A pair of stories (reproduced from The Globe and Mail and BBC News) about researchers’ discovery in 2004 that members of the Amazonian Piraha tribe apparently lack capacity for any kind of math whatsoever — not even simple counting. A few relativistic number words – “one-ish” and “two-ish” describe many and few, but that’s it. They are, apparently, alone in the world in their lack of any kind of numerical system.
… the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting. Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can’t learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time.
So can they not do numbers because their language doesn’t contain the concept, or do they not have number words because their brains don’t contain the concept?
“The question is, is there any case where not having words for something doesn’t allow you to think about it?” Prof. Gordon asked about the Piraha and the Whorfian thesis. “I think this is a case for just that.”