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"The Linguistic Basis of the Next Number", Charles Yang (UPenn) - Hosted by Linguistics (VIDEO RECORDING AVAILABLE)
Tuesday, November 06, 2018, 01:00pm - 02:30pm
Busch Campus, Psych 101
Only humans have language, and apparently only humans can acquire the concept of symbolic numbers. In this talk, I claim that number is entirely derived from the human language system, with two lines of supporting evidence.
The first line of evidence comes from how children learn to count. Since no one counts forever, there must be a tipping point at which children figure out the rules for counting. It has been known for decades that, strikingly, this number is around 72 for children learning English. By contrast, Chinese-Learning children reliably take off after counting to only about 40, usually a full year ahead of their American peers. I show that these tipping points can predicated from an independently motivated theory of linguistic rule learning.
The second line of evidence comes from the conceptual change associated with the acquisition of productive counting. It seems that non-productive counters only have item-specific understanding of number concepts and only children who can count productively show solid grasp of the Successor Function, that the next number is exactly one greater than the previous number. I summarize published findings and will also report new results from counting and the Successive Function in Cantonese (joint work with Thomas Lee and Margaret Lei, Chinese University of Hong Kong).
And I will address the inevitable Whorfian implication of my proposal, and the nature of language and its place in cognition.