pp 1–23 | Cite as

Quantity evaluations in Yudja: judgements, language and cultural practice

  • Susan RothsteinEmail author
  • Suzi Lima
S.I. : MathCogEncul


In this paper we explore the interpretation of quantity expressions in Yudja, an indigenous language spoken in the Amazonian basin, showing that while the language allows reference to exact cardinalities, it does not generally allow reference to exact measure values. It does, however, allow non-exact comparison along continuous dimensions. We use this data to argue that the grammar of exact measurement is distinct from a grammar allowing the expression of exact cardinalities, and that the grammar of counting and the grammar of measurement may use numerals with different, though related interpretations. As Yudja shows, the language of measurement is not automatically acquired along with the knowledge of exact numeral expressions. We show that the ‘gap’ between prelinguistic intuitions about quantity in terms of numerosity and counting, which is bridged by the learning of language expressing exact cardinality, is paralleled by a similar gap between prelinguistic intuitions about quantity on a continuous dimension and measuring: this gap too must be bridged by language which expresses exact measure values. Our results suggest that the enculturation process by which we develop skills to perform abstract operations in the domain of measurement is (1) language dependent and (2) distinct from the process by which we learn to perform abstract calculations in the cardinal domain.


Mathematical cognition and enculturation Number Quantity judgements Language Mass/count nouns Cardinality Counting Semantics of measurement 



First we would like to thank the Yudja people who generously contributed their time and knowledge to this documentation project. We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments on the first version of this paper, and to Markus Pantsar and Catarina Dutilh Novaes for advice and encouragement in making the revisions. Early versions of this material were presented at the 7th Cambridge conference on Language Endangerment (Cambridge UK, July 2017), at the Workshop on Language and Literacy Development in Multilingual and Multidialectal Contexts (Bar-Ilan University, March 2018) and at the Multilingualism and Multiculturalism Workshop (Bar Ilan University June 2018) We thank the participants at all these events for their helpful comments. We would like to acknowledge the financial support of the American Philosophical Society, and of dissertation grants to Suzi Lima from the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior and the National Science Foundation.


Funding was provided by Capes/Fulbright and NSF Dissertation Grant (Grant No. BCS-1226449).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bar-Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael
  2. 2.University of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Universidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

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