Mathematics Education Research Journal

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 233–253 | Cite as

Multilingualism in indigenous mathematics education: an epistemic matter

  • Aldo Parra
  • Tony Trinick
Original Article


An investigation into an aspect of indigenous education provides the opportunity to forefront an epistemological discussion about mathematical knowledge. This paper analyses indigenous peoples’ educational experiences in Colombia and Aotearoa/New Zealand of mathematics education, focusing on, among other things, sociolinguistic issues such as language planning. In these experiences, researchers, teachers and local communities, working together, elaborated their respective languages to create a corpus of lexicon that has enabled the teaching of Western mathematics. An analysis using decolonial theory is made, showing how this corpus development works to enable the teaching of [Western] mathematics resulted in investigations into culture, language and mathematics that revealed an interplay among knowledge and power. Such analysis raises issues about the epistemology of mathematics and the politics of knowledge, analogous with current discussions on multilingualism in mathematics education and in ethnomathematics. The paper concludes that mathematics educators can explore and take advantage of the sociolinguistic and epistemological issues that arise when an indigenous language is elaborated in a short period of time in comparison to other languages which have been developed incrementally over hundreds of years and thus much more difficult to critique.


Multilingualism Decolonial theory Indigenous education Ethnomathematics Language planning 



The authors want to express their gratitude to Uenuku Fairhall, Paola Valero and the colleagues of Te Puna Wananga in the University of Auckland for their support in the development of these ideas.


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Copyright information

© Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PlanningAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark
  2. 2.Te Puna Wananga, Faculty of Education and Social WorkThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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