What language does not have numbers?

The Piraha tribe in the Amazon region of Brazil does not have words for specific numbers nor do they count. The Piraha language contains just three words for quantities: Hoi for “small size or amount”, hoi for “somewhat larger amount”, and baagiso for “many”. Linguists refer to languages that do not have number-specific words as anumeric.

There’s still much to learn about this niche language. Although the 2016 MIT study was the most extensive to date on Piraha, analyzing 1,100 translated sentences, deeper research is required to say with certainty that recursion doesn’t exist.

The strongest statement researchers could make: “It’s plausible.”

Although Daniel Everett has studied Piraha longer than any other known researcher, his findings are often called into question. He has suggested the tribe does not have words to describe colors, for example, and that idea has also been challenged. Other researchers have started to study Piraha, but there’s little agreement thus far on much of anything.

Despite the uncertainty, Piraha serves as a fascinating reminder that perhaps we haven’t unraveled the mystery that is human language. With such a small Piraha population remaining, linguists and translators face a race against time to learn everything they can about one of the world’s most isolated languages before it disappears entirely.


Picture Credit : Google