A synoptic history of ‘the scientific method’ with reflections on the scientific terms that emerged from the Greek, Arabic and Latin languages and pointers for ChiShona.


  • Farai Daniel Madzimbamuto University of Botswana


terminology development; science terminology in ChiShona;



The ‘scientific method’ as a system of knowledge creation and organisation emerged principally in the last thousand years, although its history can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. It is a formal process which starts with formulating a hypothesis, then developing a method of testing the hypothesis, followed by observation (data collecting) and analysis, ending in a conclusion which should be a starting point for new hypotheses. Scientific terms often represent a concentration of ideas or exactness of expression in a discipline. Scientific terminology in European languages uses Greek and Latin roots, even today, because these were the languages of learning in Europe at the time when science experienced its greatest development. Arabic was a major source language for scientific and mathematical terms, bequeathing to English ‘chemistry’ and ‘algebra’ among others, while itself borrowed from Greek. Going back to the beginning of the scientific concepts is an established practice in science for exploring words, their old uses and potential new uses. A term, such as ‘mathematics’ or ‘atom’ today stands at some distance from what it meant even a hundred years ago. There is room therefore for building words and terminology from the ground up, or inside out, from the early meaning of the source words. This can give a different perspective and useful insight for how a language such as ChiShona can build scientific words. The history of the ‘scientific method’ is illustrative of the process of how words in common use became the essential building blocks of vocabulary of science. The essay focuses on the essential foundation concepts and words of science and how many of these are already present in ChiShona and can be mobilised for the scientific discourse. A glossary and appendix are provided in the supplementary material.


Aristotle. 1984. Organon. In Barnes J (series Ed). Complete works of Aristotle. Bollingen Series Edition.

Curd, P. 2020. Presocratic philosophy, In Edward N. Z. (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/presocratics/ Accessed 22 Jan 2022).

Bäck, A. 2006. The concept of abstraction. The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter. 376. https://orb.binghamton.edu/sagp/376.

Cleary J. J. 1985. On the Terminology of ‘Abstraction’ in Aristotle. Phronesis 30(1): 13-45.

de Berg KC. 1992. Mathematics in science: the role of the history of science in communicating the significance of mathematical formulism in science. Science in Education, 1: 77-87.

Endress, G. 2002. The Language of demonstration: Translating science and the formation of terminology in Arabic philosophy and science. Early Science and Medicine, 7(3). 21

Gutas, D. 2002. Certainty, doubt, error: comments on the epistemological, foundations of medieval Arabic science. Early Science and Medicine 7(3): 276-289.

Hall, E. 2014. Introduction: The characteristics of the ancient Greeks (pp. 1-29) In Bodley, H. (Ed.) Introducing the Ancient Greeks: Ten ways they shaped the world. London: WW Norton .

Kraut, R. 2017. Plato. In Edward N. Z. (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/plato/ .

Lloyd, G. 1970. The background and the beginnings (Ch 1). Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle. London: Chatto and Windus.

Lloyd, G. 1992. Methods and problems in the history of Ancient Science: The Greek Case. Isis 83(4): 564-577.

Lloyd, G. 1964. Experiment in early Greek philosophy and medicine. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society New Series, 10(190): 50-72.

Lloyd G. 1973. Hellenistic mathematics (Ch 4) in Greek Science after Aristotle. London: Chanto and Windus.

Mayo, T. 2019. Research and experiment in early Greek thought, PhD dissertation, University of Michigan. https://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/150050.

Piltz A. 1981. The world of medieval learning. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shields, C. 2020. Aristotle, In Edward N. Z. (Ed.) The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/aristotle/.

Thorndike, L. and Roger, B. 1914. Experimental method in the Middle Ages. The Philosophical Review, 23(3):271-298.

Rheinberger, H. 2001. History of science and the practices of experiment source. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences Special Issue in Honour of the late Mirko D. Grmek 23(1): 51-63.

Vignais, P. V. and Vignais, P. M. 2010. The roots of experimental science from ancient Greece to the renaissance. Discovering life, manufacturing life how the experimental method shaped life sciences. Dordrech: Springer.

Zubairy M. S. 2016. A very brief history of light. In Al-Amri, M. D, El-Gomati, M. M. and Zubairy, M. S. (Eds.) Optics in our time. (pp. 4-23)., Springer Open. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-31903-2-1.






Research Articles