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Numbers ancient & modern (was: Unilang report)

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Tuesday, May 22, 2001, 18:22
At 11:52 am -0700 21/5/01, Weiben Wang wrote:
>Just wondering, how does the traditional [Welsh], 20-based system work, >
The traditional system works much as in Cornish, Breton and the various forms of Gaelic (Irish, Scots & Manx). There is a set of numbers from 1 to 19; these are then used with the word for twenty (or a "score") to express 21 to 39; 40 is "two-score", 60 "three-score" etc. The modern standard French system from 60 to 99 behaves in a similar way (cf. quatre-vignt seize = four-score sixteen = 96). This is not universal in the francophone world where _nonante six_ occurs in many dialects; it was originally a peculiarity of "Francien" and is considered by some to be due to substrate Gallic influence. Scots Gaelic (and Irish?) has developed a decimal system besides the traditional vigecesimal but, I understand, the older system still prevails. AFAIK both Breton nor the main Cornish revivals have adhered to the older system. Only in Welsh, it seems, has a newer decimal system successfully establish itself. Anyway, here are both sets of numerals: Traditional Modern 1 un 2 dau (m)/ dwy (f) 3 tri (m)/ tair (f) 4 pedwar (m)/ pedair (f) 5 pump (_pum_ before a noun) 6 chwech (_chwe_ before a noun) 7 saith 8 wyth 9 naw 10 deg 11 un ar ddeg un deg un 12 deuddeg un deg dau* 13 tri* ar ddeg un deg tri* 14 pedwar* ar ddeg un deg pedwar* 15 pymtheg un deg pump 16 un ar bymtheg un deg chwech 17 dau* ar bymtheg un deg saith 18 deunaw un deg wyth 19 pedwar* ar bymtheg un deg naw 20 ugain dau ddeg * or the feminine forms if required. But the _dau_ in _dau ddeg_ is invariable since _deg_ is regarded as a masculine noun in this construction. In fact, up to 20 the traditional system doesn't look particularly vigesimal - that only apparent above 20 as we shall see below. 11, 13 and 14 are just the units put 'onto' 10, i.e. tri ar ddeg = three on ten. 12 & 15 are obviously compound nouns; but then, having formed a single word for 15, units get put onto that - except for 18, which, just to add to the fun, is _deunaw_ <-- *dau naw = 2 x 9. Breton has a similar system, only there 18 is _triweh_ <-- *tri c'hweh = 3 x 6 :) The traditional numbers are used with the _singular_ form of the noun, the modern ones are followed by the preposition _o_ (of [partitive], out of) + plural. Also, _ar_ in the traditional system means "on" (not "and") and the noun comes after the first numeral and before _ar_! From 1 to 10 the older method still prevails, i.e. _pedair cath_ is far more common than _pedair o gathod_ for "2 cats"; but after 10, the modern method is normal, e.g. 17 cats = un deg saith o gathod (_saith cath ar bymtheg_ is literaray and old fashioned) (The change of c- to g- in the words for "cat/s" is nothing to do with numbers as such; it's just part of the Welsh initial consonant mutation system - the other insular Celtic langs have similar systems - which I won't go into here as it'll complicate the issue!) Now let's go on: Traditional Modern 21 un ar hugain dau ddeg un 22 dau ar hugain dau ddeg dau 23 tri ar hugain dau ddeg tri 24 pedwar ar hugain dau ddeg pedwar 25 pump ar hugain dau ddeg pump 26 chwech ar hugain dau ddeg chwech 27 saith ar hugain dau ddeg saith 28 wyth ar hugain dau ddeg wyth 29 naw ar hugain dau ddeg naw 30 deg ar hugain tri deg 31 un ar ddeg ar hugain tri deg un 32 deuddeg ar hugain tri deg dau 33 tri ar ddeg ar hugain tri deg tri 34 pedwar ar ddeg ar hugain tri deg pedwar 35 pymtheg ar hugain tri deg pump 36 un ar bymtheg ar hugain tri deg chwech 37 dau ar bymtheg ar hugain tri deg saith 38 deunaw ar hugain tri deg wyth 39 pedwar ar bymtheg ar hugain tri deg naw 40 deugain pedwar deg Right - you should now be able to work out the other modern numbers right up to 99, especially if I add that only _dau_ causes the 'soft mutation' of _deg_ [de:g] to _ddeg_ [De:g]. To do the same for the traditional numerals, you will need to know: 60 trigain 80 pedwar ugain But just when you think you've sorted it out, 50 in the older system is _hanner cant_ (half-hundred) rather than _deg ar ddeugain_. Indeed, _hanner cant_ may be used by those who otherwise use the modern system. When we get up to the hundreds life gets pretty boring: 100 = cant (_can_ in set phrases before nouns; _cant o_ is otherwise normally used before nouns) 200 dau gant 300 tri chant [sprirant mutation after _tri_] 400 pedwar cant etc The modern system is certainly easier when reading large numbers, e.g. 17 528 130 = un deg saith miliwn, pum cant dau ddeg wyth mil, cant tri deg.
>and do you know when and how the new system was created?
Not really - I think it was a development of the 2nd part of the 20th century. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================


Nik Taylor <fortytwo@...>