Numerals and Word Sequences

  • Roberto CasatiEmail author


According to Spelke and Tsivkin numerals are a linguistic and cognitive bridge between two types of ‘core’ knowledge, that is, subitization of small quantities and approximate representation of large quantities. In this chapter, I go somewhat their way but I also introduce some a priori constraints on what could constitute a bridge. Such constraints are on the ‘design’ of a numeral system and on its use. The starting point is the consideration that numerals like ‘three’ (as well as names of days of the week like ‘Friday’) are nonstandard linguistic items. I propose that their peculiarity is primarily neither a syntactic nor a semantic peculiarity. It is instead in their morphology. Mastering numerals and names for days of the week is assigning them a certain nonstandard morphology, whereby any numeral is mandatorily a non-independent part of a longer sequence. It is hypothesized that this nonstandard morphology is associated with a nonstandard (at least for language) semantics, i.e. map semantics. In a sense, numerals are an artificial language encroached in natural language. The explanatory advantages of the account are discussed and contrasted with Spelke and Tsivkin ‘bridge’ account of the role of numerals in cognition.


Numerals Maps Number cognition Public representations 



Thanks to Luca Bonatti, Valentina Gliozzi, Pierre Jacob, Nirmalangshu Mukherji, Marco Panza, Achille Varzi, for useful comments on earlier versions of this chapter. And of course thanks to Kevin Mulligan, who got so many projects on the right track.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut NicodCNRS (EHESS-ENS)ParisFrance

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