Scientific American reports on three individuals who retained remarkable mathematical skills after brain damage that left them unable to use language to communicate.
Varley and her colleagues found that although the subjects could no longer grasp grammatical distinctions between, say, “The dog bit the boy” and “The boy bit the dog,” they could interpret mathematical formulas incorporating equivalent structures, such as “59 – 13″ and “13 – 59.”
Although subjects easily answered simple problems expressed in mathematical symbols, words continued to stump them. Even the written sentence “seven minus two” was beyond their comprehension. The results show quite clearly that no matter how helpful language may be to mathematicians–perhaps as a mnemonic device–it is not necessary to calculation, and it is processed in different parts of the brain.
This suggests that maths ability does not necessarily rely on written or spoken language to give calculations logical order and coherence.
Link to Scientific American story ‘Math without Words’.