Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Aboriginal kids can count without numbers

19.08.2008
Knowing the words for numbers is not necessary to be able to count, according to a new study of aboriginal children by UCL (University College London) and the University of Melbourne.

The study of the aboriginal children – from two communities which do not have words or gestures for numbers – found that they were able to copy and perform number-related tasks. The findings, published in the journal PNAS, suggest that we possess an innate mechanism for counting, which may develop differently in children with dyscalculia.

Professor Brian Butterworth, lead author from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, says: “Recently, an extreme form of linguistic determinism has been revived which claims that counting words are needed for children to develop concepts of numbers above three. That is, to possess the concept of ‘five’ you need a word for five. Evidence from children in numerate societies, but also from Amazonian adults whose language does not contain counting words, has been used to support this claim.

“However, our study of aboriginal children suggests that we have an innate system for recognizing and representing numerosities – the number of objects in a set – and that the lack of a number vocabulary should not prevent us from doing numerical tasks that do not require number words.”

The study looked at Australian indigenous populations, who have very restricted vocabularies for numbers. Although gestures are used to communicate in some indigenous Australia societies, there appear to be no gestures for numbers. The study worked with children aged four to seven from two indigenous communities: one on the edge of the Tanami Desert about 400 km north west of Alice Springs where Warlpiri is spoken; the other on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where the local language is Anindilyakwa. Both have words for one, two, few and many, though in Anindilyakwa there are ritual words for numbers to 20, but children will not know these. The team also worked with an English-speaking indigenous group in Melbourne.

Professor Brian Butterworth continues: “In our tasks we couldn’t, for example, ask questions such as “How many?” or “Do these two sets have the same number of objects?” We therefore had to develop special tasks. For example, children were asked to put out counters that matched the number of sounds made by banging two sticks together. Thus, the children had to mentally link numerosities in two different modalities, sounds and actions, which meant they could not rely on visual or auditory patterns alone. They had to use an abstract representation of, for example, the fiveness of the bangs and the fiveness of the counters. We found that Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa children performed as well as or better than the English-speaking children on a range of tasks, and on numerosities up to nine, even though they lacked number words.

“Thus, basic numerical concepts do indeed appear to depend on an innate mechanism. This may help explain why children in numerate cultures with developmental dyscalculia find it so difficult to learn arithmetic. Although they have plenty of formal and informal opportunities to learn to count with words and do arithmetic, the innate mechanism on which skilled arithmetic is based may have developed atypically.”

Jenny Gimpel | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland

nachricht Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers use light to remotely control curvature of plastics

23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

Inactivate vaccines faster and more effectively using electron beams

23.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>