A mnemonic, or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids information retention. Mnemonics aim to translate information into a form that the human brain can retain better than its original form. Even the process of merely learning this conversion might already aid in the transfer of information to long-term memory. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often used for lists and in auditory form, such as short poems, acronyms, or memorable phrases, but mnemonics can also be used for other types of information and in visual or kinesthetic forms. Their use is based on the observation that the human mind more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, physical, sexual, humorous, or otherwise ‘relatable’ information, rather than more abstract or impersonal forms of information.
The word mnemonic is derived from the Ancient Greek word μνημονικός, meaning “of memory, or relating to memory” and is related to Mnemosyne (“remembrance”), the name of the goddess of memory in Greek mythology. Both of these words are derived from μνήμη (mnēmē), “remembrance, memory”. Mnemonics in antiquity were most often considered in the context of what is today known as the Art of memory.
Ancient Greeks and Romans distinguished between two types of memory: the ‘natural’ memory and the ‘artificial’ memory. The former is inborn, and is the one that everyone uses automatically and without thinking. The artificial memory in contrast has to be trained and developed through the learning and practicing of a variety of mnemonic techniques.
Mnemonic systems are special techniques or strategies consciously used to improve memory, it helps employ information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization an easier task.
Memory Needs Every Method Of Nurturing Its Capacity” is a mnemonic for how to spell mnemonic.
The general name of mnemonics, or memoria technica, was the name applied to devices for aiding the memory, enabling the mind to reproduce a relatively unfamiliar idea, and especially a series of dissociated ideas, by connecting it, or them, in some artificial whole, the parts of which are mutually suggestive. Mnemonic devices were much cultivated by Greek sophists and philosophers and are repeatedly referred to by Plato and Aristotle. In later times the invention was ascribed to the poet Simonides, perhaps for no other reason than that the strength of his memory was famous. Cicero, who attaches considerable importance to the art, but more to the principle of order as the best help to memory, speaks of Carneades of Athens and Metrodorus of Scepsis as distinguished examples of the use of well-ordered images to aid the memory. The Romans valued such helps as giving facility in public speaking.
The Greek and the Roman system of mmnemonics was founded on the use of mental places and signs or pictures, known as “topical” mnemonics. The most usual method was to choose a large house, of which the apartments, walls, windows, statues, furniture, etc., were severally associated with certain names, phrases, events or ideas, by means of symbolic pictures; and to recall these it was only necessary to search over the apartments of the house till the particular place was discovered where they had been deposited by the imagination.
In accordance with said system, if it were desired to fix an historic date in memory, it was localised in an imaginary town divided into a certain number of districts, each of with ten houses, each house with ten rooms, and each room with one hundred quadrates or memory-places, partly on the floor, partly on the four walls, partly on the roof. Therefore, if it were desired to fix in the memory the date of the invention of printing, an imaginary book, or some other symbol of printing, would be placed in the thirty-sixth quadrate or memory-place of the 4th room of the 1st house of the historic district of the town. Except that the rules of mnemonics are referred to by Martianus Capella, nothing further is known regarding the practice until the 13th century.
Among the voluminous writings of Roger Bacon is a tractate De arte memorativa. Ramon Llull devoted special attention to mnemonics in connection with his ars generalis. The 1st important modification of the method of the Romans was that invented by the German poet Konrad Celtes, who, in his Epitoma in utramque Ciceronis rhetoricam cum arte memorativa nova, instead of places made use of the letters of the alphabet. About the end of the 15th century Petrus de Ravenna (b. 1448) created such an astonishment in Italy by his mnemonic feats that he was believed by many to be a necromancer. His Phoenix artis memoriae (Venice, 1491, 4 vols.) went through as many as nine editions, the 7th appearing at Cologne in 1608.
