Algebra
Continued- Moving from words to symbols

The Greeks and Egyptians only
used words to discuss mathematical situations. Mathematical symbols like the
ones we are familiar with- symbols like +, - and =, - weren't invented yet. It
actually took a very very long time for any mathematicians to come up with the
idea of using symbols to represent mathematical relations and operations. For
literally thousands of years, mathematicians just wrote all of their math out
in words. For example, to talk about division they would write statements like
"six items divided into two equal groups will give you two smaller groups
of three items each".

It wasn't until roughly 400 years ago in
Europe that mathematicians started to develop ways to write their math in a
short hand of symbols and equations rather than in words.

This
development was both good and bad. It was good in the sense that it made it
much easier for mathematicians to write complicated ideas in a relatively
short, concise and precise way. This in turn led to new developments in math
and entirely new ways of doing and thinking about math.

It was bad
because it made reading math much more challenging, and not just for people
learning mathematical concepts. Even experienced mathematicians and scientists
can take a while to sort through and translate the meaning of a complicated
mathematical equation.

Nonetheless, it's important to remember that
all mathematical equations can be translated back into words, which can then be
explained in Inuktitut, French, English or another language. It just may take
some time and patience to do this, and a willingness to find out what
mathematical concept each symbol represents.

So remember- if you find
yourself facing a mathemtical symbol that you don't recognize, remember that
you can ask someone to change the symbol back into a word and then get someone
to translate this mathematical word into other words that are understandable.
Don't be afraid to ask.

Copyright Jen Schellinck, 2006