Understanding english syntax mathematically—which demands strictness—is what I want to achieve. However, a wide range of choices I can make upon selecting a book covering related fields makes me puzzled in that I have no idea what is the right way—what are the extensively-adopted steps—to study english syntax in scientific approach. In particular, syntactic theory seems to cover most of my interests but it turns out to be too general to study english syntax only. As calculus is considered one of the prerequisites for mathematical analysis, I wish to know what are the prerequisites for learning english syntax and what are considered classic textbooks covering english syntax and its prerequisites.

  • I don't believe you will get far with your aim to study syntax mathematically. There are linguists who are proud to describe sentence structures with a kind of mathematical notation. Whether your brain will take in those notations and whether you will be able to communicate is another question. I doubt we have mathematical formulas for language in our brain. I can note down sentence structures and other grammatical things in a kind of shorthand because written out "present perfect tense continous form" fills a line. But my shorthand is not mathematics, just abbreviations of grammar terms.
    – rogermue
    Jul 8, 2015 at 16:30
  • Start with logic -- that's all the mathematics you really need. Most syntax rules are simply subroutines called in for special purposes, like Extraposition or Conjunction Reduction..
    – jlawler
    Jul 8, 2015 at 17:40
  • I think your first aim would be to create a systematic and reasonable grammar terminology.
    – rogermue
    Jul 9, 2015 at 3:45
  • The question asks for opinions.
    – rogermue
    Jul 9, 2015 at 11:55

1 Answer 1


There is no mathematics of English for you to learn, unfortunately, but for someone with an analytic bent, I think a careful study of McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English, doing the exercises, would be fun and useful.

I second Lawler's recommendation of logic as the most relevant formal discipline for the study of language, and, specifically, I suggest Hans Reichenbach's text Elements of Synbolic Logic (available on line!). Reichenbach had lots of interest to say about English.

In my opinion, the most relevant area of mathematics is that connected with the Chomsky Hierarchy and context free languages.

  • And game theory, at least for pragmatics.
    – jlawler
    Jul 9, 2015 at 2:26

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