Spatial and numerical abilities without a complete natural language

Daniel C. Hyde, Nathan Winkler-Rhoades, Sang Ah Lee, Veronique Izard, Kevin A. Shapiro, Elizabeth S. Spelke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We studied the cognitive abilities of a 13-year-old deaf child, deprived of most linguistic input from late infancy, in a battery of tests designed to reveal the nature of numerical and geometrical abilities in the absence of a full linguistic system. Tests revealed widespread proficiency in basic symbolic and non-symbolic numerical computations involving the use of both exact and approximate numbers. Tests of spatial and geometrical abilities revealed an interesting patchwork of age-typical strengths and localized deficits. In particular, the child performed extremely well on navigation tasks involving geometrical or landmark information presented in isolation, but very poorly on otherwise similar tasks that required the combination of the two types of spatial information. Tests of number- and space-specific language revealed proficiency in the use of number words and deficits in the use of spatial terms. This case suggests that a full linguistic system is not necessary to reap the benefits of linguistic vocabulary on basic numerical tasks. Furthermore, it suggests that language plays an important role in the combination of mental representations of space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)924-936
Number of pages13
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Counting
  • Deaf
  • Geometry
  • Reorientation
  • Symbol use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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