Breaking down number syntax: Spared comprehension of multi-digit numbers in a patient with impaired digit-to-word conversion

Dror Dotan*, Naama Friedmann, Stanislas Dehaene

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Can the meaning of two-digit Arabic numbers be accessed independently of their verbal-phonological representations? To answer this question we explored the number processing of ZN, an aphasic patient with a syntactic deficit in digit-to-verbal transcoding, who could hardly read aloud two-digit numbers, but could read them as single digits ("four, two"). Neuropsychological examination showed that ZN's deficit was neither in the digit input nor in the phonological output processes, as he could copy and repeat two-digit numbers. His deficit thus lied in a central process that converts digits to abstract number words and sends this information to phonological retrieval processes. Crucially, in spite of this deficit in number transcoding, ZN's two-digit comprehension was spared in several ways: (1) he could calculate two-digit additions; (2) he showed good performance in a two-digit comparison task, and a continuous distance effect; and (3) his performance in a task of mapping numbers to positions on an unmarked number line showed a logarithmic (nonlinear) factor, indicating that he represented two-digit Arabic numbers as holistic two-digit quantities. Thus, at least these aspects of number comprehension can be performed without converting the two-digit number from digits to verbal representation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-73
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Oct 2014


FundersFunder number
ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition
Bettencourt-Schueller Foundation
Collège de France
Lieselotte Adler Laboratory for Research on Child Development
Macquarie University
Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale
Azrieli Foundation
Commissariat à l'Énergie Atomique et aux Énergies Alternatives


    • Arithmetic
    • Holistic processing
    • Number representation
    • Number syntax
    • Two-digit numbers


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