Advent Calendar 2020 – Counting Backwards

Counting Backwards

Hello everyone,

and welcome back to our Advent Calendar. And behind today’s door is… drumroll … a nice little video based listening comprehension about

How Germans Count

I’m sure most of you are aware that Germans say the numbers kind of backwards. Like  for 21, we say Ein-Und-Zwanzig, instead of doing it in the order of the digits.
My personal theory about this was that it has something to do with the fact that German is a head-final language. So the modifier comes before the actual thing.
Compound nouns work like that, for example. A Haustür – it’s a door (thing) for a house (modifier).
And numbers use the same logic. 
Einundzwanzigit’s a twenty modified with a one.
Makes a lot of sense, and it might well be part of the reason, why Germans do it that way.
But apparently, part of the reason for the mess is also good old… you guessed it…  Latin.
So today I want to share this nice little video that talks about the history the counting system.

And because the video is in German and a bit fast (and a little annoying… at least to me), so it might be too difficult for many of you to understand, I have made a transcript and a translation for you, so you can train your listening comprehension, as well.
You can download it as a pdf here:

German Counting Transcript – download pdf

Or you can find it below the video, so you can read right along.
The video is made by Art, by the way. That’s a French-German TV station that focuses on culture and art. They have some great documentaries up on Youtube, if you want to check those out.

Let me know in the comments what’s your opinion about the German way of counting. Is it really that confusing? I mean… the French version is WAY worse in my opinion :).
Anyway, viel Spaß with the video, have a great day and I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

 

***

Transcript and Translation

Wir deutschen sind Weltmeister in Hirnakrobatik.
Wir haben Satzkonstruktionen in denen das Verb ganz am Ende steht, was uns dazu zwingt, ellenlange Nebensätze mental abzuspeichern, bevor wir überhaupt wissen, worum es in dem verschachtelten Satz, den wir gerade zu verstehen versuchen, geht.

Us Germans, we’re world champion in brain acrobatics.
We have sentence structures in which the verb is at the very end, which forces us to mentally memorize inch-long side sentences before we even know what the sentence that we’re trying to understand is even about.

Tja und genauso akrobatisch ist unsere Art Zahlen auszusprechen.
Ein Franzose sagt hierzu vingt et un – “Zwanzig und eins”. Logisch, die zwei steht an erster Stelle. Ein Engländer sagt twenty-one. Ein Italiener ventuno. Sie alle sprechen die Zahlen in der Reihenfolge aus, in der sie dastehen.
Erst den Zehner, dann den Einer.

Well, and just as acrobatic is our way to say numbers. A French person says to this: vingt et un – “twenty and one”. Makes sense, the 2 comes in first position.
An English person says twenty-one.  An Italian says ventuno
The all say the digits in the order in which they’re written. First the ten, then the one.

Wir Deutschen nicht.
Wir sagen einundzwanzig. Erst die 1, dann die 20.
Wenn man uns eine Zahl diktiert, hören wir zuerst den Einer, und dann den Zehner, müssten aber den Zehner vor den Einer schreiben.
Bei großen Zahlen hüpfen wir metal hin und her wie ein Affe im Zirkus. Wir sprechen die erste, dann die dritte, dann die zweite, dann die vierte, dann die sechste und dann die fünfte Ziffer aus.

Not so us Germans.
We say “one and twenty”. First the one, then the twenty. If you say a number to us, we first hear the one, then the ten, but we have to write first the ten, then the one.
For big numbers, we’re mentally jumping around like a monkey in circus. Way say the first one, then the third one, then the second, then the fourth, then the sixth and then the fifths digit.

Achthundert….[number]
Für Nichtmuttersprachler ein Unding.
Na und, sagen Sie jetzt. Das gibt es sicher auch in anderen Sprachen. Stimmt. In ein paar nordindischen Sprachen, im Tschechischen, im Niederländischen, und in der Arabaischen Welt, wo ja auch von links nach rechts geschrieben wird.

Eighthundred…. [number]
A no go for non-natives.
Now you’re saying “So what.”. That most probably also exists in other languages. And that’s right.
In a few languages from northern India, in Czech, in Dutch and in the Arab world, where they as we all know write from right to left.

Im ganzen Rest der Welt spricht man Zahlen in Leserichtung aus, und erspart sich die Pirouetten, die wir Deutschen ständig machen müssen.
Studien zufolge führt das bei uns zu Fehlern beim Kopfrechnen, beim Telefonieren, im Bankwesen und in der Buchhaltung. Es heißt sogar, deutsche Schulkinder seien schlechter in Arithmetik.

