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Amazonian Tribe Has No Word To Express Numbers

kdawson posted about 6 years ago | from the how-many-fingers dept.

Math 482

In 2004 we discussed the Piraha, a tribe in the Amazon, when a study appeared characterizing their language as a "one, two, many" language. Now reader mu22le informs us of a new study of the Piraha pointing to the possibility that they use no number words at all. Instead they seem to use the word formerly thought to mean "two" to represent a quantity of 5 or 6, and the "one" word for anything from 1 to 4. The language has about 300 native speakers. "The study... 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."

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482 comments

English Language (5, Funny)

mrbluze (1034940) | about 6 years ago | (#24179499)

Has no word to express.. uhhmm... forgot what it's called now.

how ... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179501)

How do they say: First Post! ??

Post of non-counted order (0, Redundant)

Bayoudegradeable (1003768) | about 6 years ago | (#24179503)

Guess I can't say... first....

Re:Post of non-counted order (1)

SerpentMage (13390) | about 6 years ago | (#24179509)

Of course you can... Just that I am first as well... RTA...

Please forgive me for this one! (5, Funny)

pimpimpim (811140) | about 6 years ago | (#24179519)

??? Have no words for numbers
???
???
??? Profit!

Re:Please forgive me for this one! (2, Funny)

Atti K. (1169503) | about 6 years ago | (#24179603)

Useless, if you can't count your profit.

But I can count my profit! (5, Funny)

Llywelyn (531070) | about 6 years ago | (#24179881)

Lots!

HOW MUCH profit? (1)

AlgorithMan (937244) | about 6 years ago | (#24179685)

few, some or many?

Re:Please forgive me for this one! (1)

taubz (322102) | about 6 years ago | (#24179793)

Don't think you're the first to think of it. This very much happened to the Piraha people, as I recall.

Hm... (4, Funny)

archeopterix (594938) | about 6 years ago | (#24179533)

The language has about 300 native speakers.

Shouldn't it be "a large number, but not five or six" speakers?

leet speak (0, Redundant)

the4thdimension (1151939) | about 6 years ago | (#24179537)

Boy, oh boy... l33t is gonna take on a whole new meaning!

Re:leet speak (3, Funny)

mrbluze (1034940) | about 6 years ago | (#24179555)

Hold on cowboy! It has been many seconds since you last posted, please wait another many seconds before you can post again.

LT? (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 6 years ago | (#24179979)

It will be read as eL-Tee? Sounds vaguely Spanish.

But what about 5318008?
You mean to say they have lived all these year and still don't know to joy of 5318008?
Good god...

Few, many, Lots (5, Insightful)

Tom90deg (1190691) | about 6 years ago | (#24179543)

Seems that what they're calling "Numbers" are the same as our quantity descriptors. Small number, medium number, and large number. Seems reasonable, I'm no anthropologist, but I think that numbers really start when you have a lot of trade going on, when you have to KNOW that 5 ears of corn is worth 1 basket of peas.

Re:Few, many, Lots (5, Funny)

otacon (445694) | about 6 years ago | (#24179813)

Sir I don't know where you do your trading, but I can get you 2 baskets of peas for 5 ears of corn.

Re:Few, many, Lots (1)

value_added (719364) | about 6 years ago | (#24179929)

So how many baskets of peas can you get me for a hog's head?

Re:Few, many, Lots (4, Funny)

digitalchinky (650880) | about 6 years ago | (#24179983)

How many hogs heads for one of those naked Amazonian tribal chicks?

Re:Few, many, Lots (1)

Nullav (1053766) | about 6 years ago | (#24180131)

Several.

numbers probably came from (4, Interesting)

FudRucker (866063) | about 6 years ago | (#24179547)

society's that use currency/money, rather than hunter/gatherers...

Re:numbers probably came from (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179783)

IAAHTNL (I am a highly trained ninja linguist) and I'd just like to say that Piraha is quite alien in general. From the point of view of the Piraha, all other human languages, whether spoken by city-dwellers or nomads, are pretty much the same.

That is, they MIGHT say that, if Piraha culture had any use for abstract concepts and stuff they couldn't see.

Re:numbers probably came from (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24180085)

society's that use currency/money, rather than hunter/gatherers...

and where do apostrophes come from?

Re:numbers probably came from (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24180127)

and where do apostrophes come from?

They come from the member's of said society's.

