1, 2, 3, ... as Varied as Arabic, Roman, ... Yoruban?
Date: 10/08/2011 at 19:57:04 From: Kasey Subject: Yoruba numerals I need to find representations of the numerals used in the countries of Yoruba and Kenya. I know the number system is base 5, and I can find the word for each number. But I need to see what each numeral physically looks like (1, 2, 3, 4, ...); and so far, my research has not turned up any leads. Thank you, KB
Date: 10/08/2011 at 23:08:11 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Yoruba numerals Hi, Kasey. I don't know much about Yoruba personally, but I think I know the answer to your question: their numerals probably look just like ours. Here's what's going on: Languages are essentially spoken entities rather than written ones. Most languages of the world do not have an indigenous writing system at all; if they have one, it is one that was brought in from elsewhere and adapted. From what I've just read (e.g., on Wikipedia), it seems that Yoruba was written in Arabic script from the 1600's, and in Roman script since the 1800's. Neither was invented by the Yoruba people on their own. (By the way, Yoruba isn't a country, as I'm sure you knew, but rather a people in Nigeria. And their numbers are a complex variation on base 20, not base 5.) So it would not surprise me if they have no written system of numbers based on their own language. That probably explains why you (and I) can't find any such thing. When you read about Yoruba "numerals," you are reading about the SOUNDS they vocalize for numbers, not the SYMBOLS they write, which is what we think of when we say "numeral." But to a linguist, writing is an extra -- it is not an inherent part of the language -- and written numerals are entirely outside the language. Furthermore, there is not necessarily any direct connection between how you say a number and how it is written. Reading about the vigesimal aspect of their way of naming numbers reminds me of similar aspects in Latin and French. In Latin, 18 is "duodeviginti," which means roughly "two from twenty." In French, 90 is "quatre-vingt-dix" -- "four twenties ten." But neither WRITES numbers in a vigesimal system. Notwithstanding the old-fashioned "score" (a rare instance of base twenty in our numbers), even in English we pronounce some numbers in ways that differ from how we write them: NUMBER: 12 WORD: "twelve" ORIGIN: "two-left, i.e., in addition to ten" NUMBER: 13 WORD: "thirteen" ORIGIN: "three-ten" [rather than "ten-three," as our writing would imply] And so on. So written numerals have no necessary connection to the spoken (or written) language. Now, if you happen to find Yoruba numerals somewhere that are not just ordinary Arabic numerals (in either sense!), and that reflect their vigesimal system, please let me know; but I won't be expecting it. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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