Does mathematics translate into every language?

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Does mathematics translate into every language?

#1  Postby jamest » Oct 22, 2012 11:16 pm

In another thread (physics forum), I've just said this:

Mathematics is a language reflective of thought, purposive of abbreviating said thought. If you're going to post the maths, I would require the corresponding language unto which it relates and abbreviates. That is, I will require a commentary of the maths so that I can understand what it is that you're trying to say.

I've suddenly realised that many/most mathematical concepts (plus; minus; equals; velocity; time; space; sets; infinity; nothing; etc. etc.) have a definite meaning within the English language which might not translate well, if at all, in all languages. Therefore, I wondered whether mathematics made sense from the perspective of all languages? :think:

I've always assumed that mathematics was the most objective of languages. I'm wondering whether this is in fact the case.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#2  Postby CdesignProponentsist » Oct 22, 2012 11:25 pm

They translate to all cultures and languages that have adapted to these universal concepts. I think you would be hard pressed to find one that has not adapted by now. Maybe some Amazonian languages.

But the concepts themselves are going to be universal to any advanced civilization. If aliens landed tomorrow, the best way to start building bridges of communication would be to start with mathematical concepts. They would result in instant understanding, you could then start to build a framework for communication from that.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#3  Postby Tursas » Oct 22, 2012 11:33 pm

I don't see why not. Of course many languages won't have words for advanced mathematical concepts, but nothing prevents the users of those languages from creating and defining them should the need arise.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#4  Postby jamest » Oct 22, 2012 11:46 pm

CdesignProponentsist wrote:They translate to all cultures and languages that have adapted to these universal concepts. I think you would be hard pressed to find one that has not adapted. Maybe some Amazonian languages.

But the concepts themselves are going to be universal to any advanced civilization. If aliens landed tomorrow, the best way to start building bridges of communication would be to start with mathematical concepts. They would result in instant understanding, you could then start to build a framework for communication from that.

I'm not sure what you mean by languages adapting to mathematical concepts which have a specific meaning within, say, English. I've come across, for instance, some English words that don't translate at all into other languages. Therefore, if such a language was confronted by a mathematical concept defined in terms of words which did not translate into said language, how would such a language 'adapt'? By making-up new words?

Consider this: what would have happened if Newton, Einstein, etc., had been residents of the Amazon rainforest. Would their limited language have prevented them from formulating, precisely, their mathematical theories?
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#5  Postby Tursas » Oct 22, 2012 11:54 pm

jamest wrote:I've come across, for instance, some English words that don't translate at all into other languages.

Examples?
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#6  Postby jamest » Oct 22, 2012 11:56 pm

The point I should just have made was this:

If other languages have to adapt in order to understand the mathematical significance inherent within the subjective meanings of, say, English, then how can mathematics be defined as an objective language within its right? Consider this question in relation to that which inspired me to start this thread:

Mathematics is a language reflective of thought, purposive of abbreviating said thought. If you're going to post the maths, I would require the corresponding language unto which it relates and abbreviates. That is, I will require a commentary of the maths so that I can understand what it is that you're trying to say.

Maths is an abbreviated form of the meanings inherent within any particular language. Since each language is subjectively unique, in what sense can we say that its maths are objective? :think:
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#7  Postby jamest » Oct 23, 2012 12:09 am

Tursas wrote:
jamest wrote:I've come across, for instance, some English words that don't translate at all into other languages.

Examples?

To save me thinking, I did a google:

http://listverse.com/2011/07/13/10-hard ... ish-words/

Conversely, there was a site which explained how many 'foreign' words cannot translate into English:

http://www.thegoodword.co.uk/2011/01/27 ... o-english/

The point is that it's not always easy, or apparently possible, for other languages to adapt to each other. This is why I wondered whether there were some languages unto which the supposed objectivity of maths does not translate.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#8  Postby CdesignProponentsist » Oct 23, 2012 12:15 am

jamest wrote:The point I should just have made was this:

If other languages have to adapt in order to understand the mathematical significance inherent within the subjective meanings of, say, English, then how can mathematics be defined as an objective language within its right? Consider this question in relation to that which inspired me to start this thread:

Mathematics is a language reflective of thought, purposive of abbreviating said thought. If you're going to post the maths, I would require the corresponding language unto which it relates and abbreviates. That is, I will require a commentary of the maths so that I can understand what it is that you're trying to say.