In the rest of the world, numbers are spoken in the direction of reading, sparing everyone the pirouettes that we German have to do all the time.
According to studies, this (the way we say numbers) leads to mistakes with calculating in our head, with using phones, in banking and in accounting. There’s even a claim that school children are worse in arithmetic.

Im Zahlensystem der alten Römer, die die Buchstaben IVXLCDM kombinieren, spielt die Reihenfolge noch keine große Rolle. Generell werden die Zahlen unter Zwanzig verdreht ausgesprochen – so heißt zum Beispiel die Zwölf duodezime, also “zwei und zehn”. Die Dreizehn tredezim, also drei und zehn. Und so weiter.

In the numeric system of the old Romans, who combined the letters IVXLCDM, the order didn’t play a big role. Generally, numbers below twenty are spoken “inverted” – the twelf for instance is duodezime – „two and ten“. The thirteen is tredezim („three and ten“) and so on.

Über Zwanzig gibt es beide Sprechweisen. Einundzwanzig kann man wahlweise, unus et viginti oder vigenti unus aussprechen.

Als im 13. Jahrhundert das Indo-Arabische Zahlensystem durch die Kreuzzüge von Indien über die Arabische Welt nach Europa kommt, wird die Reihenfolge plötzlich wichtig.
Nun kann man mit 10 Zeichen unendlich viele Zahlen bilden, deren Wert davon abhängt, an welcher Stelle jede Ziffer steht.

Above twenty, there are both ways of saying it. 21 can be said unus et viginti or viginti unus.

In the thirteenth century, when as an effect of the cruisades the Indo-Arabic numerical system made it from India across the Arabic world toward Europe, the order suddenly starts to be important.
Now you can form unlimited numbers out of 10 signs and the value of which depends on the position at which the digit is.

Was mit römischen Zahlen undenkbar war, ist nun möglich: komplexe Multiplikationen und Divisionen, also Arithmetik.
Die neuen Zahlen, anfangs noch als Teufelswerk verschrien, kommen sie doch vom Arabischen Feind, sind eine Revolution.

What was unthinkable with Roman numbers was now possible: complex multiplications and divisions, or in other words Arithmetic.
The new numbers, initially shunned as a work of the devil since they came from the Arabic enemy, are a revolution.

Ihnen ist es zu verdanken, dass im Europa der Renaissance, der Handel und die Wissenschaften erblühen. Wie man sie allerdings spricht und als Wörter schreibt ist damals nicht festgelegt. Shakespeare schreibt mal die Einer mal die Zehner zuerst, der deutsche Mathematiker Adam Ries schreibt die Zahlwörter verdreht. Sein Kollege Köbel schreibt sie in Leserichtung, und der berühmte Reformator Martin Luther schreibt sie in seiner Bibel-Übersetzng konsequent verdreht.

It is thanks to them that trade and the sciences flourished in Europe during the Renaissance. The way to say them and write them as words, however, wasn’t fixed back then.
Shakespeare sometimes writes the one first, sometimes the 10, the German mathematician Adam Ries writes then inverted. His colleague Köbel writes them in the direction of reading and the famous Reformer Luther consistently writes them inverted in his translation of the Bible.

Die Franzosen halten sich ans Lateinische – unter zwanzig verdreht, darüber in Leserichtung.
Im Laufe der Jahrhunderte bildet sich dann ein Konsens heraus und praktisch überall passt man die Aussprache der Zahlen über Zwanzig nach und nach dem Schriftbild an. Als letzte im Bunde schaffen die Norweger die Verdrehung gesetzlich ab, und zwar 1951. Und in Dänemark und Tschechien verwendet man heute beide Sprechweisen. Offiziell die neue, privat die alte. Wir deutschen halten an dem Relikt aus dem Mittelalter fest.

The French stick with Latin – under twenty inverted, over twenty in the direction of reading.
Over the course of the centuries, a consensus slowly forms and practically everywhere the way to say the numbers over twenty is slowly adjusted to the order in which they’re written.
The last ones were the Norwegians who banned the inversion by law… in 1951.
And in Denmark and in Czech Republic people use both ways of saying them. Formally, the new one, colloquially the old one.
Us Germans, we cling to the relic of the Medieval times.

