Stephen Chrisomalis

Stephen Chrisomalis

Stephen Chrisomalis

My name is Dr. Stephen Chrisomalis, and I am a linguistic anthropologist who specializes in the anthropology of mathematics and the interaction of language, cognition, and culture. My four-field anthropological training includes work in cultural, cognitive, archaeological, and linguistic anthropology. My book, Numerical Notation: A Comparative History, published by Cambridge University Press in 2010, is a cross-cultural cognitive analysis of written numerals over the past 5000 years. I investigate the relationship between individual cognition and broader social, political, and economic processes. Understanding how number words and number symbols interact in specific contexts - how they are used rather than simply how they are structured - helps us to rethink assumptions such as the widely-held belief that we are now at the 'end of history' of numbers. I also publish and supervise work on cross-cultural methods and theories in anthropology, the anthropology of writing, literacy, and numeracy, and the history of anthropology. I am the author of the academic blog, Glossographia.

Since 2008, I have been undertaking linguistic and ethnographic research with the Math Corps at WSU, aiming to understand how Detroit middle school students acquire and use mathematical concepts.  I am working under a National Science Foundation grant to support this research along with colleagues at four institutions. My other new research projects include a sociolinguistic investigation of changes in the English numeral system since 1800.

I am interested in working with graduate students at both the MA and PhD level who are interested in the anthropology of science and mathematics, cognitive anthropology, linguistic anthropology, cross-cultural comparison, writing and literacy, and the anthropology of education. Please feel free to email me at any time to discuss the possibility of coming to study with me at Wayne State.

Research interest(s)/area of expertise

  • linguistic anthropology

  • cognitive anthropology

  • anthropology of mathematics

  • numeral systems

  • writing systems and literacy


  • PhD, Anthropology, McGill University, 2003
  • BA, Anthropology, McMaster University, 1996

Awards and grants

  • Developing and studying the replication of Math Corps, an out-of-school-time mathematics program for urban youth ($2,999,922)
    National Science Foundation (AISL: Advancing Informal STEM Learning), award #1612400

Selected publications

2018 The writing of numbers: recounting and recomposing numerical notations. Terrain: anthropologie et sciences humaines 70 (Oct 2018). ; DOI : 10.4000/terrain.17506

2018 Beller, Sieghard; Bender, Andrea; Chrisomalis, Stephen; Jordan, Fiona; Overmann, Karenleigh; Saxe, Geoffrey; Schlimm, Dirk. The cultural challenge in mathematical cognition. Journal of Numerical Cognition 4(2).

2017 Re-evaluating merit: Multiple overlapping factors explain the evolution of numerical notation. Writing Systems Research.

2016 Umpteen reflections on indefinite hyperbolic numerals. American Speech 91(1): 1-31.

2015 Constraint, cognition, and written numeration. Pragmatics and Cognition 21(3): 552-572.

2015 What’s so improper about fractions?: Prescriptivism and language socialization at Math Corps. Language in Society 44(1): 63-85.

2013 Greatness in the Math Corps family: integrating ethnographic and corpus-based approaches to a conceptual metaphor. Language and Communication 33(3): 155-166.

2013. Human Expeditions: Inspired by Bruce Trigger (ed., with Andre Costopoulos). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

2010. Numerical Notation: A Comparative History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Currently teaching

  • ANT/LIN 5320 Language and Societies

    ANT7030 Debates in Anthropology

    ANT7900 Synthesis

Courses taught

ANT/LIN 3310 - Language and Culture - Fall 2017

ANT/LIN 5320 - Language and Societies - Winter 2018

ANT/LIN/PSY 5900 - Culture, Language, and Cognition - Winter 2018

Citation index