# How come math is universal when language and alphabets are not?

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How come math is universal when language and alphabets are not?

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There’s nothing special about math. Different cultures have different words for the number two, and different symbols that represent it, just like different cultures have different words for the Sun, and different symbols that represent it.

The thing that’s universal is that each culture eventually discovers the number two and can learn some of the same things about it that other cultures have learned, just like each culture eventually discovers the Sun and can learn some of the same things about it that other cultures have learned.

Math is universal because it’s the same everywhere, regardless of culture, language or alphabet, the symbol “2” is pronounced different in every language but it means the same, the same is true for calculations, since the follow the same trues everywhere, 2+2=4 is pronounced different in every language, but it means the same and it’s true everywhere.
Languages and alphabets follow different rules depending on the culture, and while some alphabets have the same symbols they might mean something different phonetically like the symbol “H” in English and Spanish

Well, this is kind of an issue with the phrasing.

First off, numbers are NOT universal to all cultures. The adoption of Arabic numerals (which were actually from India) has occurred worldwide, but mostly out of necessity. If I want to sell a widget in France and I am in China, we have to use the same numerals and measuring system. In terms of indigenous numerals, there are a ton out there. Roman numerals were used in Europe. Egyptians had their version. The Babylonians used a base-60 system of numerals instead of a base ten. Some cultures literally don’t have the traditional concept of numerals beyond “one, two, none,” and “many.”

Beyond that, the fact is math always adds up to the same result, assuming the same numbers are used.

1 + 1 will always give me 2. Assuming I am “translating,” across cultures correctly (and they have the concept of addition, etc)

Arabic numerals are also easy to learn. At least in comparison to a whole language.

You have ten figures to memorize and some things like “+” or “-“. You don’t need to worry about pronunciation across cultures either. On paper “1” is “1”. No need to worry about “one or uno.” Once you know your ten basic numbers, you can communicate with anyone else who knows the same system.

In fact, this is used by Chinese immigrants to the US a lot. The network of “Chinatown buses,” that cover the US will often just show a price and then a zip code. Which is the fare from where you are to the other location. I have even seen job listings where it was simply a zip code and a salary and how many people they needed. You can communicate a lot with numbers if you need to. Keep in mind too, that China is a polyglot nation. Cantonese and Mandarin are not the same language. China was unified in part because of their language, which, like numbers, only requires you to match a symbol with a concept. No phonetics needed. If you are a poor immigrant (as opposed to a wealthier one who has resources,) Arabic numerals are a simple way to communicate some basic things amongst people who may be culturally, but not linguistically the same.

Math is a system of abstract logic. You can begin with pretty straight forward basic assumptions – something like one *thing* and another *thing* are two *things* – and build up from there. The resulting rules you will come up with when you do that will always be the same throughout the universe. Any civilization will probably find constants like Pi or prime numbers and would be able to understand it’s improbable that these would crop up naturally in radio-signal, thus being able to see intelligence in the source.

Alphabets on the other hand are made up wholly on the basis of our biology. Humans can make some sounds, but not others. Written alphabets are just random lines everyone agrees is some sound (or sounds) which intern have one or more meanings. Baby brains are great at learning what some specific sounds mean in context – but if you hear something like Chinese for the first time without having any idea it’s even a language, it’s just sounds to you. It’s very hard to connect meanings to sounds if you have nothing to point at to give some indication what the sounds refers to.

The way we express ourselves will be different, but the way we use mathematical reasoning does not. In very simple terms, 1 + 1 will be the same result regardless of whether you are American, French or Japanese.

Maths is not universal. Even within English-speaking places we can’t agree on what it is called.

On the whole the key elements are pretty similar, but that’s at least partly because maths is a fairly specialist area, where consistency across borders is useful (and you tend not to get as many opportunities for local variants). Plus it tends not to be that language-specific to begin with; it is much easier to share terms and expressions when they’re not dependent on a local language. Essentially maths has its own language that it uses, rather than each language needing its own terms.

That said, there are still all sorts of differences between languages and cultures.

For example, some places use commas (,) when writing decimals, rather than the dot (.) used in other places. So 3,14159… rather than 3.14159…

You might have heard of a thing called “PEMDAS” for remembering which order operations happen in, but in some places they use “BIDMAS” – ultimately it gets the same result, but the way it is done is different.

Languages are arbitrary sounds or shapes that cultures have developed over time to make communication easier. Math is a fundamental property of the universe, it will always be the same regardless of who looks at it. If you traveled millions of light years away and looked at an alien civilization, they would almost certainly not communicate in any recognizable language, however, they would still know that when you have 1 thing and you add another to it then you have 2 things (1+1=2). They would also know that certain numbers are only divisible by 1 and themselves (prime) like 7 and 11. It doesn’t matter who you talk to because humans didn’t “create” math, we discovered it. Similar to how we didn’t create Mars, it has always existed, we just needed to discover it.

Because you’re comparing concepts that belong to different categories; there’s no reason for them to be the same.

Mathematics as a concept describes objective facts about reality. Specifically, facts regarding numbers, geometry, logic and so on. Maths is universal as long as you are describing the same reality, same way as physics describes objective facts about the reality of matter.

Language and alphabets are not objective facts of reality, they are shared constructs humanity invented to facilitate the exchange of ideas amongst ourselves. They are entirely arbitrary, and hence not universal, but as long as they are consistent within a given scope (tribe, village, culture, planet etc) they serve their purpose.