Sunday Levity: An Iranian crore and other numbers

Do the differences count?

It turns out that the Iranians used the word crore in their old numbering system. But to denote 500,000. Was this the result of Iranians being shortchanged by a shifty Indian trader several centuries ago? We don’t know, but it turns out that the Iranians stopped using the term a few decades ago. (They finally realised they’ve been had?)

The Swahili speaking Africans still use the word laki to denote 100,000, a legacy of historical trading relations between India and East Africa.

Two more interesting asides about numbers. Shinji Takasugi has a wonderful site comparing the complexities of numbering systems of various cultures.

According to him, the simplest is Tongan, where you would say “4” “2” (fa ua) for the number that is the answer to life, the universe and everything. The most complex is Huli, a language spoken in Papua New Guinea (a country the size of a small Indian state, but with perhaps as much linguistic diversity as the whole of India). In the quindecimal (base-15 system) you’d have to say “the answer is ngui ki, ngui tebone-gonaga hombearia“, that is “(15 × 2) + (12 object of the 3rd 15)”. Mr Takasugi deems Hindi as the fourth most complex. That’s a little questionable, because though the names are slightly irregular, the pattern is not too hard to discern. The answer, as you know, is bayalees.

The Balkan-Romanis (popularly known as the Gypsies) count their numbers as jekh (yake), duj, trin, štar (char), panc (panch), šov (chov), eftá, oxtó, enjá, deš (dach) and biš (for 20). The answer according to them is saránda-te-duj. The Gypsies, being the impatient sort, must have left India after six, and made up the rest as they went along. [That doesn’t explain why they got des and bis, but this is a Sunday Levity post. It need not make sense]

4 thoughts on “Sunday Levity: An Iranian crore and other numbers”

  1. From Romano Lavo-Lil Romany Dictionary Gypsy Dictionary
    by George Borrow Part 1 out of 4

    The English Gypsies can count up to six, and have the numerals for
    ten and twenty, but with those for seven, eight, and nine, perhaps
    not three Gypsies in England are acquainted. When they wish to
    express those numerals in their own language, they have recourse to
    very uncouth and roundabout methods, saying for seven, dui trins ta
    yeck, two threes and one; for eight, dui stors, or two fours; and for
    nine, desh sore but yeck, or ten all but one. Yet at one time the
    English Gypsies possessed all the numerals as their Transylvanian,
    Wallachian, and Russian brethren still do; even within the last fifty
    years there were Gypsies who could count up to a hundred…

  2. RF,

    Amazing find…I didn’t know that. Looks like they picked up 7, 8 and 9 from Hungarian languages.

    Sriram,

    Yes, compared to South Indian languages, it is. Nalpathi-irandu and Nalvaththa-eradu arise out of a simpler system. But compared many of those others on his list it is (arguably) not.

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