Brittany Saunders '18 Investigates Math History through Translation 

Brittany Saunders '18 worked with Prof. Alan Levine in the Mathematics Department to translate      A. A. Markov’s first edition of Исчисление Вероятностей (Calculus of Probabilities) which, as far as is known, has not been published in English yet. This edition was published in 1900 and was later followed by several other editions.


"I decided to do this project as the connecting factor for a Russian-Mathematics Joint Major.  This has been a great experience,  linking seemingly unrelated subjects."


"A goal of my project was to gain a better insight into mathematical concepts throughout Russian history, while also producing a new translation of a historical document. The document focuses on early theory and applications of probability which later gave way to significant development in stochastic processes, a branch of mathematics to which Markov made many contributions," says Brittany.

The student gained numerous insights to mathematical history as well as the Russian language through her independent study. "One challenge I faced was due to the reform of Russian orthography that occured around 1917, in which several letters were eliminated from the Cyrillic alphabet and many spelling rules were changed," Brittany explains.  "The first step in my process was to convert the primary source to the current Cyrillic alphabet."

Another difficult factor of creating a translation is that word order plays a huge factor in conveying meaning in the Russian language. Rather than just translating word for word, understanding the author’s intent is important in creating a translation that makes sense in English. Brittany's goal was to both create a fluid English translation while trying to adhere as closely to the original language as possible. This was a huge challenge, but keeping these considerations in mind helped Brittany in the process of understanding the style of mathematical language employed in the early twentieth century.

"Commonly accepted terminology of probability had not been present yet in mathematical writing, so words like variance, standard deviation, normal distribution, binomial distribution, conditional probability and sample space are hidden amongst wordy explanations describing them. This document is also full of wordy detail that seems out of place in the English language, giving way to the fact that Russian can be extremely descriptive, yet vague at the same time," Brittany explains.

She adds, "To any students who have studied mathematics, I highly encourage them to use math to further explore any other subject."