“Is maths a language?” There are thousands of languages across the world – English, Spanish, German, French… all taught across schools and reinforced as being important to succeed in later life with jobs. So why is this attitude not portrayed with maths?
Math is a language that has been used thousands of years. It is spoken universally, and can be understood by all no matter the age, religion or culture. Sure, different countries may have different symbols or words for aspects of it, but the profound fundamental understanding of maths is the same no matter where you go. Paying for your shopping in a supermarket uses the same knowledge of maths whether you’re paying in pounds, rupees, yen or euros.
Some anthropologists suggest that the global language of maths was needed in order to trade. Many different countries were trading, and were not able to communicate with each other as there was such a wide variety of languages, so a universal language that could be understood by all needed to be implemented. Roman numerals were the most dominant number system used in trade. It was created on the base 10 system but was not directly position and did not include a value for zero (Mastin, 2010). The base 10 system is a system used today in every country, and our understanding of place value is based on this. It is thought that this system was introduced at least as early at 2700 BCE by the Egyptians (Mastin, 2010). This system is used widely and is an understood language across the world, even though it appears to have begun in Egypt.
Europeans were still using Roman numerals in the 13th Century, but found that they were difficult to work with when trying to divide or multiply. This is when Italian mathematician Fibonacci introduced Arabic numerals into Europe. These are the numerals that we know and use today to represent values of numbers. The difficulty of the Roman numerals led to merchants and bankers embracing the simpler Arabic system (Maths Careers, n.d.). This number system eventually spread across the globe, as the inclusion of zero meant that so much more could be done.
Here is a great video from Dr. Randy Palisoc, talking about maths as a language. This video also touches on maths anxiety, and how looking at maths as a language can help to eradicate the anxiety and fear around maths.
Mastin, L. (2010). Egyptian Mathematics. [Online]. Available at: http://www.storyofmathematics.com/egyptian.html [Accessed 23rd October 2017]
Mastin, L. (2010). Roman Mathematics. [Online]. Available at: http://www.storyofmathematics.com/roman.html [Accessed 23rd October 2017]
Maths Careers. (No Date). A Universal Language. [Online] Available at: http://www.mathscareers.org.uk/article/universal-language/ [Accessed 23rd October 2017]
TEDx Talks (2014) Math isn’t hard, it’s a language | Randy Palisoc | TEDxManhattanBeach [Online]. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6yixyiJcos [Accessed 23rd October 2017]