Re: Kaktovik Inupiaq numerals

From: Kent Karlsson <>
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2012 17:04:34 +0200

Den 2012-04-28 12:50, skrev "Richard Wordingham"

> 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.

CLDR used to require sequentially encoded decimal digits, but my
understanding is that that is no longer the case. And indeed, the
numeral systems need not be decimal, or even positional. Roman numerals
are supported, as are (e.g.) Armenian numerals, and traditional
Chinese numerals (non-positional, using multiplier words).

While vigesimal systems aren't supported (in CLDR) to the degree
that any got *named*, in the way some other systems have been, there
is still *some* support. See e.g.
(a full-fledged vigesimal system in those rules) for spelling out
numbers as words in Classical Nahuatl. There is also,
for spelling out numbers in Kalaallisut (Greenlandic), but it is not
full-fledged vigesimal.

These RBNF rules are based on what I could find out from sources on
the web a few years ago. If anyone has corrections/extensions/variation
to these, or additions for other languages using vigesimal systems (yes,
I did see that there was some data on the Wikipedia pages referenced),
please send them to me, preferably with contact information to someone
"in the know", and I'll see what I can do. I cannot use vigesimal digits,
though, since none are as yet encoded. But if some set of vigesimal
digits were to be encoded, supporting them via RBNF would likely be the
first point of support in CLDR.

>> 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
> numbers.
>> 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
> acceptability?

While I would have liked to have seen the use of combining characters
(or ligation) in certain other cases where it is not present in Unicode,
I think that that approach would be very inappropriate here; this is for
digits for use in a positional system). Just encode (when that time comes)
each of the new digits corresponding to 0, ..., 19 *atomically*.

The Kaktovik digits are niftily designed though, with a logic in the
(abstract) graphical design, and each of them can be drawn in a single
pen stroke.

They have found their way into some fonts
 (, and has some
support form the Inuit Circumpolar Council

    /Kent K

> 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).
> Richard.
Received on Sun Apr 29 2012 - 10:07:52 CDT

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