Towards an effective use of language to explain light in the museum

Susana Afonso*, Ana Sofia Afonso, Francisco Rodrigues

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Museum educators play a key role in explaining science in a museum. Verbal language is primarily used to communicate scientific concepts, but the way language shapes the explanations provided has not been investigated. This qualitative study focuses on the explanations about light provided by three museum educators to eighth grade students (13–14 years old), during unstructured visits to a science museum. The visits were audio-recorded and field notes were taken. The museum educators' language was analyzed at a microlevel, through the perspective of Cognitive Linguistics and Conceptual Metaphor theory. The results of this analysis coupled with a multidimensional framework for analyzing explanations allowed an understanding on what is explained and how it is explained in the museum by museum educators. Findings show that explanations were descriptive and causal, structured by the use of hybrid lexicon and by conceptual metaphors, whose quality depends on the structural similarity between domains. Furthermore, the explanations based on geometric optics were qualitative and with low level of precision, complexity, and abstractness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-946
Number of pages24
JournalScience Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Conceptual metaphor theory
  • Explanations
  • Frontline museum educators
  • Science museums


Dive into the research topics of 'Towards an effective use of language to explain light in the museum'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this