Wegen Luthers Bibel-Übersetzung, oder wegen der Deutschen Kleinstaaterei, die eine zentralisierte Änderung der Sprachgewohnheiten erschwert haben könnte, man weiß es nicht.
Ein Verein mit dem Programmatischen Namen 20-1 kämnpft heute in Deutschland für die Verwendung beider Sprechweisen. Doch obwohl viele Mathematiker, Pädagogen, Psychologen und sogar Politiker eine Reform für gar nicht so unsinnig halten, geht jedesmal ein Aufschrei durch die Bevölkerung, wenn das Thema auf den Tisch kommt.

Perhaps because of Luther’s translation of the Bible, or because of Germany’s sectionalism (many small kingdoms), that made a centralized change of parlance difficult – it is not known [why].
Today, an association/club with the programmatic name 20-1 fights on Germany for the use of both ways to say it. But even though many mathematicians, educators, psychologists and even politicians consider a reform as low-key sensible, there is an outcry in the population whenever the topic is put on the agenda.

Eine Reform sei lächerlich, gegen das Sprachgefühl, unnütz, naturwidrig, barbarisch, hirnrissig, unmöglich. Seltsam, sind wir deutschen vielleicht verliebter in unsere Sprache als andere Völker, unvernünftiger, sturer, nostalgischer.

A reform would be ridiculous, against the sprachgefühl, useless, against nature, barbaric, braindead, impossible. Weird… are we Germans maybe more in love with our language than other people, less reasonable, more stubborn, more nostalgic.

Wie dem auch sei – unsere Zahlendreherei hat uns nicht davon abgehalten, den Buchdruck, die Räntgenstrahlung, ein paar Automotoren, die Kontaktlinsen, die Relativitätstheorie und das Gummibärchen zu erfinden.

Tja, zu welchen Höchstleistungen würden wir wohl auflaufen, wenn wir auch noch ordentlich zählen könnten.

Whatever the case maybe be – our number-twisting didn’t prevent us from inventing the printing press, x-rays, a few car engines, the contact lenses, the theory of relativity and the gummy bear.

So… one wonders, what kinds of great things would we achieve if we could also count properly.

***

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Diane Calvert
Diane Calvert
1 year ago

The children’s nursery rhyme is ‘four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie’.

Sandra Alvarez
Sandra Alvarez
1 year ago

I always hated this about German. For such an efficient bunch of people, the counting system has got to be the most inefficient on the planet. I hate when I’m with my wife in Germany and there are train announcements or at the airport and they say a flight number – I have to think about it longer that one should to get it right and there have been times where I still haven’t. Luckily, I haven’t gotten on the wrong plane or train… YET. But yeah, the counting really sucks. Otherwise, I quite enjoy the language even with its challenges

Phil Chamberlain
Phil Chamberlain
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It’s more sensible than French though. Ninety thousand and seventy in german is simply “Neuntausendundsiebzig”, but in French it’s “Four-twenties-ten-thousand-sixty-ten”

Phil Chamberlain
Phil Chamberlain
1 year ago

Ich bin Engländer. Mein Großvater sagte oft “five-and-twenty” oder “four-and-fifty”. Ich denke, das war vor einem Jahrhundert in vielen Teilen Englands üblich.

Zuckerbaby
Zuckerbaby
1 year ago

It seems to me that when a person does some math in his head, it’s in the first-learned language. During the French Revolution, there was an attempt to re-name 70 (septante), 80 (ottante), and 90 (novante). Obviously, that fizzled.

Fancypantser
Fancypantser
1 year ago

Found some gold in the Transkipt : Wir deutschen halten an dem Relikt aus dem Mittelalter fest.

Jinnie
Jinnie
1 year ago

In Jane Austen’s novels you will find ‘three and twenty’ for example when a character’s age is mentioned. Despite living in France now for 26 years and speaking fluent French, French numbers after seventy always slow me down: for example, when someone says “quatre-vingt huit”, I have to add 8 to 80 in my head. I should have married a Belgian instead: they are much more sensible and use septante for “seventy” and nonante for “ninety”!

Jinnie
Jinnie
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I’ve never thought of that. Perhaps I’ll try it. At least it’s easier than changing my husband!

Anonymous
Anonymous
1 year ago

It’s a bit like a glottal-stop gone mad. 183 … ein hundert (so far so good) … oh shit … drei und … where the hell was I? … oh, siebzig … nein, nein, nein ACHTZIG!! But yes, french is worse! But then there is time … halb … pause for dramatic effect … ACHT!! Dahdah!! So you start at 8 and go backwards – so logical.

