Why was waragaria afraid of karia? Because karia halira dira.
March 24, 2018 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Someone on Hacker News suggested that there was possibly some chauvinism involved in ranking Japanese so low on the complexity ranking, and I'm inclined to agree. There are two different names for both four and seven, for crying out loud. And the number system you use changes completely depending on what you're counting. At the very least, I don't see how you could argue that Japanese counting is less complex than Mandarin counting when the latter is essentially a subset of the former.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 7:41 PM on March 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

I did not realize that the list was going from most complex to least complex. I somehow thought it was going from most simple to least simple. My first thought was, “Most simple is base 15?? I give up everything.”
posted by greermahoney at 8:01 PM on March 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are some other great pages about number systems of the world around. Eugene Chan is a guy who mass spams linguists and asks them for info on number systems, and then collates them here. It's a giant wall of text, but then he has the systems sorted by language and by language family.
posted by lollusc at 8:22 PM on March 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

nice job of finding a link to out web 1.0 me, lollusc.
posted by gwint at 8:28 PM on March 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

In the dialect of Ojibwe I learned, 11-19 are just "ashi bezhig", "ashi niizh", and so on. No initial "midaaswi". Not a big deal because there legitimately are a zillion dialects. But why is English "twenty" characterized as a composite 2 × 10 but "niizhtana" is not?
posted by traveler_ at 9:46 PM on March 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Previously, like, yesterday... I know ONE BILLION is "a lot." But how much really?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:02 PM on March 24, 2018

It looks like his estimates of complexity depend on his etymologies, which are kind of shallow. E.g. he has French 11-16 as unanalyzable, when they simply come from n+10 (undecim > onze). English 11/12 come from 'one left', 'two left'.

Plus he's got some weird transliterations going on— e.g. "dus" for Hindi das.

My list is designed for comparison across families; Eugene Chan's is excellent for looking at one language at a time. Plus he's given IPA in many cases, which is a huge additional research load.
posted by zompist at 2:52 AM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

... oh, I see. This is just focusing on the word-labels given to numbers, so eg. uses "complexity" in a linguistic sense; not talking about the mathematical structure, which is the definition of "number system" that I am familiar with.
posted by eviemath at 5:20 AM on March 25, 2018

Also, why is Scots Gaelic on there but not Irish--both Modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic derive from Old Irish. I wish this ranking system accounted for different ways of counting. E.g. in Modern Irish (and probably Scots Gaelic) the complexity of the counting system requires the use of different words for counting things and people.
posted by Morpeth at 9:14 AM on March 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd love to see some great visualization of the structure of these number systems. Like which languages have a special word for "eighty" vs "eight tens" vs "four score".
posted by Nelson at 9:17 AM on March 25, 2018

Not including English (hard to judge my native language), the rankings of the three languages I’ve studied seem reasonable— numbers in Danish are more complex than either French or Latin.

I noticed they did mention Swiss French as numerically simpler, but what about Belgium? Belgian French has septante and nonante, but uses quatre-vingts for eighty. (Is it more or less complicated to switch back and forth between a twenty-count and a ten-count?)

I would also be interested to learn why Danish picked up the twenty-count but Swedish didn’t. Is that what the Danes get for marauding about in the Danelaw for a while? Or is it from a land connection with the western part of Europe?
posted by nat at 2:10 PM on March 25, 2018

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