1, 2, skip a few, 99, 100! yay! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179557)

This indicates that "these aren't counting numbers at all," said Gibson. "They're signifying relative quantities."
--
Relative quantities to what? Sounds to me like it's counting, just that they don't have much need for it and only use very basic pointers. I guess when theres only 300 of you, counting isn't your main problem.

Though we can whatever we like about them, guessing they don't read Slashdot.

Re:1, 2, skip a few, 99, 100! yay! (1)

denzacar (181829) | about 6 years ago | (#24180067)

Relative quantities to what? Sounds to me like it's counting, just that they don't have much need for it and only use very basic pointers.

Aah... you know...

Like "couple of", "few", "a bunch", "a lot", "many", "shitload" etc...
How many couples are there in a shitload?

I guess when theres only 300 of you, counting isn't your main problem.

Right... cause we humans only count other humans...

fantastic (5, Funny)

jacquesm (154384) | about 6 years ago | (#24179565)

then there's also no way to collect taxes. I should move...

Re:fantastic (1)

Mark Trade (172948) | about 6 years ago | (#24179593)

You probably should. But beware: you get what you pay for.

Re:fantastic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179611)

Sure there is, using the new easy IRS 1040BONEHEAD Form. There are only two questions: a. How much did you make last year? b. Send it in.

Re:fantastic (1)

nem75 (952737) | about 6 years ago | (#24179969)

What's the second question?

Re:fantastic (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24180069)

One question Piraha is one to four SI questions.

Re:fantastic (1)

ArieKremen (733795) | about 6 years ago | (#24180117)

Your counting skills are also limited. That is one question and one instruction.

Re:fantastic (5, Funny)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#24179669)

You probably have to pay a little for every lot you made. With "little" and "lot" being defined by the guy who comes to get it, assisted by two large guys with mean looking clubs.

You see, the world isn't so different after all.

Re:fantastic (4, Funny)

jacquesm (154384) | about 6 years ago | (#24179743)

don't bring a club to a gunfight ;)

Re:fantastic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179785)

Unless you're imperviously to bullets :D

Re:fantastic (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24180113)

unless it's your local gun club.

Re:fantastic (4, Funny)

VorpalRodent (964940) | about 6 years ago | (#24179851)

When you say "two large guys", are you referring to "two" as a native English speaker would understand it, or "two" as one of the Piraha would understand it?
Two guys is reasonable to take on (perhaps), if I have the larger club. 10-12, on the other hand, is quite the tax collection envoy.

Meaning (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179589)

They've got a long way to go until they figure out the meaning of life then...

Re:Meaning (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 6 years ago | (#24179637)

Or they just assume the meaning of life is a lot.

Which seems about as good as our best estimate.

Re:Meaning (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179695)

Not really.

What do you get when you multiply two by many?

Many.

Re:Meaning (5, Funny)

hostyle (773991) | about 6 years ago | (#24179805)

Too many?

Words are made up as they are needed (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#24179599)

When numbers play no role because what you need is either abundant or nonexistant, i.e. "there" or "not there", you have no need to invent a word for it. What matters is whether there is enough or not enough. And appearantly the "a little" "a little more" "much more" separation works sufficiently.

The best example is the omnipresent claim that Inuit have dozens of words for snow. Or Ferengi having a few for rain, but none for "crunchy". What matters is the context you're living in. I dare say that the need for numbers stems either from the needs of trade, administration or simply the urge to show off. And even for that, the basic system of "one, few, many" works out quite ok until the system and your "tribe" reaches a certain size.

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (3, Insightful)

rohan972 (880586) | about 6 years ago | (#24179651)

Possibly also for agriculture, counting time for seasons (although seasonal changes are probably enough for simple agricultural systems) and harsher climates, counting stores of food to be sure they will last through the winter.

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179739)

But it seems like they have that to some extent. If they have a "range" that indicates small/medium/large, then they're still counting. They just don't have a word for the specific total.

If they know that "this many" units of food was enough to feed them last time, then "this many" units of food will likely serve that purpose next time.

If the size of the group grows, then they need "this many" plus "some more". And that "some more" will then be wrapped into "this many" the following year.

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#24179767)

Well, you don't really have to be able to count for basic astronomy (the kind that is useful for determining the right day for sowing and reaping). You aim for the sunrise at a certain day, then you make dents into a stone, a bone or whatever else you got, and compare it with the "original" (which you created, by try and error or some other means), where you have the "correct" amount of dents. When the dents match, the day is here. You have to make a dent per day, of course.

