V. 51 N. 1 (2013)

Riflessi linguistici del subitizing

Adriano Cerri
Dipartimento di Filologia, Letteratura e Linguistica Università di Pisa

Pubblicato 2013-07-31

Parole chiave

  • Subitizing,
  • numeral systems,
  • cognitive pattern,
  • “1-2-(3)-many”,


Humans seem to be genetically endowed with a mathematical aptitude known as subitizing.It refers to the ability to correctly recognize very limited quantities (up to3/4 items). Conversely, higher cardinalities require a different, non-innate process:counting. In keeping with the hypothesis that cognition plays a major role in structuringthe linguistic complexity (cf. Lakoff and Johnson, 1980; Heine, 1997), here Isuggest regarding subitizing as a significant shaping force in language. Our cognitivelimitations may be reflected in the organization of linguistic structures, especially inthe field of numerals. There are a number of clues which lead us to believe that certainfundamental linguistic features have autonomy and priority compared to others. Theseinclude: the diffusion of “1-2-(3)-many” numeral systems, the morpho-syntax of thelowest number words, the suppletion of the first ordinals, etc. Evidence of this in theIE family was collected in Åò4. The split between the set of the first few elements and therest is sometimes regarded as accidental or due to a chronological gap in historical evolution.However, I think that subitizing, as an innate and universal cognitive pattern,can provide a more satisfactory explanation. Since the first quantities are perceivedmore clearly and immediately, the structure of some linguistic domains (e.g. numerals)reflects this cognitive hierarchy.