View Full Version : Numbers in Numerous Languages

02-03-05, 18:22
This is a link to Numbers (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/language/number.html) which collects number systems in many of the world's languages.

1. Full descriptions of numbers in 63 languages by TAKASUGI Shinji ([email protected])
2. Links to numbers 1-10 in roughly 5,000 languages.

Have fun.

Credits: Thanks for the original link, Glenn! :cool:

02-03-05, 18:42
I like that last one... it just reads the digits. ^_^

03-03-05, 00:20
Yeah, not like Hindi (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/language/number/hindi.html), where you have to learn a new word for every number from one to one hundred. Nimbia (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/language/number/nimbia.html) is pretty tough, too. I wonder how difficult it is for children whose native language is Nimbia to grasp math. Check out these links (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/japanese/message/jpnEtPf7-jyEtL0p2Dy.html) about how the counting systems of languages can help or hinder the ability of children to count.

[Edit] Also, here's some interesting information about math in Japanese (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/japanese/message/jpnDQs4uCYwDQpRzOrN.html).

03-03-05, 02:36
I don't think the Nimbian should be too difficult if you grew up with it. The decimal system is just a convention, you can just as well count with a duodecimal (also: dozenal) system. Some mathematicians even argue that a duodecimal system would be better.

The problem with the English (or German) system is that it kind of combines duodecimal & decimal.

More info on dozenal systems:

03-03-05, 09:27
In Decimals and Duodecimals (http://www3.aa.tufs.ac.jp/~P_aflang/TEXTS/oct98/decimal.html), Mr. MATSUSHITA says the following.

Moving from one numeration system to another does not seem to be a "big deal". It can be done within a short timespan, with the slightest push from the socio-economial factor.

In this respect, the numerals behave as if they were a part of extra-linguistic institution, like unit of measure, colonial law or some fancy goods in the market. The speakers, also, do not show any real resistance or animosity towards the numeric alteration. Many informants describes, matter-of-fact-ly;
"We used to count in old numbers. But now, we count in new numbers."This makes me think that the criterion of having a corresponding set of numerals in two languages is necessary to establish genetic affinity as totally unfounded. The Indo-European numerals correspond due to extra-linguistics factors such as historical interaction rather than common origin itself. Hence negative criticism on the Altaic theory on the ground of the the supposed Altaic languages lacking a general agreement or regular sound correspondence in the numerals is not sound logic. In other words, numbers don't mean much as primary and conclusive evidence when seeking to prove or disprove genetic affinity.

In paraphrase, numbers don't count. :evil:

EDIT: Thanks for pointing that out, Glenn.

04-03-05, 03:41
That isn't TAKASUGI Shinji, it's MATSUSHITA Shuji.

Thanks for that link, bossel. That was an interesting read. It makes sense, but it also seems counter-intuitive. It makes sense what you say about English mixing counting systems as well. If it were purely duodecimal, or dozenal, then it might be much more efficient. All we English speakers would need then is goro. :D

04-03-05, 04:27
I find their difficulty ranking very arbitrary, and even mistaken.

For example, why rank Swiss French as easier than Danish, Italian or Spanish, while it is more irregular ? The order should be Swiss French, Spanish, Italian then Danish (don't know why they think that femten, seksten, etc. are 15, 16... and not 5+10, 6+10... It's very regular).

But worse, looking at Javanese (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/language/number/javanese.html), they seem to say that the number from 11 to 19 are difficult because the word for 10 (and sometimes also the decimal) changes. But that's the same in most European languages.

For example in Italian 10 is dieci, but 11 is undici, 12 is dodici, etc.This is only slightly irregular (dieci vs dici), but French in French it changes from "dix" to "-ze" (onze, douze, treize, quatorze...). In Javanese, half of the decimal do not change at all : telu (3) => telulas (13), lima (5) => limalas (15), pitu (7) => pitulas (17)...

In addition, French has more complicated calculation : soixante-dix (70) is 60+10, quatre-vingt (80) is 4x20, quatre-vingt-douze (92) is 4x20+ irregular 2+10. Add to this the old form otante/huitante (80) still used in Swiss French, and the irregular septante (70) and nonante (90) still used in Begian and Swiss French (and historically in France too). That is certainly more difficult than Javanese. And yet, Javanese ranks 11th, French 16th and Swiss French 30th.

Anyway interesting list. I even didn't know all the "Ancient" Japanese (http://www.sf.airnet.ne.jp/~ts/language/number/ancient_japanese.html) ones (30 to 90).

