Jeromy Anglim's Blog: Psychology and Statistics

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pronunciation Guides for Mathematical Notation, Expressions, and Greek Letters

When doing research in psychology you are sometimes required to study new statistical or mathematical techniques on your own. However, mathematical books rarely tell you how to pronounce the mathematical symbols. And even if you know how to pronounce the symbols in isolation, this does not guaranty that you can pronounce a mathematical expression made up of multiple symbols. Being able to read mathematical notation is a basic first step in aiding memory and conceptual understanding. The following links provide resources on reading mathematical symbols and provide a good reference if you encounter symbols and expressions with which you are not familiar.

Mathematics Pronunciation Guides

  • VÄliaho's guide to Pronunciation of Mathematical Expressions: This is the place to start. It covers many important rules in a 3 page document
  • Handbook for Spoken Mathematics: If VÄliaho's guide did not meet your requirements, check out this extensive resource. It covers many major branches of mathematics such as logic and set theory, geometry, statistics, calculus, and linear algebra. It is the most comprehensive guide that I have found with around 100 pages and around 500 symbols with pronunciation. I'd recommend studying all the symbols if mathematical pronunciation is an issue for you. The symbols are distributed over many pages making it a little difficult to look up a single symbol of interest. Also, when a choice exists, the guide often chooses a more verbose and less ambiguous form of pronunciation. For example, it suggests for "x_i", "x sub i" instead of "x i". This emphasis on unambiguous verbal communication is sometimes more than required when verbalising the symbols in your head or when verbalising symbols in a context where the actual symbolic math is also displayed.
  • RPI's Saying Mathematics Guide
  • Oanca et al's Reading Mathematical Expressions
  • Wikipedia guide to mathematical symbols: meaning of common mathematical symbols with links to their meaning.
  • Greek letters: Lower and upper case Greek letters with pronunciation
  • Tips on displaying formulas can even be useful for some obscure mathematical symbols
The other option is to actually listen to mathematics lecturers and assume that the pronunciation will rub off: see my earlier post on free online mathematics video courses.

Books on mathematical pronunciation

  • Lawrence Change (1983). Handbook for Spoken Mathematics: (Larry's Speakeasy).

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  1. Thank you for providing such useful links.

  2. Thanks! My stats textbook gives Greek symbols left and right without saying how they're pronounced.

  3. thanks a lot!
    i was looking for this info for 4 hours, finally got it.

  4. Thanks very much! This is exactly what I was looking for! :)

  5. thank you. now to check the links..