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Numbers beyond words

A Brazilian group may grasp exact quantities without naming them

By
10:41am, June 18, 2008

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do, especially if you don’t even have a word for it. That’s the situation of the Pirahã people, denizens of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest who have no term for the number one or for any other exact quantity, a new study finds.

Until now, researchers have not demonstrated the absence of a way to express the number one in any language, according to a team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology cognitive scientist Edward Gibson.

Yet Pirahã individuals can still identify the number of items that an experimenter places in front of them, Gibson’s team reports. The new findings challe

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