Forms and Formulae: Linguistics → Mathematics


A picture of the Sun peeking over the spine of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics as it rests on top of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & PoeticsThis is the second in a series called ‘Forms and Formulae‘ in which I write about articles in the Princeton Companion to Mathematics using poetic forms covered by articles in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. This week’s mathematics article is entitled ‘The Language and Grammar of Mathematics’ and the poetic form is acrostic, which is a superset of last week’s form, the abecedarius.

I’ve already written plenty of apronyms about mathematics that could be considered acrostics, so for this I had to do something else. The following is a double acrostic about the language of mathematics — the first letter of each line spells ‘Linguistics’ and the last letter of each line, read upwards, spells ‘Mathematics’. The line lengths are highly irregular (just as the mapping from linguistics to mathematics can be), which makes that less impressive, but I tried to keep decent enough rhythm and rhyme that it sounds good when read aloud.

Linguistics is mathematics.
Is’ it? Well, that ‘is’ a classic.
Now which ‘is’ is that ‘is’ that you and I
Grammatically understand… wait!
Understand, or understands? It all depends on how that ‘and’ treats data:
I understand ∧ you understand, or you+I is? Are? Am?
Some singular object that understands ambiguous copulae
That may~equivalence relations, ambivalent notations for functions, adjunctions, or ∈ life ∪ death
I ‘am’ and i ‘is’, in a nonempty set?
Cogito, ergo ∀ subjects Ɣ ∈ {sums, numbers, dynamics, …} Ɣ has Grammar s.t. Meaning(s)=Meaning(t)⇔s=t ∀ symbols s,t in Grammar sub gamma.
So, let ‘is’ be a relation where no such equation’s imposed but the intersection of the sets of accepted bijections on the subjects’ grammar sets are nonempty we get (and I don’t have the proof yet to hand, um… It’s trivial, readers with wits understand’em) that linguistics is mathematics, quod erat demonstrandum.

This was a particularly interesting article for me, since I’m very interested in language and grammar in general. It goes into various symbols used in mathematics and talks about which parts of speech they are and how they compare to similar words or parts of speech in English. It turns out mathematics has no adjectives. I had several attempts at different acrostics, and when I figured out the first few lines of this one, I thought I’d move on to explaining a different section of the article every few lines. Then I was inspired to continue it at a time when I didn’t have the book handy, so it ended up focusing on just the first few parts with a nod to something mentioned in a later section. One nice thing I found in the article was:

  1. Nothing is better than lifelong happiness.
  2. But a cheese sandwich is better than nothing.
  3. Therefore, a cheese sandwich is better than lifelong happiness.

Soon after, we get the haiku I found earlier:

For every person
P there exists a drink D
such that P likes D.

It’s really a fun book to read. Next week’s Forms and Formulae will be an air on some fundamental mathematical definitions, which should be interesting because I’m not certain I fully understand the requirements for an air. I may have to dust off the robot choir.

In other news, I got some copies of the They might not be giants poster printed locally, and they look great, even when accidentally printed at twice the intended size. The English pronoun poster is quite readable at about 42x42cm, which is a little less than the size it’s on Zazzle at.

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