Not embarrassed by academic knowledge in the field of linguistics, I tried this week to formulate an answer to the question: what is language? This is in response to the message from the University of Hull, over a week ago, that students should no longer be corrected when they make spelling and grammar mistakes. This would jeopardize inclusiveness and diversity.
Welmoed Vlieger aptly commented this week Loyal that a good education would prevent the exclusion of everyone in society. I would like to add that communicating in your own language would also be helpful. Forcing pupils to write in English, while they dream, think and act in Dutch, is disastrous for the nuance, and therefore for the message. I had to read, discuss and summarize books full of philosophers of science in English. It is not uncommon for me to lose the content and, in many cases, the literary power of their ideas.
On Twitter, I read a response from science journalist Govert Schilling: “ The fact that you can only study physics if you can do decent calculations is also so not inclusive. In this way, this profession remains colonized by the elite. While this sarcasm is understandable, the comparison is somewhat flawed. After all: the result of a sum is much more absolute than the result of a sentence. Indeed, someone who does not know how to calculate cannot become a physicist. But someone who doesn’t have the grammar and spelling in order can be a very good thinker. Maybe even a good writer.
I think language is fundamentally a means of communication. Just as a mathematical proof wants to show the truth of a statement, a sentence or even a sound always wants to convey a message. Whether it’s “can you just declare butter” at the kitchen table or “train” at a football stadium: language communicates. A feeling, a question, a fact, a lie: anything can be grasped in language. Mathematics only transmits the truth. Language can also be gibberish, math is always gibberish.
Language is also much more differentiated than mathematics. For example, you can say in this week’s sports news: “The European Super League has turned out not to be such a good idea for clubs.” You can also write: “This ESL kk destroys club breeding !!” Or: “Anyone who thinks they can make Scylla and Charybdis the captains of their self-invented treasure fleet, poisoned by hybris, can simply end up on Charon’s austere boat, has met twelve football clubs drowned in oil dollars and the like. bribes this week. ” It comes down to the same thing three times, but whether you understand it depends on your knowledge of Dutch, slang, or Greek mythology.
And doesn’t the style of communication change something in the nuance and therefore in the content of the sentences? With two different proofs, you can prove the exact same truth in mathematics. But I don’t think you can say the exact same thing with different words. “ There is 1 dm3 of milk in this carton ” and “ there is a liter of milk in this carton ” seem exactly the same, but it says something about the tongue user and therefore on the content (in this case also literally) if you use dm3 instead of the liter used.
The Vasalis shizzle
Imagine a Dutch teacher reading this poem review: “ This Vasalis shizzle on the idiot in the bath is effing wix! I can smell this beautiful frea, you know, it’s my brada. I also get para on this scorro every week, wanna choke on him man. It will probably not be accepted. This makes sense, because we have to agree on a specific language to communicate. And the care with which this agreed upon language is subsequently written matters. A spelling mistake or grammatical flaw may not make a difference, but as a reader you notice the love and dedication in the details – or the lack thereof when it is teeming with errors.
Yet there are also people for whom it does not matter. And people who really don’t have a mastery of spelling, no matter how lovingly they write. It is precisely these people who do not want to exclude Hull who must be congratulated. Because you can also kiss Vasalis’ idiot in slang. A rephrased or misspelled cry of the heart often says more than an impeccable sentence written with love.
Jan Beuving is a mathematician and comedian. In his column, he plays with the natural sciences and language. Previous columns by Jan Beuving.