Sure, it's easier with numbers. But it can be done without. Don't forget that in the good ol' days of the stone age, few people could "read" or understand the relatively complex matters of astronomy. They most likely did what I lined out above. Some clever head figured it out and some mechanism like this was used for centuries to determine sowing and reaping days.

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179715)

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (4, Insightful)

WingedHorse (1308431) | about 6 years ago | (#24179887)

Mod parent up. I'm tired of seeing this "Inuits have many words for snow" myth constantly when it doesn't hold true.

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (1)

Dekortage (697532) | about 6 years ago | (#24180031)

The best example is the omnipresent claim that Inuit have dozens of words for snow. Or Ferengi having a few for rain, but none for "crunchy".

I don't know which is funnier -- that you bring up the old myth about words for snow, or that you mention Ferengi (a made up Star Trek language) with the same breath as Inuit (a real millenia-old language).

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24180049)

The best example is the omnipresent claim that Inuit have dozens of words for snow.

Too bad that claim is false [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Words are made up as they are needed (5, Interesting)

fireboy1919 (257783) | about 6 years ago | (#24180079)

The best example is the omnipresent claim that Inuit have dozens of words for snow.

Actually, that's not a very good example at all. The main reason people say that is because Inuit is a polysynthetic language, which blurs the line between word and sentence.

You also have to consider that the guy who made the claim actually used as his examples any reference to frozen water in the language...even if it really didn't refer to the powdery white stuff. If he didn't know English, and were making a similar claim, he'd say that at least ice, sleet, hail, snow, blizzard, and glacier are all words for snow.

Sometimes, even if you interact with it a lot, one word is enough. Sometimes, also, context plays a big part in defining the language, so you don't need as many words to convey the message (and this is *absolutely true* of a polysynthetic language).

Quite frankly, I have seen no conclusive evidence that quantity or quality of words are directly tied to the cultures from which they come. Sometimes a word will come into existence when there is little need (example: defenestration), and sometimes people will *badly* adapt an existing word to mean something new rather than creating a new, better word to fill the gap (example: usages of the word "perfect" in different domains). This tribe may be different, but that might make them the exception, rather than the rule.

So let me get this straight........ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179605)

Bush has been speaking Piraha all this time?

Shameless political joke of the day.

! News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179617)

Not having words to represent numbers is a long way from having no concept of numeracy. Can you quickly estimate how much or how many of something you require over a period of time without doing the math? Even animals seem to have this ability.

Without numbers... (4, Funny)

mongoose(!no) (719125) | about 6 years ago | (#24179621)

How do they express IP addresses?

Re:Without numbers... (5, Funny)

ArmyOfAardvarks (1281154) | about 6 years ago | (#24179657)

The use the WingDings font.

Re:Without numbers... (5, Funny)

pcaylor (648195) | about 6 years ago | (#24179787)

Here's their assigned IPv4 network range:

many.many.many.many/small

They are nowhere using it up, so thankfully they have no plans to migrate to IPv6. (Which is a good thing because if I tried this joke with an IPv6 address, it would probably trigger the lameness filter.)

Re:Without numbers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24180095)

IPVmany

Oblig. (5, Funny)

dudeinthedark (1254508) | about 6 years ago | (#24179627)

How do they indicate successful termination of their C programs?

Re:Oblig. (3, Insightful)

Flying Scotsman (1255778) | about 6 years ago | (#24179831)

EXIT_SUCCESS. Let stdlib.h worry about those "numbers."

Re:Oblig. (1)

shrykk (747039) | about 6 years ago | (#24179835)

How do they indicate successful termination of their C programs?

The EXIT_SUCCESS macro was placed in <stdlib.h> after lobbying from the largest Piraha software companies.

The C Standard Committee have denied that this is further evidence of corruption within ISO, but claim that this was a suitable compromise to avoid being shot with "many" arrows.

Re:Oblig. (1)

moosesocks (264553) | about 6 years ago | (#24179961)


The EXIT_SUCCESS macro was placed in <stdlib.h> after lobbying from the largest Piraha software companies.

Not to be confused with the GREAT_SUCCESS macro, present largely due to the influence of Kazakhstan's state media.

Re:Oblig. (1)

houghi (78078) | about 6 years ago | (#24179905)

C? These people basically know only 0 and 1. They do not need C or any other language. They speak binary.

Re:Oblig. (2, Insightful)

nem75 (952737) | about 6 years ago | (#24179985)

Zero being a fairly abstract concept, I doubt they are aware of it.

Re:Oblig. (1)

laejoh (648921) | about 6 years ago | (#24180059)

You're telling us they count all the way up to eleven?

