Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania
The Linguistic Basis of Natural Number
Only humans learn language and only humans develop the concept of natural number: How are these two abilities related? We propose that the Successor Function, which provides the infinity of natural numbers, becomes available to children through learning the productive rules of numeral formation in their native language. We showed that the simplicity of the Cantonese numeral system provides a full year of developmental advantage over English-learning children, which can be precisely characterized by a well-established principle of language learning and generalization. Our results have strong (Neo-)Whorfian implications for the relationship between language and thought.
[Reporting joint work with Margaret Lei and Thomas Lee @ The Chinese University of Hong Kong]