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November 01, 2004

What happens when you can't count past four?

'Some Americans I have spoken with (who were otherwise of quick and rational parts enough) could not, as we do, by any means count to 1,000; nor had any distinct idea of that number," wrote the English philosopher John Locke in 1690.

He was referring to the Tououpinambos, a tribe from the Brazilian jungle, whose language lacked names for numbers above five. Locke's point was that number names "conduce to well-reckoning" by enabling us to keep in mind distinct numbers, and can be helpful in learning to count and to calculate, but they are not necessary for the possession of numerical ideas.

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Posted by Tom Troceen