Some principles involved in the acquisition of number words


to be published in Language Acquisition


Thijs Pollmann



Number acquisition is a field of research with a wealth of studies mainly by psychologists. In this paper, the author tries to add some linguistic insights. To acquire number words with their meanings as a basis for further mathematical thinking - at least other numerals than those for small numerosities like [two] or [three] (and may be [four]) -, a child has to learn the number sequence as a list of speech forms meaningless at first. It is claimed that general principles of rhythm and coordination explain the child's ability to learn by rote a sequence of such speech forms, and their word class. It is shown that these principles also apply in the acquisition of sequences of the names of the days of the week and the names of the month. As far as the development of the counting abilities for numbers up to [a hundred] is concerned, it is argued that the child has to learn by rote the sequence of the numbers [10, 20, 30 etc.]. The particular rhythmical structure of the sequence provides the child with the raw material to develop a concept 'decade word'. It is argued that the theory of reduction from Lerdahl and Jackendoff's generative theory of music (1996) may explain