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Number-Concept Acquisition and General Vocabulary Development


  • This research was supported by NIH Grant R03 HD054654 and NSF Grant 0953521 to Barbara W. Sarnecka. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health. We thank the children and families who participated in the study, as well as the teachers and administrators of the following Irvine, California preschools: Jenny Hart Early Education Center, Temple Bat Yahm Preschool, Turtle Rock Preschool, UCI Children’s Center, UCI Early Childhood Education Center, University Montessori and Willow Lane Preschool. We also thank research assistants John Cabiles, Kristen Cochrane, Dat Thai, Gowa Wu, Loan Le, Meghan Li, Elisa Hasrouni, Vanessa Lewis, Christina Tajali, Diego San Martin, Niyati Gupta, and Farah Toullier for their work collecting and coding data; and we thank lab managers Emily Carrigan and Helen Braithwaite for their help organizing the project. Thanks also to Emily Slusser and Meghan Goldman for their comments on earlier drafts.

concerning this article should be addressed to James Negen, Department of Cognitive Sciences, 2201 SBSG, University of California, Irvine, CA 92617-5100. Electronic mail may be sent to


How is number-concept acquisition related to overall language development? Experiments 1 and 2 measured number-word knowledge and general vocabulary in a total of 59 children, ages 30–60 months. A strong correlation was found between number-word knowledge and vocabulary, independent of the child’s age, contrary to previous results (D. Ansari et al., 2003). This result calls into question arguments that (a) the number-concept creation process is scaffolded mainly by visuo-spatial development and (b) that language only becomes integrated after the concepts are created (D. Ansari et al., 2003). Instead, this may suggest that having a larger nominal vocabulary helps children learn number words. Experiment 3 shows that the differences with previous results are likely due to changes in how the data were analyzed.