Thursday, 8 December 2011
MATHEMATICIANS AND THE USE OF ENGLISH
It is common sight for students and perhaps, lecturers of Mathematics to commit grammatical blunders and cover up their flaws with excuse that ‘afterall, I am a mathematician’. The crux of the matter is that; is studying mathematics or more definitely, being a mathematician an excuse for speaking bad grammar? Before you arrive at a conclusion in a rush, permit me to lead you through a series of arguments. I invite you, therefore, to reason along with me.
Mathematics, in simple definition, is the study of numbers, shapes, relations, etc. and their relationship with the natural world. I believe the definition of the subject itself cannot be understood if the discoverers and founders of mathematics had penned it down in wrong english, or have had no basically sound background in the use of english. In this part of the world(speaking of the anglophone world) where mathematics is taught in the English language, it should be noted that the use of english is a criterion for admission into Universities or colleges with at least a pass. It can therefore be concluded that a mathematician had sufficient english classes and subsequently passed the subject at an average level in order to proceed in his line of career.
Moreover, the subject is taught in the English language (speaking still of the Anglophone world) and hence, for the purpose of proper and effective communication, it is expected that a student (ever before he goes into this line of career) must have an acceptable level of proficiency in the language. It, therefore, becomes appalling for a student, at the undergraduate level of tertiary education to speak unacceptably, how much less a lecturer! Mathematicians still write abstracts, theses, papers, etc. and in the presentations of these, improper use of verbs, tenses, etc. are not overlooked just because they are being presented by ‘mathematicians’.
I succinctly recall a lecture on real analysis by an associate professor of mine in my two hundred level days. He said,” It is unacceptable for a mathematician to speak poorly or use wrong tenses simply because he is a mathematician”. The fact remains that the argument of an allowance of wrong usage of the English language is completely unfounded and baseless. A student, an undergraduate, a lecturer in any institution of learning(where English language is the lingua franca) should possess a command of the language and be able to express himself in the same. It is a challenge to upcoming undergraduates of mathematics to debunk the idea of being expected to commit grammatical errors at will and get away with it.
The society needs a breed of fine and refined academicians who can command respect and be held in high esteem in the field of mathematics while possessing a solid foundation in the use of English as a means of inter-personal communication or the teaching of the subject itself.
This is a clarion call to all my mathematician colleagues to go back and pick their ‘brighter English’, “queen’s English” etc. and sharpen their skills and proficiency in the language, otherwise, a first class degree holder in mathematics will be demeaned as soon as he opens his mouth to speak grammatical jargons. Pass the torch; Mathematicians are inexcusable for wrong use of English language. We must speak the language well in and out of the Mathematical domain.