Posted by: Lauren Webb, Operations Manager
According to a recent New Scientist article, Elizabet Spaepen, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, and her colleagues have recently published a new study which highlights the link between languages and numeracy. The study, named Number without a language model, investigates the long-held suspicion that language can impact on how people understand numbers.
Some languages, such as Pirahã, lack words for numbers completely, and research has suggested that this has a direct effect on their ability to comprehend and use numbers. However, as in the case of the Pirahã, it was not possible to conclusively prove whether these difficulties were caused by their language model, or by a lack of importance placed on numeracy by their society. In fact, the Pirahã language is famed for lacking many of the basic concepts other societies consider fundamental. But that’s another blog for another day…
So, the study had to make sure the only variable factor was the language used, and so they chose Nicaraguan Sign Language, because this community exists within a numerate society, but does not have words for numbers. Simple numerical tasks were given to the subjects, and the results then compared with those of Spanish-speaking Nicaraguans and American Sign Language users. It was found that the Nicaraguan Sign Language users performed worse than the other test subjects, and that their ability to accurately count larger numbers was reduced. The study ...Continue Reading →