Body Parts as Numerals: A Developmental Analysis of Numeration among the Oksapmin in Papua New Guinea

  • Saxe G
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The purpose of this paper is to present an analysis of the acquisition of an indigenous body part numerational system by children who live among remote Oksapmin village populations in Papua New Guinea. The findings reported in studies 1 and 2 indicate that Oksapmin children progress from premediational to mediational phases in their use of body parts to compare and reproduce number and that this change generally occurs prior to the development of concepts of number conservation. This trend parallels findings in the United States. The findings reported in study 3 show that this general change is manifested in culturally specific ways. For instance, Oksapmin children progress from a belief that the numerical relation between any 2 body parts is determined by their physical similarity (e. g., symmetrical body parts imply numerical equivalence) to the understanding that the numerical relation between any 2 body parts is determined by their ordinal positions in an enumeration.

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  • Geoffrey B. Saxe

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