Saturday, February 18, 2012

Fun with Dutch Numbers

It's interesting to see how different languages deal with numbers.

I was at the immigration department on Friday, sitting and waiting for my number, #49, and in Dutch, it's said "negenenviertig ", or nine and forty, and this system is used for numbers greater than 20, but numbers less than 20 are similar in English (zestien = 16).

I find it strange how these two systems developed.. it reminds me of "big-endian" or "little-endian" systems from engineering. Do you put the larger number on the left side (as it is in English: twenty-one = 2 tens and then 1), or do you put the smaller numbers on the left (as it is in Dutch/German: negenentwentig, nine and then 20)

I once asked a Dutch colleague, when they writing down numbers that they hear on the phone, like negenentwentig, do they write it like it sounds (writing backwards, first then 9, then putting a 2 in front of it), because that's what I end up doing when I hear numbers and have to write them down.

Her answer: no, we just hear the whole number, and then write it.

Our brains must be so flexible to store numbers in different ways, it makes for funny mistakes when have to write a number I hear in Dutch from right-to-left, or when my Dutch colleagues tell me numbers in English but sometimes forget to switch the order.

I wonder why the system in English switches at 20? In English, numbers between 10-20, we say the 1 digit first, then "teen", but greater than 20, we say the 10's digit first, then the 1'st digit?

But in Germanic languages, it's always the one's digit first, then the 10's digit later, until you get to 100, then it's the 100 digit first, then the one's digit, followed by the 10's digit!!!

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