Language and Number: the emergence of a cognitive system

By James R Hurford

1987, xii+322pp, Basil Blackwell, Oxford

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The cover blurb says:

Language and Number is intended as a contribution to linguistic theory in the broadest sense. It offers a view of language (illustrated in detail through an examination of the linguistics of number) that brings together considerations of individual psychology and of communication within a speech community. These two strands, the psychological and the social, are put together to give an evolutionary perspective on language, which explains salient characteristics of its form.

The psychological considerations relate both to the invention and to the ordinary acquisition of language; the social considerations relate to the ways individuals negotiate common standardized expressions for their meanings. Languages, Professor Hurford argues, grow through the interaction in individual minds on the forms invented and socially negotiated by their predecessors.

The book also makes a contribution to the philosophy of number, arguing that our knowledge of number is a product of our possession of language and the faculty for constructing collections from aggregates. This sophisticated and original approach successfully maps out the various biological, social and cognitive factors that coalesce in the evolution of language.


1 The Object of Study
2 Explaining Linguistic Universals
3 A Continuous Sequence of Counting Words
4 Numbers: the Meanings of Numerals
5 Syntactic Integration of Counting Words
6 Standardization of Complex Numerals to a Fixed Base
7 Denouement and Prospect