I refer to two letters “Count the many benefits to careers” (ST,Nov 30) and” If the subject in question was not Chinese, but rather, mathematics or science, would anyone have wanted a lowering of standards?” (ST, Nov 30.)
The first letter asserts that language is the tool to spread knowledge per se and from this in continuity it has to be mastered (good standard) in order to allow it to be a successful dissemination. The syllogism at first glance appears reasonable but the catch lies in the fact that dissemination does not rely on one person speaking various languages.
The spread of knowledge is based on the knowledge being translated by other competent people from one language to another. Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was made known to the Chinese speaking ,for example. by translation .
Einstein spoke no Mandarin. It was the same with other scientist who made discoveries in physics, chemistry, medicine etc.., And whose findings were translated into different languages to benefit other scientists and researchers of various nationalities .
It is erroneous to say one has to be good in language, in this instance Mandarin, to explain clearly discoveries in science.
Ms. Quek Yihui appears to be pushing Mandarin with prestidigitation because the spread of knowledge does not depend on the scientist's language .
The spread is dichotomous to the discovery.
Two astronomers, Italian Galileo Galilei and German Johannes Kepler, supported the Copernican theory in their discoveries although their native languages were Italian and German and their findings are now known around the world in various languages by translation.
Their findings put an end to the error of the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic theory. Sir Isaac Newton in his Philosophies Naturalis Principia Mathematica put forward the theory of how bodies move in space and time. This theory is known to, for example, Chinese physicists, without Sir Isaac Newton knowing a word of Mandarin. The work of Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking between 1965 and 1970 on the singularity of infinite density and space-time curvature, within a black hole, is known to scientists of other nationalities, without either of them knowing Mandarin. The point Ms. Quek pushes is faulty because knowledge (discoveries) can always be circulated without the researchers, knowing other languages . The Michelson – Morley experiment on the speed of light in the direction of the earth’s motion, with that of it at right angles to the motion, is known to other scientists in this field, without the experimenters knowing any other language besides their own. To justify the learning of Mandarin on the predication of dispersal of knowledge is erroneous.
Mr. Yap Chin Hua is the second letter makes the same mistake in equating language with the skills needed in science. The aptidude of researchers in physics, for example, for determining the answer from observing the behavior of what transpires in nature does not lie in knowing a foreign language. The success of their research is based on their skill (aptidude) in their field of endeavor. Their success is predicated not on aptidude for language but primarily on aptidude for scientific knowledge, or specific knowledge, for the research undertaken. In this contexts, how can there be a lowering of standards, as any lowering defeats the purpose of potential success. To put it simply, since we are talking about Mandarin, their knowledge of Mandarin could be zero or pidgin, but their knowledge in their field, in other words, their tools, must be of the highest caliber to ensure a reasonable chance of success. This is the same for researchers in medicine. To put it simply, there can be no comparison between lowering of the standards of Mandarin and the lowering of standards of science or mathematics. This is because the tool of Mandarin is of no consequence to the scientific tool required for science or medicine. Each sphere has its own requirements and t would be fallacious to believe they are confluent.
To make this refulgent, how would Mr. Yap reconcile the lowering of the standard of Mandarin(as a tool) with that of the calculation of the famous equation of Einstein’s E=mc2 ? is language involved or mathematics? The equivalence of energy and mass relative to an object witch ,due to its motion ,takes on mass is essentially one mathematics. The tool of mathematics ,therefore, has nothing to do with the tool of language .let Mr.Yap not confuse the issue by insisting on confluence when there exists only dichotomy. The writers in attributing such a wide perspective to language should remember Occam’s razor.
Wed 12/2/2009 9:48 PM