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George has put up a grammar!  Also, we talk numerals — what base to use, how to construct higher numerals, cardinal vs ordinal, etc.  Then we feature a little bogolang called Wenedyk.

Top of the Show Greeting: Celinese

Links and Resources:

Featured Conlang: Wenedyk


Email from Mathew Park:

Dear Conlangery,Over the past two days I have listened to all of your pod casts. While I am no linguist (my degrees are in communication and English [so not too far from linguistics]) the terms you have used, while difficult to understand in the first few pod casts, were easy enough to look up on Wikipedia. I also enjoy when you pause and give an English example of a concept that non linguists may not understand.First and foremost let me applaud your podcast. While it may sound overly dramatic, listening to you all has convinced me to peruse a degree in linguistics. I have already scouted schools and by next fall I should be enrolled.  I think for me this is a good life choice, because I may be the only person in the world who has run a red light just to get home from work in order to finish a podcast on Nonconfigurationality.I have only been conlanging for about four weeks now. So this has been a valuable resource. You made me think of things I never would have otherwise. While I have not been creating languages for long, I have written prose and poetry for almost 10 years now, so I am not new to creating things from nothing. In that regard I found that thinking about the culture that would use the language has helped me better decide what types of words they would use and how they would use them.

I also enjoy the chemistry you three have. Please tell Bianca that I here by swear to never use X-Sampa.

While I cannot say much of my own language at the moment, as there is less than anything to present, I do have several comments and questions that I think might be interesting (again since I am not a linguist, but more of an English major, these are more about the idea of language then the linguistically parts)

1)I would be interested in hearing you three’s opinion on the philosophical view of language as a whole. This may sound a bit vague. What I mean is: Humans are the only species we can confirm as having a language. We have viewed language like behavior in other species, dancing bees, singing birds, and even various smell based communications. After listening to seven straight hours of your pod cast I began to think about the English language and how it’s even possible to understand it as easy as I do, and I swear for a few moments I forgot how to understand language. Do you think language is intrinsic to all sentient life, or is it something that only advanced species can hope to obtain?

2) What are your thoughts on nouns that cant be broken down(even if you have to cross languages)? For example the word Television is a combination of Tele and Vision, Tele I am assuming must come from Latin being remote, again I assume. And it can be seen in other words, Telephone Telekinesis Telecommunications. Other words can’t really be broken down to explain their meaning. Like the word Bookshelf can be broken down in to Book and Shelf ( a shelf for books), but Book and Shelf cannot be broken down to further understand.  In a conlang (from an English perspective) how much of your words do you think should be untranslatable in concept?

-More Fun Questions-

3) Do any of you indulge in a little egotism when creating your language? Perhaps using the your name or the names of people you like (or dislike) to create words, positive or negative. If you were to translate your English name into one of your conlangs, what would your name most likely mean phonetically?

4) Even though I have only been conlanging for less then a month, I have dreamed in my own language. Do any of you find yourself dreaming/thinking in any of your languages?

In closing, thank you for the pod cast, I hope it goes on for as many years as you are able to do it. And while it may be a lofty goal, having only a few dozen pages of my own conlang, One day I vow that you will feature my –as yet unnamed- language on your podcast.

Thank You

37 Responses to “Conlangery #30: Numeral Systems”

  1. Carsten

    German does stative meaning with the dative and dynamic meaning with the accusative as well, e.g.

    Er geht in den Laden.
    3SM.NOM go-3S in DEF.M.SG.ACC shop.
    ‘He goes into the shop.’

    Er steht im Laden.
    3SM.NOM stand-3S in_DEF.M.SG.DAT shop.
    ‘He stands inside the shop.’

    ‘Im’ is the standard contraction of ‘in dem’ (in DEF.M.SG.DAT) of course.

      • Carsten

        Yeah. Only – unlike Ancient Greek, as far as William suggested – the genitive case isn’t usually part of the mix for the basic positional set of prepositions, although there is a number of prepositions that govern the genitive. This genitive is often replaced by the dative in spoken language, though (cf., e.g. wegen dem X instead of wegen des Xs (because of the X).