Maths is an abbreviated form of the meanings inherent within any particular language. Since each language is subjectively unique, in what sense can we say that its maths are objective? :think:


The 'language' of mathematics is of universal concepts. If a culture has discovered these universal concepts then they would have a linguistic adaptation to these concepts and would translate perfectly with other languages that have also adapted.

"=" would translate perfectly with another language with the same concept regardless of how it is represented or said. There are no nuances or deviations on 'equals'. Just as there are none for the number 1. 1 in English is going to mean exactly the same thing as 1 in French, Swahili or Alpha Centarian. Equals, times, set, true, false are all universal and will mean exactly the same thing.

Any thing described by these terms will mean exactly the same thing no matter what language it is spoken in.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#9  Postby Tursas » Oct 23, 2012 12:30 am

jamest wrote:
To save me thinking, I did a google:

http://listverse.com/2011/07/13/10-hard ... ish-words/

Conversely, there was a site which explained how many 'foreign' words cannot translate into English:

http://www.thegoodword.co.uk/2011/01/27 ... o-english/

The point is that it's not always easy, or apparently possible, for other languages to adapt to each other. This is why I wondered whether there were some languages unto which the supposed objectivity of maths does not translate.


Oh, one of these lists again. I'm sorry, but none of those words are untranslatable as they are able to give definitions to each of them. There's even a loanword from another language which they claim to be untranslatable from English!
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#10  Postby Kazaman » Oct 23, 2012 12:35 am

Arithmetic can undoubtedly be translated into all languages. Mathematics generally, though ... probably not.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#11  Postby jamest » Oct 23, 2012 1:11 am

Tursas wrote:
jamest wrote:
To save me thinking, I did a google:

http://listverse.com/2011/07/13/10-hard ... ish-words/

Conversely, there was a site which explained how many 'foreign' words cannot translate into English:

http://www.thegoodword.co.uk/2011/01/27 ... o-english/

The point is that it's not always easy, or apparently possible, for other languages to adapt to each other. This is why I wondered whether there were some languages unto which the supposed objectivity of maths does not translate.


Oh, one of these lists again. I'm sorry, but none of those words are untranslatable as they are able to give definitions to each of them. There's even a loanword from another language which they claim to be untranslatable from English!

It's a borrowed list of words, used to save time, for the purpose of making a point. The lists are presented in English, so it's obvious that the first list should be translatable to you since you're an English-speaking person reading about English words, in English, which apparently don't translate well into other languages. You're not supposed to complain that you don't understand the words!!!!

The 2nd list was about other languages which don't translate into English. You say that each of those words does translate well into English. However, 1st on that list, for example, is the word 'Ilunga':

"The closest English equivalent to this word is probably ‘forgive and forget’. But that well-worn meme doesn’t really do this word from the DRC language of Tshiluba any justice."

Clearly, the author is struggling to define that word precisely into English. Nuff said. Point made.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#12  Postby virphen » Oct 23, 2012 1:33 am

At least one language doesn't have counting, still more don't have a concept of zero... so that seems to be enough evidence for me that the answer to the question is "no".
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#13  Postby Tursas » Oct 23, 2012 1:52 am

jamest wrote:
It's a borrowed list of words, used to save time, for the purpose of making a point. The lists are presented in English, so it's obvious that the first list should be translatable to you since you're an English-speaking person reading about English words, in English, which apparently don't translate well into other languages. You're not supposed to complain that you don't understand the words!!!!

I know. English is not my only language, and I can immediately think of perfect single-word equivalents in my native language for several words on the first list. However, perfect single-word equivalency is not even the requirement for being translatable, as the authors of these lists seem to imagine.

The 2nd list was about other languages which don't translate into English. You say that each of those words does translate well into English.

I didn't say that. I said they are not untranslatable.

However, 1st on that list, for example, is the word 'Ilunga':

"The closest English equivalent to this word is probably ‘forgive and forget’. But that well-worn meme doesn’t really do this word from the DRC language of Tshiluba any justice."

Clearly, the author is struggling to define that word precisely into English. Nuff said. Point made.