04-03-05, 05:03
This (from Lexico's link) is very interesting :

Surprisingly enough, it's proven that Chinese-speaking children are better at counting numbers than English-speaking counterparts because of their language. Bilingual children are better at counting when they think in Chinese than in English. The irregularity of the English number system makes it harder for children to count numbers properly.

I wonder if this is only for the speed of learning to count for small children. It could also be that speakers of languages with more complex numbers (Hindi, French...) develop stronger mental calculation abilities because they need to calculate more and therefore get more practice in the long-run. Eg. French people don't have to think to know what 4x20+16 is. That's just how they pronounce 96. Both Indian and French people are renowed for their brilliant mathematicians. Just a wild thought worth studying...

04-03-05, 08:24
Maciamo pointed out the unique numbering systems of the Hindus and the French, and their possible connections to the brilliance of the mathematicians these cultures have produced. Continuing in this line of reasoning, the following excerpt from his Outsider link (http://www.prometheussociety.org/articles/Outsiders.html), specifically on Leta S. Hollingworth's (Children above 180 IQ) thripartite characterization of the gifted child, certain cultural traits can be employed to illuminate at least in part this interesting phenomenon.

1) having it too easy in the average curriculum; unchallenged from an early age, developing a strong tendency to daydream and to be lazy
2) being overly versatile in diverse areas; scattered in activities and pursuits; unrealistic planning (or no planning) making them quitters or monumental failures in life in general
3) unrealistic assessment of self and others' true abilities, interests, values, leading to conflict, persecution, resentment, and misanthropy

Regarding these three major weaknesses of the gifted person, could it be that the Indian caste system were giving its youths the following ?

1) extra strong curricula to keep the gifted challenged enough and hence focused,
2) predefined role playing casting a yoke on potentially delinquent smart kids,
3) high regard for the caste preventing any unrealistic expectations of others

Was there something similar in the social institutions of the early Germanic tribes who later formed the Franks ?

If there is any factual basis to this logic, then the modern citizen-state may have only worsened the situation; with the numerals being one of the few safeguards for the gifted who might have gone mad otherwise.
Just another wild theory that deserves a little thought... ;-)

Edit: To quote one of my favorite postcards, "Don't tell me to relax. It's the tension that's holding me together." :D
One of the problems faced by all gifted persons is learning to focus their efforts for prolonged periods of time. Since so much comes easily to them, they may never acquire the self-discipline necessary to use their gifts to the fullest. Hollingworth describes how the habit begins.

Where the gifted child drifts in the school unrecognized, working chronically below his capacity (even though young for his grade), he receives daily practice in habits of idleness and daydreaming. His abilities never receive the stimulus of genuine challenge, and the situation tends to form in him the expectation of an effortless existence [3, p. 258].

But if the "average" gifted child tends to acquire bad adjustment habits in the ordinary schoolroom, the exceptionally gifted have even more problems. Hollingworth continues:

Children with IQs up to 150 get along in the ordinary course of school life quite well, achieving excellent marks without serious effort. But children above this mental status become almost intolerably bored with school work if kept in lockstep with unselected pupils of their own age. Children who rise above 170 IQ are liable to regard school with indifference or with positive dislike, for they find nothing in the work to absorb their interest. This condition of affairs, coupled with the supervision of unseeing and unsympathetic teachers, has sometimes led even to truancy on the part of gifted children [3, p. 258].

A second adjustment problem faced by all gifted persons is due to their uncommon versatility. Hollingworth says:

Another problem of development with reference to occupation grows out of the versatility of these children. So far from being one-sided in ability and interest, they are typically capable of so many different kinds of success that they may have difficulty in confining themselves to a reasonable number of enterprises. Some of them are lost to usefulness through spreading their available time and energy over such a wide array of projects that nothing can be finished or done perfectly. After all, time and space are limited for the gifted as for others, and the life-span is probably not much longer for them than for others. A choice must be made among the numerous possibilities, since modern life calls for specialization [3, p. 259].

A third problem faced by the gifted is learning to suffer fools gladly. Hollingworth notes:

A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].

04-03-05, 14:43
Exactly Lexico, and that makes me ressent the (my) school system for not taking care of gifted children. Given the number of books written on the subject, and even well before I was born regarding Sidis' case, I think that it is a duty of any government to give an adequate education to gifted children, as they would do with dyslexic, physically or mentally challenged children. I think each country is wasting a big potential by not taking care of its gifted children and not giving them a chance to exploit their capabilities and socialize with similarilly minded children.

14-03-05, 17:59
Wow, A top languages' numbers complexity chart.

Tagalog has the number 34th on that chart.