An impression equally great was produced about the end of the 16th century by Lambert Schenkel, who taught mnemonics in France, Italy and Germany, and, although he was denounced as a sorcerer by the University of Louvain, published in 1593 his tractate De memoria at Douai with the sanction of that celebrated theological faculty. The most complete account of his system is given in two works by his pupil Martin Sommer, published in Venice in 1619. In 1618 John Willis (d. 1628?) published Mnemonica; sive ars reminiscendi, containing a clear statement of the principles of topical or local mnemonics. Giordano Bruno, in connection with his exposition of the ars generalis of Llull, included a memoria technica in his treatise De umbris idearum. Other writers of this period are the Florentine Publicius (1482); Johannes Romberch (1533); Hieronimo Morafiot, Ars memoriae (1602); B. Porta, Ars reminiscendi (1602).
To remember anything in history, chronology, geography, etc., a word is formed, the beginning whereof, being the 1st syllable or syllables of the thing sought, does, by frequent repetition, of course draw after it the latter part, which is so contrived as to give the answer. Thus, in history, the Deluge happened in the year before Christ two thousand three hundred forty-eight; this is signified by the word Del-etok, Del standing for Deluge and etok for 2348.
To assist in retaining the mnemonical words in the memory, they were formed into memorial lines, which, however, being composed of strange words in difficult hexameter scansion, are by no means easy to memorise. The vowel or consonant, which Grey connected with a particular figure, was chosen arbitrarily; but in 1806 Gregor von Feinaigle, a German monk from Salem near Constance, began in Paris to expound a system of mnemonics, one feature of which was to represent the numerical figures by letters chosen on account of some similarity to the figure to be represented or some accidental connection with it. This alphabet was supplemented by a complicated system of localities and signs. Feinaigle, who apparently published nothing himself, came to England in 1811, and in the following year one of his pupils published The New Art of Memory, which, beside giving Feinaigle’s system, contains valuable historical material about previous systems.
Simplified forms were published later by other mnemonists, as the more complicated ones fell almost into complete disuse; but methods founded chiefly on the so-called laws of association were taught with some success in Germany.
A wide range of mnemonics are used for an even wider range of different purposes. The most commonly used mnemonics are those for lists, numerical sequences, and foreign-language acquisition.
A common mnemonic for remembering lists is to create an easily remembered acronym, or, taking each of the initial letters of the list members, create a memorable phrase in which the words with the same acronym as the material. Anyone can create their own mnemonics to aid the memorisation of novel material.
Mnemonic phrases or poems can be used to encode numeric sequences by various methods, one common one is to create a new phrase in which the number of letters in each word represents the according digit of pi. For example, the 1st 15 digits of the mathematical constant pi can be encoded as “Now I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics”; “Now”, having 3 letters, represents the 1st number, 3. Piphilology is the practice dedicated to creating mnemonics for pi.
Mnemonics may be helpful in learning foreign languages, for example by transposing difficult foreign words with words in a language the learner knows already. A useful such technique is to find linkwords, words that have the same pronunciation in a known language as the target word, and associate them visually or auditorially with the target word.
For example, in trying to assist the learner to remember ohel, the Hebrew word for tent, the memorable sentence “Oh hell, there’s a raccoon in my tent” can be used. Also in Hebrew, a way to remember the word, bayit, meaning house, one can use the sentence “that’s a lovely house, I’d like to bayit.” The linguist Michel Thomas taught students to remember that estar is the Spanish word for to be by using the phrase “to be a star”.
Another technique is for learners of gendered languages to associate their mental images of words with a colour that matches the gender in the target language. An example here is to remember the Spanish word for “foot”, pie, with the image of a foot stepping on a pie which then spills blue filling.
Academic study of the use of mnemonics has shown their effectiveness. In one such experiment, subjects of different ages who applied mnemonic techniques to learn novel vocabulary outperformed control groups that applied contextual learning and free-learning styles.
Mnemonics vary in effectiveness for several groups ranging from young children to the elderly. Mnemonic learning strategies require time and resources by educators to develop creative and effective devices. The most simple and creative mnemonic devices usually are the most effective for teaching. In the classroom, mnemonic devices must be used at the appropriate time in the instructional sequence to achieve their maximum effectiveness.
Studies have suggested that the short-term memory of adult humans can hold only a limited number of items; grouping items into larger chunks such as in a mnemonic might be part of what permits the brain to hold a larger total amount of information in short-term memory, which in turn can aid the creation of long-term memories.
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