The definition looks crystal clear to me. What the author is struggling with is finding a perfect single-word equivalent, which in this case is a fool's errand. If it would happen that English speakers would start to characterise people using that particular definition ('forgiving the first two injustices but never a third one'), it would be trivial to, for example, loan "ilunga" for that purpose in English. Word translated.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#14  Postby Corneel » Oct 23, 2012 11:35 am

jamest wrote:In another thread (physics forum), I've just said this:

Mathematics is a language reflective of thought, purposive of abbreviating said thought. If you're going to post the maths, I would require the corresponding language unto which it relates and abbreviates. That is, I will require a commentary of the maths so that I can understand what it is that you're trying to say.

I've suddenly realised that many/most mathematical concepts (plus; minus; equals; velocity; time; space; sets; infinity; nothing; etc. etc.) have a definite meaning within the English language which might not translate well, if at all, in all languages. Therefore, I wondered whether mathematics made sense from the perspective of all languages? :think:

I've always assumed that mathematics was the most objective of languages. I'm wondering whether this is in fact the case.

English itself did in large part not have the words for those concepts but borrowed them wholesale from other languages (Greek and Latin mainly). And nothing stops people to do the same (as most languages did) or invent words in their own language, as in Dutch (thanks to Simon Stevin we have a whole list of translated words for mathematical concepts rather than the classical language derived terms found in other many other European languages).

BTW I don't think velocity and time can be considered mathematical concepts, they're physical concepts.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#15  Postby jamest » Oct 23, 2012 1:17 pm

Corneel wrote:
English itself did in large part not have the words for those concepts but borrowed them wholesale from other languages (Greek and Latin mainly). And nothing stops people to do the same (as most languages did) or invent words in their own language, as in Dutch (thanks to Simon Stevin we have a whole list of translated words for mathematical concepts rather than the classical language derived terms found in other many other European languages).

Okay, but the problem seems to be that some words are difficult to understand in other languages, such that their meaning is evasive. In these instances, adding new words to the language would be problematical. I wondered whether some mathematical concepts might suffer the same fate for particular languages. I really don't know... I'm just chewing the fat.

BTW I don't think velocity and time can be considered mathematical concepts, they're physical concepts.

If that were the case, I don't see how maths would be able to incorporate such concepts into mathematical equations. That is the sense in which I categorise them as mathematical concepts. Other abstract concepts, such as love, freedom, justice, hatred, cannot be incorporated into mathematical equations; so I don't think that the ontology of a concept determines whether it is mathematical or not.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#16  Postby The_Metatron » Oct 23, 2012 3:30 pm

Regardless of your language, the ratio of the diameter to the circumference of a circle is Pi. Period. There are mathematical concepts that are indeed universal, assuming one even knows of their existence.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#17  Postby jamest » Oct 23, 2012 3:36 pm

The_Metatron wrote:Regardless of your language, the ratio of the diameter to the circumference of a circle is Pi. Period. There are mathematical concepts that are indeed universal, assuming one even knows of their existence.

That's just one instance. I was perhaps wondering whether concepts such as infinity and zero, in fact any such concept, might have meaning in all other languages. virphen seems to indicate that some don't.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#18  Postby campermon » Oct 23, 2012 5:07 pm

CdesignProponentsist wrote:They translate to all cultures and languages that have adapted to these universal concepts.


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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#19  Postby iamthereforeithink » Oct 23, 2012 7:50 pm

I think what you need to do jamest, is focus. You had not even begun to understand some concepts in physics you were discussing, when you wandered off into a tangent about linguistics? How does it matter in any way whether the Amazon people can do quantum physics in their own language? They could always use some English if the need arises. The Chinese and Japanese don't seem to need it though, even though their language is as different from English as is possible to be.
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Re: Does mathematics translate into every language?

#20  Postby jamest » Oct 24, 2012 8:55 am

iamthereforeithink wrote:I think what you need to do jamest, is focus. You had not even begun to understand some concepts in physics you were discussing, when you wandered off into a tangent about linguistics?

There's not a lot of work for me to do here. I'm just trying to acquire information from people who know a lot about languages.

How does it matter in any way whether the Amazon people can do quantum physics in their own language?

You don't consider it significant that it's potentially impossible to objectify or universalise the explanatory framework of mathematics?

They could always use some English if the need arises.

Maths requires a particular form of subjective expression, then?

The Chinese and Japanese don't seem to need it though, even though their language is as different from English as is possible to be.

I can't comment, since I know nothing of other languages (apart from passing my O-level in French and learning a bit of Latin whilst at school). As I said, I'm very much reliant upon the knowledge of other members here. It would be interesting to see the opinion of people from various corners of the globe.
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