Cover image for The cradle of culture and what children know about writing and numbers before being taught
The cradle of culture and what children know about writing and numbers before being taught
Tolchinsky Landsmann, Liliana.
Publication Information:
Mahwah, N.J. : L. Erlbaum Associates, 2003.
Physical Description:
xxxiv, 256 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Reading Level:
1330 Lexile.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
LB1139.W7 T65 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This book provides a thrilling description of preliterate children's developing ideas about writing and numerals, and it illustrates well the many ways in which cultural artifacts influence the mind and vice versa. Remarkably, children treat writing and numerals as distinct even before they have received any formal training on the topic, and well before they learn how to use writing to represent messages and numerals to represent quantities.

In this revolutionary new book, Liliana Tolchinsky argues that preliterate children's experiences with writing and numerals play an essential and previously unsuspected role in children's subsequent development. In this view, learning notations, such as writing is not just a matter of acquiring new instruments for communicating existing knowledge. Rather, there is a continual interaction between children's understanding of the features of a notational system and their understanding of the corresponding domain of knowledge. The acquisition of an alphabetic writing system transforms children's view of language, and the acquisition of a formal system of enumeration transforms children's understanding of numbers.

Written in an engaging narrative style, and richly illustrated with historical examples, case studies, and charming descriptions of children's behavior, this book is aimed not only at cognitive scientists, but also at educators, parents, and anyone interested in how children develop in a cultural context.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In order to provide a context for her discussion of children's understanding of writing and numbers, Tolchinsky presents an absorbing account of the history of writing. Tolchinsky sees writing and numbers as objects to think with as well as instruments to achieve knowledge. Citing many studies from different countries, she shows how children understand the formal features of these domains before they have been taught. Agreeing with Piaget, the author believes that children are constructors of knowledge, and that education needs to build on what children already know. Most of the subjects of the studies Tolchinsky discusses are three to five years of age. They can distinguish between the uses of letters and numbers. Tracing the development of both their understanding and their performance, Tolchinsky builds a case for innate biases toward numeration as well as literacy. She reviews some of the neuropsychological research about brain-damaged children and adults. Given the wealth of detail she presents, her recapitulation of the major points at the end of each chapter is helpful. This is a thought-provoking analysis for those with specialized knowledge about linguistic and numerical development. The glossary, index, and reference list are excellent additions to the book. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. S. Sugarman Bennington College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Introduction: What Children Know and We Have Already Forgotten About Writing and Numeralsp. xv
Defining a Domain of Knowledgep. xvii
A Developmental Domain-Specific Perspective on Writing and Numeralsp. xxiii
A Constructivist Perspective on Writing and Numeralsp. xxv
Private and Public Aspects of Writing and Numbersp. xxvii
Literate Adults' Ideas About the Development of Writingp. xxviii
Outline of the Bookp. xxx
1 What Philosophers Say About Representational Means That May Help Us to Understand What Makes Writing and Numerals so Specialp. 1
The Confines of Semioticsp. 5
External and Internal Representationsp. 6
Aside on Two Examples to Clarify Different Types of Representationp. 9
Conditions of External Representationsp. 11
Dimensions for Distinguishing Pictorial and Scriptorial Devicesp. 12
