Diagnostik und Kognitive Neuropsychologie

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Linguistic influences on numerical cognition

Ann Dowker and Hans-Christoph Nuerk (2016) suggest that arithmetical and numerical processing are not entirely independent of linguistic influences. They propose a taxonomy of linguistic influences on number processing (see here). They conclude that further research is necessary to examine in more depth the precise influence of individual language characteristics on numerical processing in development.

Dowker, A. and Nuerk, H.-C. (2016). Editorial: Linguistic Influences on Mathematics. Frontiers in Psychology 7:1035.

Can be retrieved from: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01035/full

Conceptual influences

The linguistic markedness concept suggests that for (almost) every adjective pair, a ground (unmarked) form and a derived (marked) form exist (e.g. efficient and inefficient; marked by “in”). For number parity, the ground form is even, and the derived - odd. This is also the case of German (gerade versus ungerade) and Polish (parzyste versus nieparzyste) languages. Also many would be a ground form, and few – a derived form. Markedness have been repeatedly shown to influence number processing. We consider it as a “conceptual” level of influence because markedness is assumed to be involved in the conceptual preparation of lexical concepts (Levelt et al., 1999).

Syntactic influences

The grammatical number is an instance of linguistic influence on mathematics on a syntactic level. Languages differ significantly in their use of grammatical number (e.g. in English singular form goes along with number 1 and plural for numbers 2 and greater whereas in some languages like Slovenian there is a separate grammatical number for two). The influence of the grammatical number has been shown in a grammatical SNARC effect (Roettger & Domahs, 2014) and in the development of number concepts in children (Sarnecka, 2016).

Semantic influences

Word meanings also influence numerical processing. Daroczy et al. (2015) reviewed text problems and found that numerical properties and semantic properties are often interacting. For instance, addition is more associated with words like “more” and “buy” whereas subtraction is more associated with words like “less” and “sell”.

Lexical influences

Two types of lexical properties have been shown to influence numerical cognition: The first involves the inversion property of some languages which means an inversion of units and decades (“one-and-twenty” for 21 e.g. in German). The second one involves power transparency. Some languages are extremely transparent with respect to the power of a given number (e.g. “ten-two” for 12 in Chinese). The power of each two-digit number can be derived directly from the number word. Both these effects have been shown to influence both number acquisition in children (and typical errors children make) as well as number processing in adults.

Visuo-spatial-orthographic influences

Visual-spatial-orthographic influences mostly involve the reading/writing direction of a given script. Usually, space-number relations are associated with the dominant reading/writing direction. Visual-spatial-orthographic influences haven been shown for both horizontal and vertical dimensions.

Phonological influences

Jordan et al. (2015) examined phonological skills in children with difficulties in reading, mathematics or both and found minor influences of phonology on mathematics. Pixner et al. (2016) examined children with cochlear implants, who usually have phonological language deficits. They found general deficits in such children in multiplication, subtraction and number line estimation but specific deficits in (verbally mediated) place-value manipulation.

Other language related skills: verbal working memory and other cognitive skills

Several domain-general processes such as for instance verbal working memory play an important role both in number and language processing. Verbal working memory (WM) is associated with complex arithmetic (Ashcraft & Stazyk, 1981). Soltanlou et al. (2016) investigated whether verbal or spatial working memory influences multiplication skill most strongly. They observed an age-related shift from verbal WM to spatial WM influences over time.

Important papers in the field of numerical cognition

Key papers in the field of numerical cognition describing phenomena we wish to investigate and tackle linguistic influences on thereof.

Key papers in the field of psycholinguistics

These papers describe important findings in the field of psycholinguistics that may be potentially relevant for considering how language influences number processing.

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