The language of mathematics...

Next month marks the birth date of a somewhat obscure mathematician – Giuseppe Peano. Born in 1958 in Piedmont, Italy, Peano was born and raised on a farm, going to school locally before attending the University of Turin. It was in Turin that Peano realized his love and talent in mathematics, and graduated with a doctorate in maths in 1880.

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While you likely have not heard of Peano, you most definitely know and have likely used his inventions. That’s because Peano essentially was the founder of symbolic logic – using symbols to convey mathematical equations. In 1891, Peano started The Forumulario Project – designed to be an Encyclopedia of Mathematics containing all known theories and formulas using a standard notation that he invented. The first five book sets were released in 1895, and contained much of the notation we use today – including ∃ and ∩. Peano wanted to create a language of mathematics that was more easily understood by individuals, regardless of their mother tongue. To that end, he went on to create an international auxiliary language called Latino sine flexione, which used Latin language but simplified the grammar and removed inconsistencies.

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Peano’s work is a simple example of the thousands of inventors, mathematicians, linguists, and scientists who have brought mathematics and the language of mathematics to where it is today. When our Impact Network scholars learn about sets, algebra, etc. they learn the same mathematical language that I learned, and that you learned. When mathematicians from around the world work together, they can do so by practically speaking to each other in one common language. Both of these things happen because of Peano and his followers and their quest to create an international language. In my time with Impact Network, I have observed scores of teachers and hundreds of lessons that cover multiple subject areas. But the ones that are the most engaging for me to watch are the lessons in maths, because regardless of the language of instruction, I can follow along, and I can see whether our students are following as well. And more than that, this universal language ties together nations towards a common goal of understanding and progress.

-Reshma