The Notion of Notationp. 15
Conditions Met by Notational Elementsp. 16
Context Sensitivity Revisitedp. 19
2 What Historians Say About the Origin and History of Writing and Numeralsp. 21
Prototypical Accounts of the History of Writingp. 26
Aside on The Projection Principlep. 28
The Seed(s) of Writingp. 29
Aside on the Metalinguistic Reflection and Writingp. 32
Principles in Historical Notation of Numberp. 34
The Grouping Principlep. 35
Operational Principlesp. 37
The Positional Principlep. 37
Notational Principles and Notational Formsp. 38
The Use of Notational Elements for Representing Absencep. 39
Some Conclusions About the Historical Principles of Number Notationp. 40
Principles in the History of Writingp. 41
The Case of Proper Namesp. 42
The Case of Multilingual Cuneiformp. 44
Aside on Types of Languagep. 45
The Case of the Phoenician Lettersp. 48
The Case of Romance Latinp. 50
Some Conclusions From the Historical Case Analysesp. 50
3 What Children Know About Writing Before Being Formally Taught to Writep. 53
The Child's Path to Alphabetic Writingp. 55
Writing to Writep. 56
Writing Becomes Formally Constrainedp. 62
Constraints on Legibilityp. 62
Constraints on "Writability"p. 65
Writing Becomes Communicativep. 69
Links Between Reading and Writingp. 71
Writing Becomes Regulated by Letter-to-Sound Correspondencesp. 74
The Syllabic Hypothesisp. 76
Writing Becomes Language Specificp. 78
The Alphabetic Principlep. 84
The Development of Early Writing and Invented Spellingp. 89
The Development of Early Writing and Sociocultural Approaches to Literacyp. 92
Writing as a Source of Knowledgep. 94
4 What Children Know About Numerals Before Being Formally Taught and Immediately Afterwardp. 97
Notional Cognition and Notational Cognitionp. 98
Numerical Notions Before Notationsp. 103
Cognition of Environmental Notationsp. 109
Interpreting and Relating Digital and Analogical Representationsp. 115
Creating Graphic Representations of Quantityp. 117
Inventing Numerical Notationsp. 121
Understanding Combinations of Numeralsp. 125
Children's Path to the Written System of Numerationp. 128
Criterion 1 The Number of Numerals is a Good Indicator of Magnitudep. 129
Criterion 2 The Position of Numerals is Also Important: The One Coming First Winsp. 130
Criterion 3 Round Numbers Receive a Privileged Treatmentp. 131
Criterion 4 Conflict Between Magnitude and Number of Numeralsp. 133
Aside on Spoken and Written Numerationp. 134
The Representation of Absence and the Use of Zerop. 137
Numerals as a Source of Knowledgep. 139
5 What Children Know About the Relations Between Writing and Number Notationp. 145
Similarities and Differences Between Alphabetic Writing and Numeralsp. 147
The Child's View of Writing and Numerals Before Schoolingp. 151
Formal Differentiation Between Writing and Numeralsp. 152
Functional Differentiation Between Writing and Numeralsp. 157
Explicit Differentiation Between Writing and Numeralsp. 166
Differentiation Without Schoolingp. 175
Sources of Early Differentiationp. 177
So Where Does Early Differentiation Originate?p. 180
New Writing Spaces or Redefining Relations Between Notationsp. 181
6 The Effect of Writing on Children and Grown-ups Once It Has Been Learnedp. 184
Aside on Writing and Languagep. 186
The Effects of Writing on Languagep. 188
Phonological Awarenessp. 188
In What Ways Did the Two Languages Differ?p. 191
Morphological Awarenessp. 193
Judgments of Grammaticalityp. 194
Conceptualization of Wordsp. 196
The Effect of Writing on Lifep. 200
Valentin Jamerey-Duval: Acquiring Technology and the Prevailing Ideologyp. 201
Writing in the Life of Domenicho Scandella: Incorporating Technology Into One's Own Ideologyp. 203
Writing in the Life of Latifa: Writing as Alienationp. 205
Writing on Writingp. 207
7 Closing Reflections on Notational Systems, Boomerangs, and Circlesp. 213
The Boomerang Effect on the Development of Writing and Numeralsp. 215
The Boomerang Effect on Users' Ideas of the Domains of Knowledge Represented by Notationsp. 219
The Boomerang Effect on the History of Notational Systemsp. 221
The Boomerang Effect in the Relations Between Biology and Culturep. 222
Looking Forward and Appreciating What Has Been Learnedp. 223
Referencesp. 227
Glossaryp. 241
Author Indexp. 247
Subject Indexp. 253