Re: Kaktovik Inupiaq numerals

From: Richard Wordingham <>
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2012 11:50:34 +0100

On Fri, 27 Apr 2012 13:50:15 -0700
Ken Whistler <> wrote:

> On 4/27/2012 10:45 AM, Richard Wordingham wrote:
> > If they are to be adopted by the CLDR, the digits need to be coded
> > consecutively.
> I doubt this matters in any case, because this proposed use is for
> a vigesimal system, which has digits 0..19, not digits 0..9. Trying to
> treat the first 10 digits as decimal digits in CLDR could accomplish
> nothing, IMO.

I don't believe the exclusion of non-decimal bases is set in stone.
So, while they wouldn't fit in to CLDR as it stands now, it would not
take a huge change to add them.

> Furthermore, what Inuit has is a vigesimal *counting* system, as the
> article indicates. But this innovated set of numerals, is attempting
> to turn this into a full-blown radix-20 numerical system, which I
> doubt has any cultural validity.

I presume you are talking about how the hundreds are (or were)
traditionally expressed.

> The Inuit number system is another case of the rather widespread use
> of mixed 5/20 counting systems, which count 4 "hands" of 5 into
> groups of 20.

Indeed, it immediately made me think of Welsh, where native-speakers'
use of their vigesimal system has been hammered by the use of Arabic
numerals. (In England, resistance to this 'heathen notation' collapsed
long ago.) Before anyone points it out, I do know that Welsh _pymtheg_
'15' and possibly even _ugain_ '20' ultimately derive from a
(superseded) decimal system. However, Welsh goes decimal at 100, so
this vigesimal notation would not match the language at all for higher

> I don't think combining diacritics makes sense in this case. Rather,
> this kind of construction is better handled by taking the graphic
> elements for 5, 10, and 15, and ligating them in a font for the
> combined units. So the only elements requiring encoding would
> be 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15, in order to fully represent this system.

No. One must be able to distinguish <ONE, FIVE> (= '25') and <FIVE,
ONE> (= '101') from the notation for '6'. Or are you suggesting that
rendering of ZWJ should be *essential* for the semantics, not just for

The (undemonstrated) use of the notation denoting hands for which I
suggested a combining diacritic could be handled by ligatures
specified by ZWJ, but there could be a lot of them. Look at the ugly
mess in New Tai Lue caused by not anticipating the need for medial 'v'
because the UTC knew too little about Tai Lue (or even, more
surprisingly, Northern Thai).

Received on Sat Apr 28 2012 - 05:55:58 CDT

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