Transliteracy by numbers – or not

I came across this story via Penelope Trunk and followed it to this article which prompted me to search for this site which led me, as all things tend to, to an article on the BBC website.
Basically this is a story about an Amazonian tribe who are unable to use numbers. Most interestingly the researcher who discovered it, Dan Everett, now believes that the reason for this lies in cultural constraints – described somewhat technically here.
This feels as though it might be a transliteracy issue, which is why I draw it your attention. Either way, it's pretty fascinating stuff.


One thought on “Transliteracy by numbers – or not

  1. This is one of those subjects that gets linguistic anthropologists rather hot under the collar. At its most basic it speaks to the whole nature/nurture debate; is language predetermined or is it a cultural phenomenon. For language to be predetermined there must be certain universals and number systems are often held to be one such universal. Prove that there are no universals and you’re made for life.
    A corollary is the “Sapir-Whorf” hypothesis. It is usually (mis)represented as “what we can think is determined by what we can say.” So, for example, if you have no words for numbers you can’t think in numbers. The weaker, more viable, claim is that categories in language can create cognitive problems if they don’t fit well with the outside world.
    The weaker hypothesis is interesting when applied to the term “web2.0”. If we call something web2.0 what do we mean? Does this imply that there is a web1.5 or web1.1? What is the relationship between web2.0 and “the web”? How do you know if a website is web2.0 or not? Why “2.0” why not just “2” or why not “NuWeb” or “Web B” or something? When we use the term web2.0 what metaphors are we drawing on? Is an escalator a staircase 2.0?

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