Linguistic Inversion and Numerical Estimation


  • Sophie Savelkouls
  • Katherine Williams
  • Hilary Barth


Number line estimation (NLE) performance is usually believed to depend on the magnitudes of presented numerals, rather than on the particular digits instantiating those magnitudes. Recent research, however, shows that NLE placements differ considerably for target numerals with nearly identical magnitudes, but instantiated with different leftmost digits. Here we investigate whether this left digit effect may be due, in part, to the ordering of digits in number words. In English, the leftmost digit of an Arabic numeral is spoken first (“forty-one”), but Dutch number words are characterized by the inversion property: the rightmost digit of a two-digit number word is spoken first (“eenenveertig” – one and forty in Dutch). Participants (N = 40 Dutch-English bilinguals and N = 20 English-speaking monolinguals) completed a standard 0-100 NLE task. Target numerals were read aloud by an experimenter in either English or Dutch. Preregistered analyses revealed a strong left digit effect in monolingual English speakers’ estimates: e.g., 41 was placed more than two units to the right of 39. No left digit effect was observed among Dutch-English bilingual participants tested in either language. These findings are consistent with the idea that the order in which digits are spoken might influence multi-digit number processing, and suggests linguistic influences on numerical estimation performance.