Ignorant monkey people. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179635)

B. Hussein Obama can at least count to three.

Jorge Bush plans on importing these monkey people to fill IT jobs Americans are unwilling to take.

Jungle (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179653)

No wonder they are living in the jungle.

Lessons from a Farmboy (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179661)

So, I grew up on a Bushveld Farm in Africa.

And, as one does on farms in the raw, one must maintain a system of control... over baboons.

Experience taught the farmers how to deal with baboons, as a necessity towards having a harvest- baboons are quite destructive you see.

The first method is by catching one using the 'pumpkin' trick. Quite easy:
Tie down a pumkin, make a hole in it just big enough for a baboon hand to slip in and wait.
The baboon will come along and stick his hand into the pumpkin, grab a handful and then try to remove his hand... but as an empty hand can go in, the clenched fist cannot get out... baboon does not want to let go... and is therefore stuck. Then you paint the fellow white, and let it go. The returning baboon will scare the living daylights out of his tribe and they will disappear for a while.

The other method... well... shoot a couple and the farm will be avoided for a LONG time.

It is not as easy as one would think to hunt baboons, firstly, as they have very effective watch..err.. watchmen (Bobejaan-brandwag) who will sound the alarm as soon as they spot people with guns. The trick is as follows (works for Maize fields):

If one man walks into the field, and hides, the baboons stay away.
If two goes in, and one comes out, they stay away.
If three goes in and two comes out... they stay away...
But if four goes in and three comes out... they seem to think that many went in and many left... all right to plunder. (ok, know it should be 'feed', but we live in a relative universe!)

We used to tease and say "1-2-many" is how baboons count. So, imagine my puzzlement when I saw that there are... well... humans living by a similar system!

Here we are wielding the Power of the Universe (maths) as if it is nothing... and others are still learning how to count!

Probably our ability and need to express numbers came from... capitalism :-)

Dammit... finding 'good' in capitalism is painful!
Completely clashes with my view utopian socialism :-(

Re:Lessons from a Farmboy (3, Informative)

loafula (1080631) | about 6 years ago | (#24179843)

That was one of the most interesting posts I've read in a while. Thank you!

Re:Lessons from a Farmboy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179901)

Totally agree, this is definitly a good story. Also the South-African words are so funny to a Dutch person like me. Gotta love Bobejaan-brandwag (Baviaan brandwacht ;) )

Re:Lessons from a Farmboy (-1, Offtopic)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | about 6 years ago | (#24179921)

So, if these tricks would work for baboons, perhaps we could also assume that they also work for Slashdot moderators. And in fact, it seems that they do. For example: if you post a funny, but trollish remark, and it gets moderated to '+2, Funny' before the next humorless moderator finds it, it will probably get moderated either '-1, Troll' or. Ditto if it makes it to '+3, Funny'. But if it makes it '+4, Funny or +5, Funny' it invariably only ever get moderated 'to '+1, Funny' if it can, or it may get a '-1, Overrated' but it will never get moderated below '+3, Funny'.

So, like baboons, moderators can only count to 3!

Re:Lessons from a Farmboy (4, Funny)

Per Wigren (5315) | about 6 years ago | (#24180053)

We used to tease and say "1-2-many" is how baboons count

Maybe they are good at relational database modeling then!

Re:Lessons from a Farmboy (5, Insightful)

The Master Control P (655590) | about 6 years ago | (#24180071)

If I might come in with a computing/neural perspective...

I think that baboons counting 1/2/many is an indicator of the difficulties with bioneural networks: As fundamentally analog systems, they can't subdivide values finely and retain accuracy for any length of time. Thus, they can store 0/2, 1/2 and 2/2 over time, but for more than that they just set an "overflow bit:" there's a lot of 'em.

You can observe the same thing in humans. Look at your mouse cursor, right now - is it on the left or right half of the screen? Obvious. Which third? Easy enough. Which fourth? A little harder. You couldn't really tell me which tenth it's on without measuring. It gets really difficult because your brain's analog systems have difficulty accurately dividing something up that finely.

From that perspective, I think that counting (which implies an increasingly accurate absolute reference for "one" as the max rises) was something born of necessity, because brains are bad at absolute comparisons. They're really good at comparing short-term differentials (there's an edge here, this texture is different, there are more hunters now than immediately before), but they drift almost without bound over time - thus the baboon's arithmetic fudges that "many - many = zero." It's great for adaptability, but bad for being able to hold more than a few single-digit numbers in your head.

