numbers in English

Discussion in 'Multilingual Corner' started by Marcel, Sep 29, 2014.

  1. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Okay, maybe a strange question but my curiosity got triggered.

    I always learned at highschool that in English numbers are like in French, 25 is twenty-five, like vingt-cinq in French. This is unlike germanic languages, where the minor number is placed before the 10-numbers, like the Duch vijf-en-twintig or the German funf-und-zwanzig.

    Recently I got all Sherlock Holmes stories in a reprinted version of the Strand magazine. So the text is the un-edited original. To my surprise Sir Arthur Conan Doyle uses the numbers in a Germanic way, like "five and twenty", "two and thirty" and so on.

    I was just wondering if this was part of any type of English, maybe spoken in London? Or were the rules different a 100 years ago and has English evolved being more French-like when counting numbers?
     
  2. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Could be a reference to currency. Before decimalisation in 1971, prices were quoted in Pounds Sterling, Shillings and Pence. Thus "two and six" was shorthand for "two shillings and sixpence". Dunno if that's the context of usage in the Conan Doyle piece but it is one possible explanation.

    There is one other possible alternative explanation. There was a period when stating numbers in the Germanic style was considered correct in certain higher-class echelons of society. If you've ever seen "Pride and Prejudice" you'll hear Elizabeth Bennett stating that she is "not yet one and twenty" (referring to her age).

    Dunno if either of these help...if not, sorry for boring you and wasting your time (particularly for introducing such chick flickery as "Pride and Prejudice" onto this forum)! :)
     
  3. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Thanks. Well, it does help. I think your second explanation does fit. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, these numbers are usually used when describing the age of a person. I never saw "Pride and Predudice" as I had to read that particular book for my English class, never got through it as I disliked it intensely and used the summary instead :).

    But when was that period? Is that the Victorian age ore more recent?
     
  4. rochie

    rochie Well-Known Member

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    it is also present in the nursery rhyme sing a song of sixpence.

    Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing; Wasn't that a dainty dish, To set before the king?

    supposed to be from the 1700's
     
  5. vikingBerserker

    vikingBerserker Well-Known Member

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    Interesting I have really never noticed this. It is interesting that we say sixteen for 16, but twenty-six for 26.
     
  6. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    The English language is a composite language that borrows heavily on ancient Germanic and Latin origins. You'll find that Old English did carry alot of the Germanic traits, such as counting by placing the minor number ahead of the decades (tens, twenties, fifties, etc.)

    English has evolved over the years, but so too, has German. When I was a "kinder", my Great Aunt Hanke still spoke Prussian in her household. Years later, I took German in school, because I thought I knew enough "German" that class would be a breeze. Well, that sure didn't work out. The Teacher thought I was being a troublemaker because I spoke with an accent (thinking I already knew German) and my terrible syntax so she failed me without really giving me a chance. :lol:
     
  7. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    I have heard it explained like buffnut stated.
     
  8. Totalize

    Totalize Well-Known Member

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    I would essentially agree with GrauGeist. I did not study very much of English history in University but the language is rooted in the history of the land called England and its original peoples. As I understand the Welsh were some of the first inhabitants of the area but we're in turn displaced westward by the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire Germanic tribes primarily the Angels and Saxons settled the area. We get the name England from the old Angeland land of the Angels (pronounced angle ). In England you have areas called Wesex, Essex etc from the old English west saxony, east saxony etc. the Germanic language was predominant here and developed and changed to include many French words as a result of the Norman invasion and conquer of England in 1066 AD. In Norman times the High court in England spoke French not Angelish. EventuAlly when French rule died off the language continued to develop until it's present form. I am sure some of our English friends could provide more accurate info but this how I essentially see how the language developed. Centre is how it is spelled. Yes it's spelling is rooted in French as is colour but it is how these words are properly spelled...in English.
     
  9. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    Interesting, I just noticed that Conan Doyle uses numbers differently. With the age he uses the Germanic form ( "My wife was five-and twenty when we married" ) while with numbers he uses the normal way ( "all twenty-seven of us" ). Apparently the use of the Germanic way was already wearing off in the late 19'th century.
    I did an experiment with Google translate. Translating "twenty-five" to french gives "vingt-cinq" as one would expect. But typing "five-and-twenty" is translated by google to "vingt-cinq ans", indicating that this form is only used for the age of someone or something.
     
  10. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    It appears that pronouncing a series of numbers changed to the way we know it around the 18th and 19th centuries, but the archaic method of pronouncing numbers in reference to age continued on through the Victorian era. That was most likely a "vanity" thing as the Victorian era produced quite a bit of romanticism.
     