  2. Mathew Park

    Wow, cant wait to listen. I never thought youd pick my email to feature.

    Small note, and dont worry everyone gets this wrong. My name only has 1 t. I know its normaly spelled with 2, but on my birthcertificate it only has one 😀

    • admin

      Oh, ok, fixed. The email was too long to read on the show, but I thought we’d mention it.

  3. Lesley Foxx

    Oh my god – I just listened to the episode about Numerals…

    I think that was my phone that butt-dialed the voice-mail line, I’m almost sure of it…

  4. Kraamlep

    Hi guys, some random thoughts apropos this episode:

    Is it possible that Chinese’s writing system was a sufficiently strong influence to prevent numbers like 12 and 13 from being subjected to the forces of historical linguistics? I mean, would the fact that 12 was written [ten][two] be enough to stop the spoken form drifting away?

    Half five: that’s just us Brits lazily omitting “past” 🙂 As Bianca pointed out, Swedish would have it meaning “halfway to five”, and Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and German are the same. Similarly, Jameld has “fëfjel” (five-half), which is also used to mean “four and a half”.

    William mentions not needing to use a plural marker after a numeral in Hungarian. Finnish also does that; IIRC it does funky things with the partitive and the verb stays in the singular. Which is fun. Russian is glorious: it uses the genitive singular with 2, 3, 4 and numerals ending in those digits, and the genitive plural for 5–9. So you get one book, two/three/four of book, five/six of books… , 21 book, 22 of book, 25 of books and so on. Truly inspirational 🙂

    • admin

      I don’t think the writing system is such a large influence. If historical linguistics managed to produce contractions or blended forms, they’d probably just invent new characters for them (new characters are easy to create, and it was even easier before computers). Also note that adopting Hindu-Arabic numerals never significantly affected our own language or any other as far as I know.

      I do remember hearing that British half five derives from half past five, a structure that is also used in the US. That makes the meaning make a little more sense.

  5. CMunk

    A short introduction to danish numbers.

    In danish “halv fem” (half five) is 4:30. Oh yeah, now Bianca found swedish 😉

    There’s also a special word for ‘one and a half’ in danish. It’s “halvanden” (half-second), and it has rarely used counterparts: “halvtredje” (half-third = 2.5) “halvfjerde” (half-fourth = 3.5).

    And this brings me to the vigesimal part of the numbersystem. The names of the tens 50-90 are derived from the number of scores. For example 60 is “tresindstyve” which breaks down to “three-times-twenty”, though this is a rather conservative way of saying it; it is normally* shortened to “tres”.

    Now, 50 is “halvtreds(indstyve)” (half-third-times-twenty = 2.5 * 20 = 50).
    70 is “halvfjerds(indstyve)” (half-fourth-times-twenty = 3.5 * 20 = 70).
    80 is “firs(indstyve)” (four-times-twenty = 4*20 = 80).
    90 is “halvfems(indstyve)” (half-fifth-times-twenty = 4.5 * 20 = 90).

    *”normally” means always, except in ordinal numbers where you’d have to say “tresindstyvende”. And these are used a bit more than the english equivalents because we have flipped tens and ones (as in German).

  6. Uroš Dimitrijević

    Perhaps relevant: languages using the Chinese script (at least Chinese and Japanese AFAICT) also have a parallel set of numerals called financial, or banker’s anti-fraud numerals. They are generally more complicated characters (with apparently the same pronunciation as the usual ones) whose advantage is that they do not share any structure which would otherwise allow the addition of strokes turning e.g. 三十 (30) into 五千 (5000). Interestingly, I’ve seen the financial numeral 2 (贰) being used as “to betray”, with the English translation “two-faced”.

    • wm.annis

      I’ll also add that there’s a special word for “two,” 兩 liăng, which is used when a measure word is needed.

