Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

Relation between the acquisiton of the dual and of the number system as an indicator of the connection/independence of language and general cognition

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
6.05.02  Humanities  Linguistics  Theoretical and applied linguistics 

Code Science Field
H350  Humanities  Linguistics 

Code Science Field
6.02  Humanities  Languages and Literature 
Language acquisition, Acquisition of numbers, acquisition of dual, the connection between language and cognition
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (9)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  20922  PhD Urška Fekonja  Psychology  Researcher  2013 - 2016  299 
2.  38371  PhD Kaja Hacin Beyazoglu  Psychology  Technical associate  2015 - 2016  55 
3.  07606  PhD Ljubica Marjanovič-Umek  Psychology  Researcher  2013 - 2016  1,291 
4.  20044  PhD Franc Marušič  Linguistics  Head  2013 - 2016  284 
5.  35122  PhD Petra Mišmaš  Linguistics  Researcher  2013 - 2016  96 
6.  30369  PhD Amanda Saksida  Interdisciplinary research  Researcher  2015  54 
7.  31176  PhD Penka Stateva  Linguistics  Researcher  2013 - 2016  91 
8.  31177  PhD Artur Stepanov  Linguistics  Researcher  2013 - 2016  106 
9.  29699  PhD Rok Žaucer  Linguistics  Researcher  2013 - 2016  195 
Organisations (2)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0581  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts  Ljubljana  1627058  95,344 
2.  1540  University of Nova Gorica  Nova Gorica  5920884000  13,845 
The proposed project studies the relation between the acquisition of the dual grammatical number and the acquisition of numbers by Slovenian speaking children with different dialectal backgrounds, and more generally, it studies the relation between the acquisition of a grammatical category and of its correlate in nonverbal cognition, as well as the potential influences of the existence of a grammatical category on the development of nonverbal cognitive abilities. The main goal of the project is to answer two related questions about the relation between language and the mind. The first of these is whether the presence of a grammatical category in a language can influence general cognitive abilities, and if so, what is the minimum threshold in the realization of this category for it to have an effect. The second question is whether there is a connection between the human linguistic and mathematical faculty. Both of these questions are currently high on the agenda in both linguistics and cognitive science more generally. Most of the previous studies on the acquisition of number were done on English speaking children, and all previous studies were done on children growing up in language systems with only two values for grammatical number, the singular and the plural. If a child's language system provides a bootstrapping mechanism for the acquisition of numbers, or for nonlinguistic cognitive capacities more generally, one would expect that with a language which codes not only the singular and the plural but also the dual, this will translate to a noticeable effect with respect to the acquisition of numbers. The proposed project aims to establish whether the presence of a third value for grammatical number, namely, the dual, has an effect on the rate of the acquisition of the number system.  In the light of these goals, Slovenian makes a good test language also because of its dialectal diversity. The western Slovenian dialects realize the dual to a much lower extent than the central and eastern dialects (Jakop 2008a/b). Given this significant dialectal differentiation, Slovenian makes the perfect testing ground for addressing our questions, since it offers access to children growing up in a virtually identical cultural environment but with two or perhaps even more potentially relevant linguistic backgrounds: one that fully realizes the dual and one that almost does not realize it at all. The influence of the dual on the rate at which the number system is acquired is thus best tested precisely by contrasting the rate at which the number system is acquired by children in a dialect with the dual and by children in a dialect with almost no dual.
Significance for science
Languages vary in how they grammatically mark number (e.g., in nouns, verbs, and so forth). Initially we test the effects of this variability on learning number words—for example, one, two, three—by investigating children learning Slovenian and Saudi Arabic, which on top of the singular-plural distinction, existing also in English, mark also dual (for sets of two). We found that learning the dual is associated with faster learning of the meaning of two than in any previously studied language, even when accompanied by less experience with counting. Learning dual morphology affects children’s acquisition of the number word 'two' in both languages, relative to English. Children who knew the meaning of "two" were surprisingly frequent in the dual languages, relative to English. Furthermore, Slovenian children were faster to learn "two" than children learning English, despite being less competent counters. We conclude that although exposure to counting is important to learning number word meanings, hearing number words used outside of these routines—in the quantificational structures of language—may also be highly important in early acquisition. As this first study compared children growing up in very different cultural settings, we designed another study where we investigated number word learning in four groups of children from a single culture who spoke different dialects of the same language that differed chiefly with respect to how they grammatically mark number. We found that learning a dialect which features “dual” morphology (marking of pairs) accelerated children’s acquisition of the number word two relative to learning a “non-dual” dialect of the same language. These results support the idea that number word learning likely relies on content similar to that used for acquiring number morphology, and thus that mathematical knowledge may be built on a foundation of concepts that arise spontaneously in natural language, even in absence of formal training with number.
Significance for the country
This project allowed us to establish a very fruitful collaboration with colleagues from UCSD, Skidmore College, and Wesleyan University, with whom even after the end of the project we are still conducting joint experiments. This collaboration went over the borders of this project also in terms of the topics we were looking at as we plan joint work also on our other projects (Probing the cognitive basis of the cartographic hierarchy of functional projections in the noun phrase). This is true of both project partners, the group from UL and the group from UNG. This project proved useful also as a generator of ideas for future research. We have come up with a number of follow up studies, some of which we are already conducting (like the study of the pragmatics of the dual). The results of our project were well accepted in the international linguistic community, above all the PNAS paper and have provided (both to individuals, the group, institution and the country) a lot of visibility, which is most clearly proven by the invitation to participate in a planned Handbook volume on grammatical number (OUP) that we have received. Our group has also gained visibility inside Slovenia through numerous media reactions following the PNAS paper publication, which can also be seen through the Zois Certificate of Recognition awarded to one of our project group members. As we were determining the interrelation between knowing the meaning of number words and other linguistic knowledge, results of our experiment could also be useful for people determining the day-care-center curricula.
Most important scientific results Annual report 2013, 2015, final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Annual report 2013, 2014, 2015, final report
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