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Mathematics and Music As Languages

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Mathematics and Music As Languages Johnson Chan As natural language is part of our daily routine, mathematics and music are also important forms of communication and expression. The essence of this paper is to dissect and investigate the components of natural language, music and mathematics and to empower the latter two disciplines as crucial communication tools. Let us first consider the main components of natural language. It has a vast number of properties, for it is able to communicate by vocal and written means. Moreover, there are also many "dialects" of the natural language around the globe, each based primarily on its cultural origin with individual techniques of construction, style, grammar, et cetera. Nevertheless, it can be outlined into two major elements: its functions and its physical structure. The primary function of the natural language is, without doubt, to communicate. At the beginning of organized society, this was the only important function. A unified form of communication allows individuals to interact with one another, to receive and to acquire primitive knowledge. As time progressed, natural language increased its functions. With the development of the written components, it also allowed men to record history, to think and to create. ...read more.


As Galileo explained: "Philosophy [Nature] is written in that great book which ever lies before our eyes. I mean the universe, but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols in which it is written. The book is written in the mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures without whose help it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word of it, and without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth." Mathematics also encourages philosophy. By examining the world we inhabit through mathematics, we can question the reason of our existence and why nature is working the way it is. The structure of mathematics bears semblance to the natural language too. Whereas the natural language has the alphabet as its basic units, mathematics has the numbers and functional symbols (i.e. '=' meaning equal; '+' meaning addition; n2 meaning multiplying itself), which would form equations, unknowns, theorems and laws. Philosophers often link mathematics and philosophy with music. Music is indeed a powerful language. Its function is to allow people to have less ambiguous comprehension and appreciation for the profound emotions of human soul and spirit. ...read more.


Greek scholar Aristides Quintilianus even believed that "music leads every change, for it is first in order and power before all learning." If we are to consider the elements of music, we shall find its construction similar to the structure of natural language and mathematics. Our basic symbols, instead of letters or numbers, are the clefs, the notes, and the rests. They will form a musical phrase or motif, consisting several bars of these notes. Motifs form themes and themes form a unified movement. The combination of several movements creates a grand, expressive musical cycle. Mathematics, music and the natural language are languages tightly interwoven into our lives. We see similarities in both their structure and functions. We also see how each language is specifically made to communicate with certain aspects of the world. Yet we have often dismissed both mathematics and music as a language. "A mathematician will spin out a new theory or a composer create a miniature sonic universe; a poet will turn an experience into metaphor, a scene into a source of illumination."1 Only via the study of not just one, but also all three languages, we can continue to identify and express the unknowns of the world. Let our educators be vigilant. ...read more.

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