Counting on language and cognition – Felicity Meakins

[From our woman in the Victoria River District and Manchester, Felicity Meakins]

“Humans have an in-built ability to do mathematics even if they do not have
the language to express it, a research team has suggested. A study in Australian Aboriginal children, whose languages lack number words, found they did just as well as English-speaking children in numeracy….” (BBC)

This study [1] compared Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa kids with English-speaking kids from Melbourne between the age of 4-7 years. Check out the article for the tasks the kids were made to do.
In essence, though, the Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa kids didn’t perform any differently from the English kids. So the results from this study contradict similar studies from the Amazon [2].
I am kinda curious though about whether they had any age-related differences. Surely 5-7 year old Warlpiri and Anindilyakawa kids are already being exposed to English and English counting – unless perhaps they are in transition bilingual programs. They might find some differences with the 4 year old Warlpiri and Anindilyakawa kids in that respect. A bit more info about the kids’ language input might validate the findings a bit.

[1] Brian Butterworth, Robert Reeve, F. Reynolds and D. Lloyd. Numerical thought with and without words: Evidence from indigenous Australian children. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Published online Aug. 18, 2008
[2] E.g. on the Pirahã, by Michael Frank, Edward Gibson, Evelina Fedorenko, and Dan Everett, alluded to in an earlier post ).

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