[Edu-sig] nouns and verbs

michel paul mpaul213 at gmail.com
Mon Aug 25 03:38:08 CEST 2008

Thanks for the thoughtful responses on this.  Yeah, a distinction between
nouns and verbs can't be made too rigid, as, for one thing, some words, like
'shout', can serve as either nouns or verbs depending upon context, and in
some languages, such as a designed language, such a distinction might not be
necessary, but there is an interesting contrast that naturally arises,
similar to the one between 'things' and 'processes'.  A related question I
had is whether nouns and verbs are processed differently in the brain?  From
what I've found, the current view is that, yes,  there are differences, but
there is of course lots of debate about the details.  The most recent views
explain the difference in terms of grammatical 'markers' associated with
noun or verb phrases, not the specific noun or verb itself.  "nouns and
verbs qua nouns and verbs are not represented in separate regions of the
brain."  I'm completely unqualified to really say anything further about
this, so see  Talking

It makes me wonder about how our brains process functions, as we can
understand functions as either 'nouns' (values) or 'verbs' (processes acting
on other values) or both.

Again, to summarize what prompted my original question, those high school
math texts that do describe math as a 'language 'typically will call the
comparison operators 'verbs', as they contain 'is'.  Expressions are not
considered complete statements.  Equations or inequalities are defined as
the only complete statements, and these are built from expressions.  Again -
that's how the high school texts typically present it.  However, it is
clearly the case from the discussion here that computational expressions can
indeed be interpreted as imperative statements.  And, as I mentioned, I bet
that most students and teachers automatically think of arithmetic
expressions in a computational or imperative way, especially in an age of
calculators, so it would seem that this could become part of the argument
for weaving computational thinking into the math curriculum?  We would be
giving them a richer language for expressing the kind of thinking they're
already inclined to do.  The block Parmenidean universe of traditional high
school math where nothing actually 'happens' is kind of distant from how
most kids naturally think.

- Michel

On Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 8:48 AM, kirby urner <kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 1:30 AM, Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> << SNIP >>
> > Actually, to the mathematician, programming is a fairly simple concept
> > that can be expressed in several different ways as the working out of
> > only two basic concepts, such as the S and K combinators (Unlambda or
> > J), or Lambda expressions and application (LISP and many related
> > languages). Most programming languages have a good deal of unneeded
> > and counterproductive complexity added on, like C++.
> Mathematicians may boil it down to a few basic concepts (like a Turing
> Machine or whatever), but when push comes to shove they like their
> traditional notations and both MathCad and Mathematica have gone to
> some length to get those old pre-computer typographies on screen, so
> that math looks like it used to.
> Lots of mathy types didn't want to touch a mouse and keyboard as long
> as programming looked like FORTRAN (not saying I blame them).  We've
> come a long way baby.
> > To the non-mathematician, these simpler solutions seem harder than
> > memorizing the complex syntax of conventional languages, as was often
> > borne in upon Computer Scientist Edsger Dijkstra. He spent much of his
> > career trying to make programming easier to do well, and was regularly
> > told by practitioners that he had made it harder instead.
> Distilling to two concepts might be theoretically advantageous in some
> context, but trying to code anything sophisticated in such a primitive
> manner would be tedious to say the least, although I realize LISP is
> all S-expressions (exciting to purists in that way).
> > The same principle applies with even greater force in education.
> > "Don't do us no favors," teachers seem to say. "if you make it so that
> > we can really teach this stuff, then we will all have to go learn it
> > ourselves, and we can't." This is a delusion in a way, but not the
> > delusion of the teachersthemselves. It is a delusion enforced by the
> > social system they work in. Like Ethiopian teachers treating questions
> > from students as personal insults, until they get XOs. There
> > experience suggests that there is hope for the profession as a whole.
> Yes, it's good to have languages so accessible that we don't really
> need teachers any more (just self teaching abilities), although if we
> have them that's cool (teach your peers!).
> The self-marginalizing of professional adults to where they're not
> relevant to passing on so many core aspects of the culture, because
> not venturing to keep up, even if called "teachers" originally, is
> certainly a social problem. akin to juvenile delinquency in some ways
> (i.e. whole groups of people feeling they have no accepted role in the
> ambient culture anymore).
> Kirby
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