Twenty-four or four-and-twenty: language modulates cross-modal matching for multidigit numbers in children and adults

Anna F. Steiner*, Chiara Banfi, Sabrina Finke, Ferenc Kemény, Francina J. Clayton, Silke M. Göbel, Karin Landerl

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)
    8 Downloads (Pure)


    Does number–word structure have a long-lasting impact on transcoding? Contrary to English, German number words comprise decade–unit inversion (e.g., vierundzwanzig is literally translated as four-and-twenty). To investigate the mental representation of numbers, we tested the effect of visual and linguistic–morphological characteristics on the development of verbal–visual transcoding. In a longitudinal cross-linguistic design, response times (RTs) in a number-matching experiment were analyzed in Grade 2 (119 German-speaking and 179 English-speaking children) and in Grade 3 (131 German-speaking and 160 English-speaking children). To test for long-term effects, the same experiment was given to 38 German-speaking and 42 English-speaking adults. Participants needed to decide whether a spoken number matched a subsequent visual Arabic number. Systematic variation of digits in the nonmatching distractors allowed comparison of three different transcoding accounts (lexicalization, visual, and linguistic–morphological). German speakers were generally slower in rejecting inverted number distractors than English speakers. Across age groups, German speakers were more distracted by Arabic numbers that included the correct unit digit, whereas English speakers showed stronger distraction when the correct decade digit was included. These RT patterns reflect differences in number–word morphology. The individual cost of rejecting an inverted distractor (inversion effect) predicted arithmetic skills in German-speaking second-graders only. The moderate relationship between the efficiency to identify a matching number and arithmetic performance could be observed cross-linguistically in all age groups but was not significant in German-speaking adults. Thus, findings provide consistent evidence of a persistent impact of number–word structure on number processing, whereas the relationship with arithmetic performance was particularly pronounced in young children.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number104970
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Crown Copyright 2020. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • transcoding
    • arithmetic
    • cross-linguistic
    • audio–visual number matching
    • mathematical development
    • number–word inversion


    Dive into the research topics of 'Twenty-four or four-and-twenty: language modulates cross-modal matching for multidigit numbers in children and adults'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this