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The plural counts: Inconsistent grammatical number hinders numerical development in pre-schoolers — a cross-linguistic study
The role of grammar in numerical development, and particularly the role of grammatical number inflection, has already been well-documented in toddlerhood. It is unclear, however, whether the influence of grammatical language structure further extends to more complex later stages of numerical development. Here, we addressed this question by exploiting differences between Polish, which has a complex grammatical number paradigm, leading to a partially inconsistent mapping between numerical quantities and grammatical number, and German, which has a comparatively easy verbal paradigm: 153 Polish-speaking and 124 German-speaking kindergarten children were tested using a symbolic numerical comparison task. Additionally, counting skills (Give-a-Number and count-list), and mapping between non-symbolic (dot sets) and symbolic representations of numbers, as well as working memory (Corsi blocks and Digit span) were assessed. Based on the Give-a-Number and mapping tasks, the children were divided into subset-knowers, CP-knowers-non-mappers, and CP-knowers-mappers.
Linguistic background was related to performance in several ways: Polish-speaking children expectedly progressed to the CP-knowers stage later than German children, despite comparable non-numerical capabilities, and even after this stage was achieved, they fared worse in the numerical comparison task. There were also meaningful differences in spatial-numerical mapping between the Polish and German groups.
Our findings are in line with the theory that grammatical number paradigms influence the development of representations and processing of numbers, not only at the stage of acquiring the meaning of the first number-words but at later stages as well, when dealing with symbolic numbers.
Differences in the Polish and German language system of representing numbers as the reason for differences in functional properties and numerical development
National Science CenterFind out more...
German Research Foundation (DFG) NU 265/3-1
German Research Foundation (DFG) DO 1433/4-1
LEAD Graduate School & Research Network [GSC1028]
- Mathematics Education Centre