The Universal Language (in Translation)

a dispatch from the fourth annual Heidelberg Laureate Forum

A combinatorist working in India, Manjil Saikia is soft-spoken and super-knowledgeable: we chatted about Isaac Asimov and the history of the Fields Medal before getting into his passion project, which (like mine!) is a blog.

It’s called Gonit Sora.

That’s Assamese for “Gateway to Math.”

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As a monolingual American, it’s easy to forget just how easy I have it. My native tongue happens to be the global language. Case in point: I blundered into Germany yesterday not speaking a word of German. No problem! For me, provincialism carries no penalty.

But for Manjil, growing up in northeast India, he had to fight for access to knowledge in a world that catered far better to folks like me. When the internet arrived in his home at age 18, it was a revelation—but even online, he had to leap linguistic hurdles. There were almost no sources on math and science in his native Assamese.

It was English or bust.

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As an adult, Manjil (and his blog’s other co-founder) are trying to change that. For the 15 million speakers of Assamese—as many as Swedish and Finnish combined—Gonit Sora really is the gateway to mathematics, the only blog of its kind. It presents interviews, explains ideas, and tries its best to deliver the mathematical experience to Manjil’s home community.

They call math “the universal language.” But that’s not a guarantee. The ideas of mathematics are universal, yes, but they perish unless housed in human minds. It helps to speak to those minds in the language they know—whether it’s English or Arabic, Afrikaans or Assamese.

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5 thoughts on “The Universal Language (in Translation)

  1. I think it is wonderful to recognize that although math seems like a “universal” language it cannot be understood by educating through a one-size-fits-all approach. In Canada, specifically the GTA, the cultures and languages can differ from neighbour to neighbour. We strive to facilitate math understanding through a variety of instructional techniques and lenses that can cater to the variety in our classroom compositions.

    Thanks for sharing!
    – A

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