Neuroscience Seminar Series
Friday, February 18th. 2018, 11:30 am, R229 (2rd Floor), Centre Universitaire des Saints-Pères, 45 rue des Saints-Pères, 75006 Paris
Mark Pagel, Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK
Title: The Deep History of Counting Words
English speakers use the counting word ‘two’, the French say deux, Greeks say δύο (duo), Russians say два (dva), Sanskrit speakers say dve, and Caesar would have said duo. English, French, Greek, Russian, Sanskrit and Latin are all members of the Indo-European family of languages. The various forms of the word two that all these languages use are cognate – that is, they descend from a common ancestral proto-Indo-European form spoken perhaps 6000 to 8000 years ago and reconstructed by linguists as duoh. By comparison, each of these languages uses a different and non-cognate form of the word bird. I present evidence to show that the remarkable conservation of the word ‘two’ in the Indo-European languages is repeated in other language families and is typical of the deep histories of the simple counting words (taken here as the words representing ‘one’ to ‘five’), but not of most other words. I reflect on several reasons for the conservation of counting words, including speculation about numerical abilities having a hard-wired neurological basis.
Host: Claude Meunier