      • Anthony

        …and when counting in the hundreds, thousands, and higher. (counting or providing a date – ie, 2711 BC)

        …….or so my Mandarin teacher told the class.

        • admin

          I don’t think that’s totally right. You can, yes, say 两千,两万, and even 两百, but in a date you would read out the digits as 二七一一 er4qi1yi4yi2. Also, there is an alternate pronunciation of 一, yao4, which is used for some places where you are reading out digits (mainly longer numbers, such as phone numbers or a long ticket code for a raffle).

      • Anthony

        I only just realized it was “has put up a grammar” in the first line. I kept looking at the links of resources & and the Featured Conlang…my eyes kept passing right by it.


        ps: and no, its not entertainment – its good work.

        • admin


          You’re not crazy. I only put in that link after you commented. The great thing about web publishing is I can change things after the fact. Though I will say this: I will NEVER go and “Lucas” previous podcasts. The early episodes had terrible quality and such, but I will not be re-editing them. Only things like “this file is too big, I will re-export it to make it smaller”, a situation which actually happened. And fixing broken links, technical stuff, etc.

  7. Kraamlep

    I prefer “altlang” rather than “bogolang”, which sounds derogatory (compare the programmers’ term “bogo-sort”, “The archetypical perversely awful algorithm” – The Jargon File). But this is probably an old and stale argument.

    I’ve been pondering a Germanic altlang idea for a few years: Gothic passed through Portuguese sound changes. After all, the Visigoths made it as far as Iberia, so it’s not totally implausible. Trouble is, I don’t have the spare lifetimes it would take to learn Gothic and Portuguese well enough to make a good job of it. Portugothic, anyone?

    • admin

      I think “altlang” could also apply to any alternate-universe language, rather than specifically one language run through the sound changes of another language. For instance, a creole of Mandarin Chinese and Hawaiian for an althistory where China conquered Hawai’i would be an altlang, but not a bogolang.

  8. Koppa Dasao

    About numerals and taboo words… In Norway there are some people that say halv-sju, half-seven, for 6 to avoid saying seks /seks/, six. as seks and sex are pronounced identical in Norwegian.

    • Anthony Docimo

      Not so — she’s just highly selective as to what she likes.

      Just watch…someone will make a conlang full of features she hates, and when it comes time to review it, she’ll say “I kinda like it, and I don’t hate it.”

      (I’ve seen things like that happen with ingredients and finished foods)

  9. Bryan Parry

    Wow!! I didn’t know you Americans didn’t use “half five”. that’s the normal way of saying it here.

    It’s half an hour past five o’clock –> It’s half past five –> it’s half five

    “Half to five”, as Bianca takes “half five” to mean, strikes me as extremely odd, as”half” is never “to” in English, it’s always “past”, whereas “quarter” could be either (quarter past vs. quarter to). In fact, it’s for this reason that we drop the “past”. I mean, if I say *”It’s quarter four”, you need to know if it is “to” or “past”, and so we cannot drop to/past. But with half, it’s never going to be “half to”, we only ever say “half past”, and therefore why not just drop the “past”?

    • admin

      American English stopped at “half past five” and did not reduce further. This might be because of influence of other Germanic languages — which, as we’ve noted, tend to go with the “half five”=4:30 interpretation.

  10. Vítor De Araújo

    About the word for ‘five’ being derived from the word for ‘hand’, English is not far away: ‘fist’ comes from the same PIE root as ‘five’, if I am not mistaken…

  11. Brian Bourque

    I remember hearing something about numerals vs. plurals.

    In Persian, when a number is used to count a noun, the noun remains in the singular. Thus we get things like:

    من ماشينها دارم
    [mæn mɒ.ʃin.’hɒ ‘dɒ.ɾæm]
    PN.1SG car-PL have-1SG
    I have cars.


    من دو تا ماشين دارم
    [mæn do tʰɒ mɒ.’ʃin ‘dɒ.ɾæm]
    PN.1SG two COUNTER car have-1SG
    I have two cars.

    I imported this grammatical construct into Lortho.


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