  11. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    saying numbers backwards like conan doyle was a bit fashionable in the early parts of the 20th century. Has its roots going way back to middle English at least, possibly even old English, but the terminaology had a bit of a revival in recent history. thankfully the quirk has died away more recently.

    Old Norse used a counting system not based on tens, but on dozens and multiples of the divisors of twelve (e.g. 60 = "Schock" in German). "364 days" in Old Norse is fiora dagar ens fiortha hundraths "four days into the fourth hundred (= 120)". (Please note that "hundred" once meant 120.) I don't claim to understand the logic behind "einundzwanzig", but the question might be to understand the thinking behind numerals and find out about historic counting systems, not about reading direction.

    In Old English, a language descended from Germanic dialects,(with Latin, Frankish and Celtic inputs as well), numerals where "backwards", too: fēowertīene "four-teen", ān and twentiġ "one and twenty" etc., and you can still find remnants of an old vigesimal (base 20) counting system, e.g. "score" for 20.

    There are many more languages that speak or read (some of) their numbers "backwards", among them Greek, Latin (both directions possible), Celtic languages etc., and of course languages that actually read right to left like Arabic, where our written numbers come from. The question could be rephrased as: Why does English read their numbers in the wrong direction? Because obviously the "backwards" way is older and may even be more widespread...

    Our current number symbols were brought into Western culture from India, via Arabia. They reached Italy in 1200, Germany in 1500. In the 1500s, when the first books on mathematics appeared in German, there was some argument among scholars, if the number names should be adapted to the direction of writing and reading. Luther, whose Bible translation was the basis for the creation of a common German language (prior to Luther, there was no High German only a number of mutually hard to understand German dialects), decided to retain the traditional number names (i.e. "backwards"), contrary to other authors who proposed "zwanzigeins", in accordance with the writing direction of the new numbers.
     
  12. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    In NZ its "one bro, two bro" etc.
     
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  13. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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  14. pbehn

    pbehn Well-Known Member

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    #14 pbehn, Sep 30, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2014
    Marcel

    My Grandmother spoke Yorkshire dialect and she would use "five and twenty to" and "five and twenty past" when telling the time, she would also say "three score and ten" instead of seventy, a "score" was an old word for twenty. this is similar to the French quatre vingt dix, in this however she was quoting the Bible. Yorkshire dialect is similar to plat Deutsch in some ways in the words and the grammar used. This and many other dialects are dying out but I am sure in Conan Doyle's time such expressions were more common.
     
  15. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Also note, as mentioned, the 'teen' numbers, such as sixteen (16). It's an abbreviation of 'six and ten', another development of the language, similar to other abbreviations, such as 'can't', for can not, 'isn't it' for is is not, etc etc.
     
  16. Siddley

    Siddley Active Member

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    Exactly the same as mine then ! - except my Gran used North Derbyshire dialect
     
  17. Marcel

    Marcel Well-Known Member

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    #17 Marcel, Sep 30, 2014
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2014
    Sounds like your grandmother and I would understand eachother perfectly. My childtime language was Gronings, a dutch version of Plat Deutch. We did not even notice when crossing the border. The language in Ost Friesland was exactly the same.

    So it could be that some of these dialects played a role in the London language, as the Holmes stories alll take place in London? Yorkshire is quite some distance away, I believe?

    It's actually similar to Germanic languages. "Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fiveteen, sixteen" is in Dutch: "tien, elf, twaalf, dertien, veertien, vijftien, zestien", very similar.
     
  18. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    In German 11 (eleven) and 12 (twelve) have their own underived name ELF and ZWOLF not einzehn and zweizehn as the teen numbers might suggest: DREIZEHN (13)
    The multiples of ten like 20, 30, 40, etc. make use of a derived single number and "ZIG". thus ZWANZIG (20) and VIERZIG (40) the exception is 30: DREIßig
    In the older Latin 1-10 have individual names. The combined forms start with 11 UNDECIM this continues to 17 SEPTENDECIM. At 18 the Romans (literate ones anyway) changed to subtraction 18 DUODEVIGINTI where VIGINTI is 20 thus literally 2 taken from 20 and UNDEVIGINTI or 1 from 20. After 20 the numbers reverse and we have VIGINTI UNO 20 plus 1 VIGINTI DUO 20 plus 2.
    As to the term SCORE as the "Four Score and Seven years ago" (87 years) or "Three Score and Ten" (70) from the Bible meaning 20. This stems from the ancient practice of counting sheep in lots of 20 and keeping count by cutting notches (scoring) a tally stick
     
  19. A4K

    A4K Well-Known Member

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    That's right, eh bro! :lol:
     
  20. gumbyk

    gumbyk Well-Known Member

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    Nah, cuz...
     
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