A Piraha man participates in an experiment that MIT researchers say indicates his language contains no number words.
Can you imagine a language without any word for “one” or any other numbers? Aren’t numbers so important that life would be nearly impossible if you don’t have words to express them?
Apparently not, as scientists found one such number-less language:
The team, led by MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences Edward Gibson, found that members of the Piraha tribe in remote northwestern Brazil use language to express relative quantities such as “some” and “more,” but not precise numbers.
It is often assumed that counting is an innate part of human cognition, said Gibson, “but here is a group that does not count. They could learn, but it’s not useful in their culture, so they’ve never picked it up.”
The study, which appeared in the June 10 online edition of the journal Cognition, offers evidence that number words are a concept invented by human cultures as they are needed, and not an inherent part of language, Gibson said.