University of Edinburgh: Seminars spotlight subjects’ shared language

University researchers hope the online sessions will encourage the view that a scientific mindset and an interest in the humanities are not mutually exclusive.

Hands-on study sessions aim to show how disciplines such as mathematics and linguistics are much more interlinked than many people think.

The light-touch sessions, called Mind games – cracking codes in maths and languages – are being led by researchers from the University’s School of Mathematics and School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences.

Joint approach
The ethos echoes that of a study earlier this year involving the University’s School of Education and Sport. It suggested pupils would benefit from science and the arts being taught together instead of in subject silos.

Researchers will host a series of five interactive virtual workshops, each lasting 75 minutes, and aimed at pupils aged 11-14.

Sessions have been organised as part of Maths Week Scotland, which takes place from 27 September to 3 October. The theme this year is ‘Our World’.

Maths Week is a chance to explore the maths that people take for granted in their lives and an opportunity for them to see the subject in a whole new light.

Contrasting structures
Seminars will ask participants to work out the underlying structures of some Eastern European and African languages and compare these with English.

Participants will explore how language works, and be encouraged to identify where mathematical principles come into play.

Tutors will then challenge pupils to construct short sentences, solve simple problems and decipher scripts written in unfamiliar languages.

Participants will learn how writing systems evolve and vary across the world, and consider how language structure impacts on a speaker’s cultural identity.

They will also earn about how speakers of different languages have different ways of counting, and what this reveals about each culture.

Beginners welcome
The workshops will be independent of each other. Participants can take part in as many as they like. No prior knowledge will be required.

The University’s Professor of Cognitive Linguistics, Graeme Trousdale, said: “We hope the seminars will give people a chance to reflect on the differences and similarities between cultures in ways they maybe hadn’t considered before.”

The University’s Mathematics Engagement Officer, Dr Francesca Iezzi, said: “We’re aiming to present participants with new insights into how two disciplines, which are apparently very different, can instead be interlinked.”

The seminar series is supported by teaching organisation Russian Edinburgh.

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