Mathematics as a Liberal Art: One Foundation for Writing Well
Killian, Michael C.
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I believe one's ability to write well comes, in the end, from careful study of language and of writing itself. I also believe that various educational backgrounds can serve as a foundation for such study. In this paper, I will discuss why I believe one type of educational background -- the study of mathematics-- that can help build a foundation for one's quest to write well. Some people believe language skills singularly use "creative" talents and mathematical skills singularly use "analytic" talents, and so may argue with this thesis. I mean this paper to offer some discussion that communication of any kind is a manifestation of creativity and is therefore connected to other forms of communication. Mathematics is a language of written symbols. Those symbols (variables, functions, equations) appear similar to the symbols of English (nouns, verbs, sentences) or of any other written language. The structure of mathematics is built on a set of rules (axioms) not unlike the grammatical structure of English. The imagery of mathematical abstraction can be a metaphor for the verbal imagery of storytelling: the most compelling form of written communication, in my experience. I will avoid discussion in this paper of logic systems, of linguistic structures, of semiotics, and of information theory. These approach language as a topic of scientific analysis, seeking in some cases to define language as a mathematical or logical structure. Scientists and linguists have devoted dissertations to these topics, approaching their analyses in depth after years of study. This paper is not meant to do that. Instead, I will simply discuss my own experience in seeking to learn how to write well.