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Math Forum » Discussions » Inactive » Historia-Matematica

Topic: [HM] Counting from Zero
Replies: 6   Last Post: Aug 30, 2005 9:28 PM

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Don Cook

Posts: 101
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [HM] Counting from Zero
Posted: Aug 16, 2005 11:36 PM
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Dear all,
We have the same problem in English with the abstract concept of set. We
talk of a herd of cows, a flock of chickens, a pod of whales , a pride of
lions. Each animal grouping has it's own word. The French have "assemblage
(forgive my spelling, I can't find my French dictionary.) for a group of
objects. In his autobiography, Stan Ulam mentions that French is the best
language for mathematics. It's almost Goldylocks: mathematical statements in
English are understatements, statements in German are overstatements, but
statements in French are just right. Ulam mentions that he had this thought
while delivering a lecture and was amazed that his head could carry on two
conversations at once.
Peace from a hot, hot Albany Georgia,
DON

> From: Martin Davis <martin@eipye.com>
> Reply-To: historia-matematica@chasque.apc.org
> Date: Tue, 09 Aug 2005 16:48:52 -0700
> To: historia-matematica@chasque.apc.org
> Subject: Re: [HM] Counting from Zero
>
> At 07:35 AM 8/2/2005, Ralph A. Raimi wrote:
>

>> I have been told that while mathematicians might have words for
>> the members of N, daily speech in Japan does not, but uses words with
>> affixes, such as "three flat things", a word or syllable that has a
>> different sound from "three round things". I have seen a linguist in a
>> demonstration trying to get the word "three" from a Japanese girl, as if
>> he had landed in Japan from Mars. He held up three fingers
>> interrogatively and recorded her sound, then held up three sheets of
>> paper, three marbles and so on. He was unable to find a root in the
>> various responses, as he would with some European language. Is this
>> correct? And does it hold in some way for the ordinals? If we are to
>> decide what is natural, what "comes first", it would be well to begin with
>> living languages.

>
> There are two sets of number words in Japanese, one set (ichi, ni, san ,
> ...) derived from the Chinese reading of the characters. I don't remember
> how the second set goes. The number words for different kinds of things are
> made from the second set of number words by adding appropriate suffixes.
>
> Martin





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