The Many Ways to Count the World: Counting Terms in Indigenous Languages and Cultures of Rondônia, Brazil

Vera Da Silva Sinha, Christopher Sinha, Wany Bernadete de Araujo Sampaio

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Linguistic theory has been preoccupied since midway through the twentieth century with the search for universals of language. However, more recently there has been increasing attention across the different disciplines that contribute to research in language to variation and difference. This goes together with a more recent focus on culture and language, approached through interdisciplinary research methods, including field research. In this article the authors report the results of a survey they conducted with the assistance of indigenous teachers about the counting term (number) systems of their native Amazonian languages. All the teachers were indigenous people from different communities living in the State of Rondônia, Brazil. This survey of twenty-three languages, belonging to seven different language families, confirms the observation that small counting term systems are a general feature of indigenous Amazonian languages. This article identifies two general features of counting term systems in the languages of Rondônia: a restricted number (less than five) of lexicalisations of number, and the productive combinatorial use of these terms to refer to larger quantities. It suggests that this is evidence of a way of thinking about and practicing counting that is shared across a cultural area. However, this generalization goes together with a high degree of of diversity in the specific patterns of lexicalisation and combination.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBrief Encounters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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