Language and Algebra


bookshelf.jpgA couple nights ago at dinner our 7-year old said that water was distasteful. Initially this surprised me, because the lad likes water, but it turns out that he meant that it has no taste. It’s full of no taste [(distaste)-full, as it were, with his interpretation of dis as “no”] as opposed to being the opposite of tasty. While this conversation brought to mind this recent xkcd comic, it also made me think about the associativity of language. English is not associative: “the happy teacher’s cat” could be “the (happy teacher)’s cat” or “the happy (teacher’s cat)”, depending on just who is happy.

And English is not commutative* (“Sylvia overcame Calculus” versus “Calculus overcame Sylvia”), although with all its declensions I think that Latin might well be.

What about the distributive law? Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” is illustrated with both “green eggs” and “green ham”. But for a distributive law to really apply we’d really need two operations, and I’m not completely sure what the first one was. Nor am I sure how much farther I can take this line of thought or if I’ve already pushed it way past where it should go.

*Yoda gets a free pass on this rule.

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