Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Count

We're all big kids and know how to count. But it's interesting to see how counting is done in different languages. What, you ask, can I possibly mean? Well, whereas in English there is a word for each number and they just go up in order, that is not always the case. In some languages, for example in French and Spanish, in the teens, there are some irregularities. Up through 16 in French (15 in Spanish), you get a word for the number. Seventeen (sixteen) through nineteen, however, are said 10+X (ie, 17 in French is said dix-sept, which means ten and seven).  Ok, that's doable. Then everything progresses relatively normally until you hit 70, which is said as 60+10 (soixante-dix). So you can imagine that when you get to, say, 78, you are saying something lovely like 60+10+8. Small grumbles are certainly in order when you're a foreigner trying to learn that. But really, that's nothing when you consider how one says 80--4 times 20 (quatre vingt). Huh? Yeah. Eighty is said as "four twenty." Oh, and ninety? Yup, that's 4 x 20 + 10! Ninety nine, then, is of course the rather unwieldy 4x20+10+9 (quatre vingt dix neuf).

So what about larger numbers? Being purists, when in France you need a number such as 2137, you aren't allowed to say twenty-one-thirty-seven, as we probably would in English. Nope, that's two thousand one hundred and thirty seven. But the Dutch? Nope, for them, that number is said one and twenty, seven and thirty. Single digits are said before the tens! 354? To the Dutch, that is three hundred, four and fifty. Weird... But it does explain why they would often say "fifty nine" when something was written 95, etc.  And those are only the languages I know bits and pieces of. Does anyone know other random ways of counting in other languages? I'm curious.

1 comment:

  1. Crazy! Matt is reading over my shoulder and laughing. He can speak french a bit and was all...I know, that is ridiculous!