Another possibility... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179663)

It is a general property of people that the most objects they can generally count in a single glance is around 5. The most things a typical person can easily remember in the short term is seven.

Maybe the "one" word means "I can easily commit the scene to memory at a glance", meaning that the scene has a few easily remembered objects in it.

The "two" word might mean "yes I can remember that scene, but I have to concentrate to do it". Typically that would mean the scene has 5-6 items.

The "many" word might mean "no I cannot easily remember the number and arrangement of objects in that scene"

In other words the word used depends on the mental effort required.

It's the "objects", stupid (5, Insightful)

pieterh (196118) | about 6 years ago | (#24179667)

The previous study had the same basic flaw: they asked the Piraha to count objects that they never normally had to deal with (it was batteries, I think).

What westerners often forget is that many cultures have different numbering systems for different types of things.

If they asked instead, "how many children do you have", or "how many people are there in that hut", they would most likely discover (shock! horror!) that the Piraha count people exactly as you or I. (If we know the individuals we can count up to 10 or so, if we don't, we count up to five or six, then switch to "many").

These experiments look designed to prove something bogus, namely that counting is not an innate skill.

Re:It's the "objects", stupid (4, Informative)

taubz (322102) | about 6 years ago | (#24179769)

As I recall (I was at a talk by one of the principal investigators), the flaws were not so obvious as to use batteries. I think they might have even asked them to count their own family members. If anything it was probably not what was counted but the task of counting which might have been both unfamiliar and potentially culturally sensitive.

But there are other interesting things (claimed) about their language besides a lack of numbers that makes it less surprising that this might also be the case. There was very little recursive structure in the syntax, for instance.

Re:It's the "objects", stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179799)

they would most likely discover (shock! horror!) that the Piraha count people exactly as you or I.

Or they might not. With only 300 people speaking the language, their huts are probably small and it is simple enough to enumerate the people. Why would it matter to them how many there are exactly, beyond "few", "many", "all"? If they raise their children communally, then there would be no need to count children either. Besides, if you have seen a child grow up, you know that counting is not an innate skill. It's just so damn bloody useful in our world that every child learns it early on.

Re:It's the "objects", stupid (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179807)

they would most likely discover (shock! horror!) that the Piraha count people exactly as you or I

Darn! Just as I was coming up with a nice scheme of making monogamy a little bit more exciting!
"No hun, it is just us few in the bed, like always"

A more realistic answer . . . (3, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 6 years ago | (#24179907)

If they asked instead, "how many children do you have", or "how many people are there in that hut", they would most likely

... hear as the reply:

"None of your god-damn business, you pesky anthropologist ... now get your ass out of my rain forest!"

words derived from necessity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179679)

i wonder if they have a word for firewater

Link b0rked in summary (5, Funny)

Von Helmet (727753) | about 6 years ago | (#24179691)

Should be "one, two, many" [slashdot.org]

KDawson, you got a link to your own website wrong, on your own website. You n00b.

Imperial system (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179703)

I heard they have discovered that some ancient tribes in the world are still using imperial measurement. Hard to believe!

So, don't let your kid work at McDonald's? (1)

smchris (464899) | about 6 years ago | (#24179707)

"The study... 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."

How long has it been since fast food restaurants have had real cash registers?

Skeptical (1)

szquirrel (140575) | about 6 years ago | (#24179729)

Yes, and the Hopi have no words for "time" [wikipedia.org] .

I'm just saying that startling claims like this have been made before. According to TFA, counting is "not useful in their culture"? How is that even possible?

Sanskrit: singular, dual and plural (3, Interesting)

codekavi (459992) | about 6 years ago | (#24179731)

A side note: Sanskrit [wikipedia.org] has singular, dual and plural [google.co.in] forms of words. A lot of i18n infrastructure could get broken if this language got back to life all of a sudden.

Example: boy, (two boys), (more than two boys) === baalakah [google.co.in] (1), baalakau [google.co.in] (2), baalakaah [google.co.in] (2+)

This Slashdot ignored non ascii when I previewed this, so added the google search results for the devanagari [wikipedia.org] characters used to compose these three words instead.

I'm guessing the need arose as a shorthand to talk about two's - eg two people, two oxen working in the form, two feet, two hands and so on.

Anyone know of any other language tha has dual forms of words?

Re:Sanskrit: singular, dual and plural (1)

david.given (6740) | about 6 years ago | (#24179781)

Anyone know of any other language tha has dual forms of words?

