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YESTERDAY, WE dealt with four and twenty blackbirds in one way and another. (Don’t ask.) Today in Part 2, we see how German, French, and Danish languages handle counting. You’ll not believe what some of them do when they get beyond fingers and toes.
Ziffern in Deutsche, Chiffres en Français. Numerals in German and French are similar to those in English, but only to a point. Like English, once past one through ten, German and French have special words for eleven and twelve, elf und zwölf, onze et douze, respectively. Then German shares the “teen” suffix idea with English: dreizehn, vierzehn, … neunzehn.
French prefers special words treize, quatorze, quinze, and seize, for its thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. It picks up “teens” with dix-sept, dix-huit, dix-neuf, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, but prefers the dix/ten as a prefix, not a suffix.
Beyond Twenty. German gave English the idea of “four and twenty” with counting einundzwanzig, zweiundzwanzig, dreiundzwanzig, …. By contrast, French has it vingt et un, vingt-deux, vingt-trois, ….
Eventually Things Get Really Interesting. French continues along until seventy, at which point it prefers soixante-dix or sixty-ten. Unless you’re a Belgian or Swiss speaking French, in which case it’s likely septante. Then French has soixante et onze, sixty eleven, or Belgian/Swiss French septante et un.
The same game is played at eighty: If you’re French, it’s quatre-vingt, four-twenty; likely huitante in Belgium or the French-speaking portion of Switzerland.
Ninety is quatre-vingt-dix or nonante. And are you ready for quatre-vingt-dix-neuf? Literally, four twenties ten nine.
Good Fun på Dansk. In Danish, things sound Germanic up to fifty: forty-nine being niog fyrre, nine and forty.
But then fifty is halvtreds, short for halv-tred-sinds-tyve. For the fifties, seventies, and nineties, the Danes use a modified base-20 system. Hold on tight.
Literally, with fifty, the word particles halv-tred-sinds-tyve mean “half-third-times-twenty.” However, it’s interpreted as “one half less than three, times twenty,” i.e, 2 1/2 times 20. Which, of course, equals 50.
Similarly for halv-fjerds, “one half less than four, times twenty,” i.e., 3 1/2 times 20 = 70.
I was encouraged, indirectly, to learn this from Daughter Suz’s Danish-American friend Vivian. I leave halv-fems as an exercise. And also why is “Fireoghalvtreds Fyrre Eller Kæmpe!” such an odd proposition? Here’s a hint. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020