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Math and Language (Specifically Linguistics)

  1. Aug 6, 2010 #1
    As many of you know, precise language is necessary for effective communication in mathematics. Although I find that I am quite capable of communicating my thoughts effectively and clearly, I feel that there is always room for improvement.

    Please recommend an introductory, and perhaps a sequence of follow-up texts, for linguistics that is taught with mathematicians in mind.

    Thanks.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2010 #2
    Sorry for being a bit pedantic, but I don't think linguistics (the scientific study of natural language) is what you're looking for.
     
  4. Aug 6, 2010 #3

    CRGreathouse

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    Linguistics is the study of phonology, typology, grammars, morphology, and the like. I think what you're looking for falls into English or communication (the latter being the 'evil twin' of linguistics :wink:).
     
  5. Aug 6, 2010 #4
    English sentences are used to communicate ideas in mathematical research papers. Sentences only make sense given that they follow rules of syntax. Linguistics helps one to understand and apply rules of syntax to english sentences. In case you forgot, english (a natural language) sentences are used to communicate ideas in mathematical research papers. Clearly, linguistics (as you put it) is what I need. But to be pedantic, what I "need" is a subfield of linguistics that deals with syntax and grammar.
     
  6. Aug 6, 2010 #5

    CRGreathouse

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    The only relevant subfield of linguistics I can see would be pragmatics. What good would it be to learn about X-bar transformative grammars, if your only goal is to write better?
     
  7. Aug 7, 2010 #6

    Mark44

    Staff: Mentor

    IMO, a better choice than a course in linguistics is a book such as Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" or similar. One of the things stressed in the book is clear, unambiguous writing.

    I doubt very much that you will be able to find a course in linguistics anywhere, that is geared toward mathematics.
     
  8. Aug 7, 2010 #7
    I'd stay away from books such as "Elements of Style." My writing is terrible and that book or similar books like "On Writing Well" did not help improve it one iota. The advice was too vague for me to put into practical use. Clear thinking and clear writing go hand in hand so I think it's best to ground your writing in logic and grammar (Which is what I'm currently trying to do). A good introduction to logic is "Introduction to Logic" by Copi and "Introduction to Logic and the Scientific Method" by Cohen. A good grammar book I'm told is "A Grammar Book for you and I... Oops, Me." I have it but I'm waiting until I finish the first part of my logic intro to begin it.
     
  9. Aug 7, 2010 #8

    Mark44

    Staff: Mentor

    "Elements of Style" has been in print for at least 50 years, so it must have helped some people's writing skills. I don't have my copy here with me, but I recall that there are some sections at the back that give pretty focused directions on writing clearly.
     
  10. Aug 7, 2010 #9
    Oh I definitely agree that "The Elements of Style" offers good advice. I like how concise the book is and how lean Strunk's writing is. I think that's why the book appeals to so many people in the first place. There is a certain grace to its brevity. But its brevity is ultimately its undoing. He says far too little. For example tip number 16 starts with a simple: "Be clear." Sound advice no doubt. But what does that mean? "But since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue." Great. He continues, "Clarity, clarity, clarity. When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh;" Alright... "Muddiness is not merely a distruber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded roan sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler...

    I was pulling my hairs out by the end of that paragraph. I've never seen someone so elegantly say absolutely nothing at all! I get it, write clearly. But HOW???

    This is why I prefer a book like "A grammar book for you and I, Oops me." It builds a foundation with the parts of speech. Nouns, verbs, conjuctions, everything is put under the magnifying glass and is taken meticulously apart and then put back together.

    And only once that solid grounding is in place does the author build on it delving into writing style in the most practical manner. He goes into detail about not only what specific structures it takes to be articulate but where to place them in the sentence. He shows how to build a basic sentence, how to add onto it using the art of subordination and lastly how to shape it using parallel structure. How can you learn to play beautiful music if you don't know what pitch and scale are? I think a lot of Strunk's advice is equivalent to saying, "Play better!"

    Also you should definitely avoid Strunk and White if learning grammar is your goal:
    http://chronicle.com/article/50-Years-of-Stupid-Grammar/25497

    Now that I think about it to get the most out of "The Elements of Style" you should probably pick up a grammar book first. Once you're done with it you can dissect the writing of "Elements". See what sentence structures he uses, what words he chooses and why.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2010
  11. Aug 8, 2010 #10
    I don't know if it is related to you but try Lakoff & Nuñez "Where mathematics come from?". It is a cognitive approach to mathematical metaphors that we construct to exchange ideas. It is a wonderful book.
     
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