Note to users. If you're seeing this message, it means that your browser cannot find this page's style/presentation instructions -- or possibly that you are using a browser that does not support current Web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing, and what you can do to make your experience of our site the best it can be.


Logo for

Science 306 (5695): 441-443

Copyright © 2004 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Language and the Origin of Numerical Concepts

Rochel Gelman*, and C. R. Gallistel*

Abstract: Reports of research with the Pirahã and Mundurukú Amazonian Indians of Brazil lend themselves to discussions of the role of language in the origin of numerical concepts. The research findings indicate that, whether or not humans have an extensive counting list, they share with nonverbal animals a language-independent representation of number, with limited, scale-invariant precision. What causal role, then, does knowledge of the language of counting serve? We consider the strong Whorfian proposal, that of linguistic determinism; the weak Whorfian hypothesis, that language influences how we think; and that the "language of thought" maps to spoken language or symbol systems.

Psychology and Cognitive Science, Rutgers University, 152 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway, NJ 08854. USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: rgelman{at} (R.G.); Galliste{at} (C.R.G.)

Number without a language model.
E. Spaepen, M. Coppola, E. S. Spelke, S. E. Carey, and S. Goldin-Meadow (2011)
PNAS 108, 3163-3168
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Chinese Number Words, Culture, and Mathematics Learning.
S. S. Ngan Ng and N. Rao (2010)
Review of Educational Research 80, 180-206
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
The brain-artefact interface (BAI): a challenge for archaeology and cultural neuroscience.
L. Malafouris (2010)
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 5, 264-273
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
When Is Four Far More Than Three?: Children's Generalization of Newly Acquired Number Words.
Y. T. Huang, E. Spelke, and J. Snedeker (2010)
Psychological Science 21, 600-606
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Thoughts Not Our Own: Whatever Happened to Selective Attention?.
B. M. Stafford (2009)
Theory Culture Society 26, 275-293
   Abstract »    PDF »
Shared System for Ordering Small and Large Numbers in Monkeys and Humans.
J. F. Cantlon and E. M. Brannon (2006)
Psychological Science 17, 401-406
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »
Semantic congruity affects numerical judgments similarly in monkeys and humans.
J. F. Cantlon and E. M. Brannon (2005)
PNAS 102, 16507-16511
   Abstract »    Full Text »    PDF »

To Advertise     Find Products

Science Signaling. ISSN 1937-9145 (online), 1945-0877 (print). Pre-2008: Science's STKE. ISSN 1525-8882