in their own language. Fortunately, this linguistically racist concept is long abandoned because, although there is no a word for ’snow’ in the Igbo language, people in Nigeria who use it are perfectly capable of understanding the concept of the show. Just like Europeans can understand the difference between different types of snow even though they do not have in their languages 50 words to describe them, as the Eskimos have.

Read more here.


Does Orthography Influence Our Thinking?

Does writing and reading an alphabetic or logographic script, like Chinese, have an impact on the wiring of our brain?

Reading involves two neural systems: one is used to recognise the shape of the word and another to assess the physical movements used to write the word on a page. A study has shown that regardless of the type of the script, the human brain always uses the same brain areas to decode the words that are being read. However, the effects of gestural direction are stronger for the Chinese who use additional brain networks involved in the motor skills because the Chinese script places great emphasis on the order and direction of writing strokes.

Read more here.


How Much the Number of Words in a Language Influences One’s Ability to Express Themselves Practically and Creatively?

It can be very challenging to count words in a language. The easiest way to do it is to look at the number of words in the official dictionary of the language. Dictionaries of the Korean language counts about 1,1m words; Japanese, English and Swedish have around 500k and Spanish, Dutch and Chinese dictionaries count around 90k words.

When you try to calculate the number of words in a language, you have to take into account the number of factors like: inflection (different forms and meanings of the same word, e.g. read can be a noun and a verb), compounds (combinations of two words, e.g. homework and high-school), complex compounds made of several words (those used in German and Turkish, e.g. Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz ‘law for the delegation of monitoring beef labelling, in German), morphemes (word roots, e.g. sad/sadness, lucky/unluckily) and hosts of scientific and technical words that migrated or originate from other languages.

Even if we managed to find a system to count all the words in a language and made a top list of languages with the most voluminous dictionaries, it would still not mean that some languages have limited creative potential. Remember the famous quote by a German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – Less Is More!

Read more here.