Assessing the Influence of Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics in Student Interpretation of Multiply Quantified Statements in Mathematics

  • Paul Christian DawkinsEmail author
  • Kyeong Hah Roh


This study compares the relative influence of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics in university students’ interpretation of multiply quantified statements in mathematics, both before and after instruction. Like previous studies, results show that semantics plays a heavy role in student interpretation, especially before instruction. Unlike previous studies, our data suggests that the patterns of student interpretation rely more upon the mathematical context than upon the order of the quantifiers. We operationalize two of Grice’s (1975) pragmatic Maxims to evaluate whether they help explain which interpretations are harder for students to adopt for various statements. Our data support the claim that students find it easier to construct relevant interpretations, but do not support the claim that students find it easier to construct interpretations that render the statement true. Finally, based on our sample from six Transition to Proof classes across the US, we observe that after their experiences in such courses students became more sensitive to syntax in their interpretation of the statements.


Logic Quantifiers Syntax Semantics Pragmatics Transition to proof 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MathematicsTexas State UniversitySan MarcosUSA
  2. 2.School of Mathematical and Statistical SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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