Grammar and mathematics

The Department for Education announced that

A new statutory test of English grammar, punctuation and spelling will be introduced for children at the end of Key Stage 2 from May 2013.

Some sample questions are published here. An example:

Insert a comma and a semi-colon in the sentence below to clarify the meaning of the sentence: David eats cake whenever he has the chance I prefer apples oranges and bananas.

I am not in position to judge whether 11 years is an appropriate age for such tests. However, I share the view that grammar expresses the logical structure of language and therefore should be of concern for mathematicians. This point of view is fully developed in the submission made by the British Logic Colloquium to the National Curriculum Review:

Grammar is a precondition of logic in any language, the foundation of systematic reasoning. This connection is obvious at later stages of education, especially in mathematics, computer science and law, but also in every discipline or profession that involves clearly defined rules, such as natural science and finance.

The ability to understand and use principles of grammar to analyse the meaning of complex texts and express thought precisely in speech and writing is one of the most important skills for students to acquire in their school education. Mastery of grammar helps us navigate the increasingly complex information world in which we all live in the 21st century.

Every dialect has its own grammar. What students need to acquire is sufficient grasp of general concepts and principles of grammar to enable them to understand how sentences of English work, how their parts fit together to express the meaning they do. We have found in practice that students who have never been explicitly taught formal grammar are at a disadvantage when they have to assess reasoning to exact standards, because they lack the intellectual resources to reflect critically on the language in which it is stated.

We leave it to specialists to decide the optimal scope and methods for English grammar teaching in schools. The aim of this statement is to raise the profile of the issue.


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