Representation and Expressibility

Looking at whether representation dictates expressibility in the human mind, a study was done of the ability of a Brazilian tribe without language for distinct numbers to perform counting activities, and it was found that the ability was severely restricted. The activities took the form of creating same-sized piles or matching the number of items into a jar with the number of items removed, and they generally did not succeed if there were more than a couple of items. The news article implies that there is a lack of ability to count, which seems too broad a statement – it would seem more accurate to say that without language notions of counting, problem solving techniques requiring counting are not generally pursued. It would be interesting to know how much effort would be required to teach them the idea of keeping track of items by matching them up with fingers. And, obviously, this all begs the question of whether they do not count because they have no language for it, or whether they have no language for counting because they have not been faced with situations calling for it.
Perhaps the most interesting paragraph of the article was the last, which closed with this quote from the researcher:

“Not only do the Piraha not count, but they also do not draw,” Gordon wrote. “Producing simple straight lines was accomplished only with great effort and concentration, accompanied by heavy sighs and groans.”

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