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This paper introduces a theory about the role of language in learning physics. The theory is developed in the context of physics students and physicists talking and writing about the subject of quantum mechanics. We found that physicists’ language encodes different varieties of analogical models through the use of grammar and conceptual metaphor. We hypothesize that students categorize concepts into ontological categories based on the grammatical structure of physicists’ language. We also hypothesize that students overextend and misapply conceptual metaphors in physicists’ speech and writing. Using our theory, we will show how, in some cases, we can explain student difficulties in quantum mechanics as difficulties with language.
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