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While viewing the "Review Close Votes" questions with tag pronunciation kept coming (not less than 20, seriously!) and I feel they are "primarily opinion based". A user created the tag and I don't think this is relevant. What do you people say?

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    $\begingroup$ IMO these questions are off-topic. No amount of mathematical proficiency will make you able to answer these questions, it has everything to do with English proficiency. And a lot of them are opinion-based (this one has no less than three different answers; which one is the objectively correct answer?). (This is part of the more general point of contention that this is a website about mathematics, not for mathematicians.) $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 9 '15 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ Also related: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/19103/… but more restricted in scope. To clarify my last sentence, I mean that questions that are of interest to mathematicians in general but are not mathematical in nature are generally off-topic. (Eg. How to apply for an NSF grant? is of great interest to many mathematicians, but is off-topic). I hope it's clear what I mean... $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 9 '15 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ Based on the older discussions, the consensus seems to be that such questions are on topic. In particular: Questions about how to read mathematical notation. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 9 '15 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ Whoever decided to bung a few dozen questions which haven't had any activity in two years into the review queue has wasted a few minutes of my time. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Mar 9 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterTaylor simple english plz $\endgroup$ – RE60K Mar 9 '15 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterTaylor None of the reviews you completed today were about pronunciation, so what are you talking about? (Unless you've got an alt account?) And as usual, just because the question has been around for a long time doesn't mean cleaning up is useless or forbidden. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 9 '15 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi, it still takes time to click "Skip". $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Mar 9 '15 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ I got an answer in person today from the one French person I know, Napolean's Marshal Michel Ney is pronounced somewhere between 'nay' and 'neh' but is closer to 'nay.' Good enough for my purpose. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Mar 11 '15 at 1:06
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I think pronunciation questions are OK... but I'm much more sympathetic towards questions such as "how do you pronounce Čech/Cholesky/Runge-Kutta" over "how do you pronounce $f'(x)$" since the former have objectively correct answers that are quite easy to get wrong if you have been primarily self-taught from written texts, while the latter are more or less opinion-based. But I won't vote to close either one.

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  • $\begingroup$ Did you flip the former and latter? It would make more sense to me the other way round. $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 9 '15 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ Why so? Most names have an accepted pronunciation (with the understanding that there is some variation depending on the language spoken, etc). $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ For one thing, because the former is often quite easy to find out (often the relevant Wikipedia page will have the info, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eduard_%C4%8Cech and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runge%E2%80%93Kutta_methods) and in any case it is not a math question typically. Whether one knows and can pronounce it depends more on general culture than how one was taught math. $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 9 '15 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ By contrast the latter can be tricky to find out except for very common things, and while there might be several ways to ponounce a formula, I still think there are not arbitrarily many and especially there are many things that are clearly false yet might be natural to somebody having learned (spoken) math in a different language (or perhaps also somebody trying to extrapolate). $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 9 '15 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, your point is well-taken. I maintain that both are an important part of "mathematical fluency" and should be on-topic here. $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ Being able to speak is an important part of mathematical fluency, but I don't think you would be okay with parents asking here about how to teach their babies how to speak. This website is, in essence, for mathematical questions, not question of interest to mathematicians. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 9 '15 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi Come now, that's a silly straw man. One would expect students to learn how to speak/read from education outside of mathematics. One wouldn't expect them to know anything about pronouncing the names of mathematicians, or mathematical notation, from anywhere but sources related to mathematics. $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I understand your point: yes, if you have taken French classes and happen to know Cauchy is French, you can make a good (but by no means perfectly reliable) guess at how his name is pronounced. But surely you're not suggesting that everyone learn all foreign languages, in lieu of just learning the relevant names of mathematicians as a special case? Most mathematicians I know pronounce names correctly because they learned to do so from professors and fellow mathematicians, not from extensive study of foreign languages. $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 17:35
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi Per the site FAQ, many things are on-topic here beyond "raw" technical mathematics. Questions about the history of mathematics, or mathematical software, are explicitly allowed here. While the FAQ doesn't say anything one way or another about notation/pronunciation I would lump it (and also mathematical grant writing, if it weren't already covered by academia.se) into this category of "topics intimately linked to the study of mathematics" and hence on-topic. [cont] $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ If you disagree that such questions should be allowed, that is fine. But your "proof" that these are automatically off-topic rely on a major premise that is not supported by the site FAQ. $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ Where does the FAQ says that "topics intimately linked to the study of mathematics" are on-topic? This is the relevant part of the FAQ (plus this), but note that it's not exhaustive, so the fact that pronunciation isn't in either column isn't conclusive. And I wasn't trying to "prove" that such questions were automatically off-topic, I was trying to show to you that your argument that "because it's usually learned from other mathematicians, it's on-topic" is flawed. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 9 '15 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi I don't represent my opinion that such questions be allowed as on-topic as anything stronger than my personal opinion, neither supported nor opposed by the FAQ. $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ ...Then why bring up the FAQ at all? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 9 '15 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ @NajibIdrissi Simply to point out that some non-technical topics related to Mathematical tools and culture are explicitly on-topic. $\endgroup$ – user7530 Mar 9 '15 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ If we agree that the commonly accepted names of mathematical objects and concepts are a part of mathematical fluency, then that would have to include those named after mathematicians: Lebesgue-integrability, the Dirichlet function, Galois theory, Banach spaces, Noetherian rings, Ehrenfeucht–Fraïssé games, etc. That still leaves the issue of whether questions about how to pronounce pieces of mathematical lexicon are on topic or not. I for one would keep them by virtue of being specifically relevant to the (oral) communication of mathematical concepts; but that is just my personal opinion. $\endgroup$ – askyle Mar 10 '15 at 8:24
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I don't think they are opinion-based. There may be more than one correct answer. At the same time, some things are definitely wrong, e.g. $f(x)$ is not read "$f$ on $x$" by any native speaker of English anywhere.

In fact the little words we say when we read mathematical symbols are very hard to look up, and it's nice to have a question and answer site. I have the same problem in French when I talk to students: how do you read out loud something like $$ 2^8 + 16x = 3? $$

Most textbooks treat this quite badly, e.g. they give the analogue of saying in English "2, raised to the eighth power, when added to 16 times x, is equal to 3," which is a correct but overly wordy translation.

These questions may be better suited to ell.stackexchange.com, but, realistically, someone here is more likely to know the correct answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ How could you type the first two sentences one after the other and be okay with it? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 16 '15 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Najib Idrissi. Many questions that are not opinion based have more than one correct answer. For what value of $x$ is $x^2 = 4$? $\endgroup$ – hunter Mar 16 '15 at 21:19

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