Writing and the Mind
  • ISSN 0929-0907
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9943
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The world’s diverse written numeral systems are affected by human cognition; in turn, written numeral systems affect mathematical cognition in social environments. The present study investigates the constraints on graphic numerical notation, treating it neither as a byproduct of lexical numeration, nor a mere adjunct to writing, but as a specific written modality with its own cognitive properties. Constraints do not refute the notion of infinite cultural variability; rather, they recognize the infinity of variability within defined limits, thus transcending the universalist/particularist dichotomy. In place of strictly innatist perspectives on mathematical cognition, a model is proposed that invokes domain-specific and notationally-specific constraints to explain patterns in numerical notations. The analysis of exceptions to cross-cultural generalizations makes the study of near-universals highly productive theoretically. The cross-cultural study of patterns in written numbers thus provides a rich complement to the cognitive analysis of writing systems.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): cognitive anthropology; constraints; number systems; numerals; writing
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