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Re: Do people ever make variant numerical systems for non-primitive cultures?

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  • Logan Kearsley
    ... Sadly, I cannot provide examples of conlangs with entirely non-place-value systems. However, Klingon uses a place-value system that s rather different from
    Message 1 of 18 , Mar 7, 2013
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      On 4 March 2013 18:44, Matthew George <matt.msg@...> wrote:
      > I was thinking about Roman numerals, and how terrible for performing
      > mathematics that whole system is. Then it occurred to me that I've never
      > encountered a conlang with a system anything like it. Toki Pona's is
      > somewhat similar, but much simpler, and is obviously related to that lang's
      > design intent. Pretty much all of the other variation I've heard about
      > involves numerical bases. But the place-value system, complete with zero,
      > is always what people seem to choose.
      >
      > I haven't looked at all that many systems. Do people ever make clunky,
      > irrational, and old-fashioned systems like the Roman numerals? Or are the
      > purposes of number systems so practical that most conlangers have no
      > interest in making such a complex (no, baroque) method for doing math?
      > Most other aspects of conlangs seem to be deliberately elaborated and
      > intricate, reflecting how much weirdness is out there and how the
      > complexity of a language isn't related to how materially-advanced its
      > society is. But historically, most peoples had very basic math skills.
      >
      > I'd love to see counter-examples to the modern place-value system. Can you
      > recommend any?

      Sadly, I cannot provide examples of conlangs with entirely
      non-place-value systems. However, Klingon uses a place-value system
      that's rather different from what most people are familiar with; it's
      got three numerals, but the digits run 1 to 3, not 0 to 2.
      Counting goes as follows:
      1 - 1
      2 - 2
      3 - 3 (three ones)
      11 - 4 (one three and one ones)
      12 - 5 (one three and two ones)
      13 - 6 (one three and 3 ones; this is the kind of weird part)
      21 - 7 (two threes and one one)
      etc.

      Most representations are the same as in a regular place value system
      with zero, except for powers of the radix, which have one less digit,
      eliminating the zero. A mechanical transformation can be done on any
      regular place-value system to turn it into a zero-less system like
      this.

      I came up with a mixed system (intending to use it for Mev Pailom, but
      that hasn't worked out very well as of yet) with basic numerals for 1,
      2, and 5. Counting goes

      1
      2
      1 and 2
      2 2s
      5
      5 and 1
      5 and 2
      5 with 2 and 1
      5 with 2 2s
      2 5s
      ...
      2 and 1 of 5 = 15
      ...
      2 2's of 5 = 20

      I don't have any sort of extra-linguistic numeral-only notation for it
      yet. And it gets very clumsy when trying to describe numbers much
      larger than 80 (2 2s of 2 2s of 5). So it needs a bit work still.

      -l.
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