Counting by 10s vs. 20s

Michael Everson everson at EVERTYPE.COM
Wed Sep 4 11:55:32 UTC 2013

On 22 Aug 2013, at 17:56, Geoffrey Steven Nathan <geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU> wrote:

> The standard theory is that it was borrowed from Celtic languages spoken in the area where French developed . Some Celtic languages do indeed have 'vigesimal' counting systems ((Breton, Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish all have or had it) .

It is alive and kicking in Breton, certanly.

The rationale (or folk-rationale) I was taught about why the Celts counted in 20s is that it is relatively easy to group sheep on a hillside in 20s at a glance.

As far as counting in twelves goes, Anoop Chandola at the University of Arizona explained to me once that in India some merchants calculate quickly using their hand as a kind of abacus. The thumb counts one as the lowest segment of the little finger, two as the middle segment of the little finger, three as the top segment of the little finger, four as the lowest segment of the ring finger, and so on.

Michael Everson *

The American Dialect Society -

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