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How to speak mathematics

I am a narrator and have been asked to read several technical papers which have mathematics expressions in them. Is there a reference to help me express these in a meaningful and correct way? I have a limited higher math background.

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, simchona, user2683, waiwai933 Nov 18 '11 at 1:27

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    This is a question you probably want to ask over at mathematics.SE. They would know much more about how to express mathematics orally. – Mitch Nov 17 '11 at 21:20
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    For reading math to the blind, there are quite a few web resources on it you can find by Googling, for example this document. Looking at that document as a mathematician, it is clear that there is no way that anybody can read complicated mathematical expressions to a non-blind audience, even of mathematicians, and have them understood (blind mathematicians will be more used to taking in formulas aurally, so can understand them, when read properly). You should ask whoever requested that you read these papers for more details on what they want. – Peter Shor Nov 17 '11 at 21:58
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    You wouldn't have had this problem back in the olden days before mathematical notation, when it was all written out in longhand... – Hugo Nov 17 '11 at 23:00

It is very hard to read a mathematical expression unambiguously unless it is a very simple one. Mathematical notation is dense and unambiguous as written, but English is neither, and so the translation is neither easy nor unambiguous.

Math also uses hundreds of symbols that the non expert would not be familiar with. I doubt there is any quick and easy way to learn this from a cheat sheet. Math has a grammar that includes not only symbols, but also a geometric grammar that changes the meaning of symbols depending on their 2 dimensional position relative to other symbols. As a trivial example, if you see x and y next to each other, it often means x times y, but if y is slightly smaller and raised off the baseline, it means x to the power of y. Also, the meaning of a mathematical expression often is slightly different depending on the branch of mathematics under consideration.

The bottom line is that unless you understand the meaning of the underlying math, you are going to need someone who does to tutor you through it.

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    Additionally, it is difficult to differentiate between 4x+(y^2), (4x+y)^2, and 4(x+y)^2 verbally (and these are fairly simple mathematical expressions!). – yoozer8 Nov 17 '11 at 21:24
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    "Four ex plus why squared", "four ex plus why, quantity squared", and "four times ex plus why, quantity squared". You should also add appropriate pauses in your speech to make this clearer, and it will still be confusing. – Peter Shor Nov 17 '11 at 21:49
  • "the sum of four x and the square of y"; "the square of the sum of four x and y"; "the product of four and the square of the sum of x and y": less ambiguous, but I would never be able to follow it without writing it down. – phoog Nov 18 '11 at 0:50

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