Friday, March 30, 2007

The Mathematics of Language

This was inspired by Tower of Confusion's article on Pi. In school, I was always very good at math and language classes; the only bad grades I got in these subjects was probably due to me not doing my homework. But while I was good at both, I hated math and enjoyed whatever language class I was taking. What I found interesting about this is that I think my skills in math is what allowed me to do so well with language since, for me, language and math follow the same principles. In other words, language is very mathematical. To illustrate, this is what usually goes through my mind: to get x meaning, I need to add y grammar to z word. Doesn't this look like a function or an algebraic formula? After a while, this becomes intuitive, much like the multiplication table in which you just know the right answer without having to give it much thought.

I think I enjoyed language more than mathematics for the simple reason that language just seems more practical and useful. Beyond basic math skills, there just doesn't seem to be a need for higher mathematics in daily life unless you are a rocket scientists. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, building rockets is not on my list of things to do this week. Even stock traders, finance officers, accountants don't use as many formulas as one would think.

While I doubt the usefulness of higher mathematics in daily life, I firmly believe that math is not only the universal language, but also the framework of any and all languages.

For all of you who speak more than one language, how good is your math?

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