Ancient Greek had a dual form, although it was mostly used only for nouns that had natural pairs (eyes, oxen, etc).

Re:Sanskrit: singular, dual and plural (1)

ComaVN (325750) | about 6 years ago | (#24179859)

Anyone know of any other language tha has dual forms of words?

According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , quite a few languages, including Polish, Slovenian and Serbo-Croatian.

Re:Sanskrit: singular, dual and plural (2, Interesting)

jedrek (79264) | about 6 years ago | (#24179889)

Polish, which is quite a modern and used language (40 million native speakers) uses a similar construction:

pencil:
1 olowek
2 olowki
5 olowkow

(polish letters dropped because /. is obviously menarded. how the fuck can you not use utf-8 in 2008?)

Re:Sanskrit: singular, dual and plural (1)

biet (632569) | about 6 years ago | (#24179955)

Tolkien's Quenya has a dual form. Not a real language, but most of the grammatical rules were taken off real world languages.

Re:Sanskrit: singular, dual and plural (1)

MSZ (26307) | about 6 years ago | (#24179991)

A number of slavic languages still have (or not so long ago had) similar forms [wikipedia.org] , but in most cases these went out of use.
Also, some other languages had specific form for triple and quadruple.

It makes sense tho... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179737)

Don't need to count beyond 4 or 5? Clearly they're Zune owners.

I can help! (1)

Progman3K (515744) | about 6 years ago | (#24179771)

I suggest they name everything beyond four 'hrare'
Always worked for us in the warren....

You know, it would be SO much easier on all of us (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179791)

...if they would just learn English and be done with it!

Too many (1)

GottliebPins (1113707) | about 6 years ago | (#24179801)

I guess if you asked the men how many wives they had they would say "too many" no matter how many they had.

Moving there already (2, Funny)

eebra82 (907996) | about 6 years ago | (#24179811)

I'm gonna have one girlfriend there.

I guess my hat is useless there! (1)

Underfunded (1039600) | about 6 years ago | (#24179825)

My "#1" hat that I got just so everybody would know that I am number one would not mean anything there! That is sad for them.

This is nothing new (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179847)

Instead they seem to use the word formerly thought to mean "two" to represent a quantity of 5 or 6, and the "one" word for anything from 1 to 4.

Bartenders and police officers in the US dealing with drunks are very familiar with this method of counting.

Obligatory Watership Down Reference (2)

Stavr0 (35032) | about 6 years ago | (#24179861)

Revised headline:
Hrair natives from Amazon don't know how to count.

How many speakers? (3, Funny)

ettlz (639203) | about 6 years ago | (#24179871)

the "one" word for anything from 1 to 4. The language has about 300 native speakers.

Anyone want to try and estimate the error on that?

Lovell and Menninger (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179903)

Or we could do some research.

Lovell's The Growth of Basic Mathematical and Scientific Concepts in Children posits that number started off as many/few, then a one-one correspondence (e.g. one flint per man) with the corresponding concepts of relation, then tallying (fingers, notches - consider the pre-6500BC bone dug up at Ishango, fingers), then abstract number.

Menninger talks of the lack of need to count beyond a certain number in certain cultures - we may have "one", "two" and "many". Hell, even English has the irregular "eleven" and twelve" having roots in "one left" and "two left", suggesting that the base 10 system was the result of running out after 10 and having to start over when base 12 became fashionable (time, etc).

There have been some good posts so far mentioning that we're probably taking the wrong approach to testing. Don't throw unidentifiables at them and expect them to give an exact count - give them familiar objects, e.g. five cows here and four cows there, let them compare etc.

mod d0wn (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24179977)

Conglomerate in the glov3s, condoms blue, ruuber

What are they... (1)

Andrealp (1325561) | about 6 years ago | (#24179995)

Gully Dwarves? "How many are there?" "Two, no more than two!"

I really doubt the study's... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 6 years ago | (#24179999)

... conclusion for one reason only because the word a (in the english language), such as "a house", points out the fact that language and numbers intersect. That is, language and numbers derive themselves from the same fundamental source, that is our ability to draw distinctions. Even if they use one word to refer a few objects (1 to 4) and another one to refer to more then that, this still shows that they have the ability to know more then, less then (bigger vs smaller), and that is intimately tied to geometry and hence numbers, I see numeracy is a organic/fractal outgrowth of our ability to draw distinctions (this from that), othewise we could not function as a species.

1=1 to 4 (1)

Avitor (640676) | about 6 years ago | (#24180075)

For very large values of 1
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