Language and early mathematical concepts

Prof. David Barner, PhD

University of California, San Diego


Cultures differ substantially in how they talk about number, and in some groups there are no words at all to describe large exact quantities (e.g., like “fifty-seven”). In this lecture I will describe cross-cultural evidence that language plays an important role in the formation of early mathematical concepts, both by providing labels and by providing grammatical structures that speed learning. Languages like Slovenian, in particular, are especially likely to speed learning, though cultural practices that de-emphasize early exposure to counting procedures may neutralize this advantage. Implications for early math education will be discussed.