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OT: Semitic number games [Was:Numbers in Qthen|gai (and in Tyl Sjok)]

From:Shaul Vardi <vardi@...>
Date:Tuesday, January 11, 2005, 15:22
> On Monday, January 10, 2005, at 05:45 , kcasada wrote: > > > Hi, my name's Krista Casada; I'm new to this list, and find it > > fascinating. >
Hi, Krista and welcome. [Snip Ray's explanation of numerals in Arabic] Ray's explanation is accurate as I understand it. It's interesting to compare how Arabic manages this challenge (writing left-to-right numerals in right-to-left text) as compared to Hebrew. Although both languages essentially write the integers from left to right, Arabic is more "Orthodox" about it than Hebrew. For example, in writing abbreviated date forms, Arabic writes (assuming it is May 22nd 2005): 2005/5/22 I.e. each of the units "22", "5" and "2005" are written from left to right, but the three units are ordered from right to left. Whereas Hebrew writes: 22/5/2005 I.e. the whole sequence is treated as a chunk of numbers and ordered from left to right. (Both Hebrew and Arabic follow the European/British order of day - month - year rather than the American month - day - year). When writing the years of someone's birth and death, Arabic follows the same principle, i.e. as one progresses through the Arabic text, reading from the right of course, one reads ... Naim Khouri lived 1955 - 2005... In Hebrew that is also the formal or high status form, and editors will correct to it, but again you often find such dates ordered as an entire left to right chunk inside the text.
> > And would somebody please explain to me why we have to > > use masculine numbers with feminine nouns (and vice versa) > in Arabic? > > Please, please, please??? :)
Gender polarity occurs in Hebrew as well as Arabic. Moreover, there are complex rules in both languages regarding the form of the noun that follows these pesky numbers. In Arabic, for example, the noun may be singular or plural and in the accusative or dative case. And in colloquial Arabic, while most of the gender polarity has vanished, the old polarized forms live on with a few words that very often occur next to numbers (days, months). As for why - there are very long theories about that but I do not believe there is really an accepted explanation. I lent out my Arabic grammar that discusses this so I can't give the references.
> Curiouser and curiouser :)
> And how is the decimal point handled in real Arabic notation?
Krista's explanation matches my experience (and I have also never heard anyone say "four and fifty from a hundred"). I would just add that fasilah is the regular word for the regular comma in Arabic, which is indeed "backwards" compared to the Latin comma. Again, [modern] Hebrew occupies a middle position, with a "regular" Latin-sized and orientated comma. In Hebrew it used to be common to see the comma used instead of the period in fractions. Now you see it sometimes in prices on signs in shops and market stalls but rarely in print and never in anything official or scientific. Shaul