Using corpus linguistics to investigate mathematical explanation

In this chapter we use methods of corpus linguistics to investigate the ways in which mathematicians describe their work as explanatory in their research papers. We analyse use of the words explain/explanation (and various related words and expressions) in a large corpus of texts containing research papers in mathematics and in physical sciences, comparing this with their use in corpora of general, day-to-day English. We find that although mathematicians do use this family of words, such use is considerably less prevalent in mathematics papers than in physics papers or in general English. Furthermore, we find that the proportion with which mathematicians use expressions related to ‘explaining why’ and ‘explaining how’ is significantly different to the equivalent proportion in physics and in general English. We discuss possible accounts for these differences.