Chimps, Numbers, and the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

I’ve provided several posts recently on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, including a couple on how language differences might effect our perception of numbers.  Linguistic research seems to suggest that our language skills make us better able to perceive numbers, but here’s a link from the Jane Goodall Institute that might call these conclusions into questions.  

Their research suggests that chimps, whose communication skills are generally thought to be both qualitatively and quantitatively different from human communication, appear to have gambling strategies that are very similar to ours.  This presents an interesting question for classroom discussions.  If their gambling strategies are similar, is that because their counting skills are too?  Have your students read up on these chimp studies. It’s sure to make for a lively class!

Study at Tchimpounga Reveals Similarities in Chimp and Human Gambling Preferences | the Jane Goodall Institute.

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About LingEducator

Dr. Jaclyn Ocumpaugh received a PhD for her dissertation on regional variation in the acoustics of Mexican American English (Michigan State University, East Lansing). Before that, she received an MA in English/Linguistics from North Carolina State University for her work on the acoustics of /r/--a sound which is highly variable in the English language. Her passion, however, has always been to understand the social implications of language variation. In addition to her work in acoustic sociophonetics, she has worked with rape trial analysis, developed cognitive methods for understanding discourse level variation between men and women, and created sophisticated tools for teaching future educators about the kinds of dialect variation they will find in the classroom. She has taught classes in English, Linguistics, and Education at Old Dominion University, William & Mary, the University of Mary Washington, and Virginia Wesleyan College. She is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she is helping to develop models of student engagement in the classroom. She also consults in the private sector.
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