Theoretical implications of the study of numbers and numerals in mundurucu

Philosophical Psychology 21 (4):507 – 522 (2008)
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Developing earlier studies of the system of numbers in Mundurucu, this paper argues that the Mundurucu numeral system is far more complex than usually assumed. The Mundurucu numeral system provides indirect but insightful arguments for a modular approach to numbers and numerals. It is argued that distinct components must be distinguished, such as a system of representation of numbers in the format of internal magnitudes, a system of representation for individuals and sets, and one-to-one correspondences between the numerosity expressed by the number and its metrics. It is shown that while many-number systems involve a compositionality of units, sets and sets composed of units, few-number languages, such as Mundurucu, do not have access to sets composed of units in the usual way. The nonconfigurational character of the Mundurucu language, which is related to a property for which we coin the term 'low compositionality power', accounts for this and explains the curious fact that Mundurucus make use of marked one-to-one correspondence strategies in order to overcome the limitations of the core system at the perceptual/motor interface of the language faculty. We develop an analysis of a particular construction, parallel numbers, which has not been studied before, elucidating the whole system. This analysis, we argue, sheds new light on classical philosophical, psychological and linguistic debates about numbers and numerals and their relation to language, and more particularly, sheds light on few-number languages.

Author Profiles

Pierre Pica
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Alain Lecomte
Université Paris 8


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