Anne Maxwell-Jackson
Anne Maxwell-Jackson
1 year ago
  1. Thanks, I really enjoy the etymology of the language. It really helps to remember the vocabulary.
Francesca M
Francesca M
1 year ago

danke für the Übersetzung! Eine Frage für dich Emanuel: wie ist es für dich, wann du die Englishe Zähle liest? Ist es für dich ein Gehirn Übung wie für uns? :)

Ruth
Ruth
1 year ago

Thanks for both transcription and translation. A small point of terminology. Beginning with “Erst den Zehner, dann den Einer,” you’ve translated der Einer as “the one”. That does work for the number 21, but the right hand column of numerals is known in English as “units.”

Maybe someone has looked at these differences and numerical skills. I read years ago of someone concluding that people with a first language in which numbers between 10 and 20 have names that more clearly mean ten plus one, ten plus two, etc are quicker learning arithmetic than those with first languages in which the relationship of those numbers to 10 is less clear.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Ruth

I think “units” is more correct, but I think I recall learning in (American) school to refer to the “tens place” or “ones place” (as well as “hundreds” and so forth).

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

I actually think it’s not generally written with an apostrophe – at least it shows up without it when I Google “tens place” OR “tens’ place.” It seems like it would be logical to treat it as a possessive, but for whatever reason it’s understood as “place with the name ‘tens'” or something.

Ruth
Ruth
1 year ago
Reply to  Ruth

This article just jumped out at me from the BBC website. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191121-why-you-might-be-counting-in-the-wrong-language German is not mentioned, but Dutch, with very similar number names, is.

Ruth
Ruth
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It’s just that the places and their occupants in numerical notation are known, from right to left, as units, tens, hundreds, etc. In base 2 it’s units, twos, fours, etc. The 1 in 21 is the unit [value]. In 536 the unit [value] is 6.
I can’t think of a realistic context in which a person familiar with both usages would be confused, even by a statement as vague as “the mistake arose from confusion of units.” Can you?
But, hey, what’s a well brought up continental doing talking imperial measures?

Desdra
Desdra
1 year ago

Actually, if you read English literature from the 18th or 19th century you’ll find some people counting that way. It shows up a lot in Jane Austen.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  Emanuel

It feels native, but definitely old-timey. I’ve never come across larger numbers in Austen etc., but I thought I’d check out a KJV passage or two – Revelation 4:4 has “four and twenty” thrones with “elders” in the vision, but a few chapters later in 7:4 “an hundred and forty and four thousand” people are sealed for salvation.

In the census in Numbers 1, you have the number 45,650 rendered as “forty and five thousand six hundred and fifty” (1:25), though 74,600 is “threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred” (1:27). The total in 1:46 is “six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty” for 603,550 (Luther has “sechsmal hunderttausend und dreitausend fünfhundertundfünfzig”).

So it looks like at least by the 17th century, the backwards thing only really applies to two-digit numbers; bigger numbers go in written order, though 60 and presumably 80 are “three score” and “four score,” respectively. Although we probably need to take a little care, since the KJV tended to follow the wording of the Hebrew or Greek and may not have always expressed numbers in the most natural way for native English speakers at that time – still, neither of those languages switches the order for two-digit numbers, at least normally, and they did render those idiomatically for English.

Flavia
Flavia
1 year ago

Vielen Danke für der Transkription und die Übersetzung! Ich habe schon dieses Video angeschauten, aber habe fast nicht verstehen…Jetzt war super!

Timothy Spangler
Timothy Spangler
1 year ago

I get confused speaking English. LOL!

marko
marko
1 year ago

Awesome post! Thanks!

shauser31416
shauser31416
1 year ago

Do Germans *think* about numbers the way that you *say* numbers? I have wondered how it is that Germans have become such great engineers and chemists with that backward number thing. Maybe just write it all down first. :)

aoind
aoind
1 year ago

A popular English nursery rhyme begins:

“Sing a song of sixpence
A pocketful of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie”

Which gives Australians their popular meat pie brand “Four’n Twenty”.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
1 year ago
Reply to  aoind

My wife was reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (in German I think they’re called Unsere kleine Farm), and there’s a fascinating bit in one chapter of one of the books where they’re plagued by blackbirds, which eat basically the whole crop. The father, trying to keep the birds away, shoots a whole pile of them, and the mother figures they should try to make use of them, so she makes meat pies out of the blackbirds – and everybody in the family agrees that it’s the best pie they’ve ever had.

So apparently four-and-twenty blackbirds make a darn good pie. Sometimes you can trust Mother Goose, I guess.

aoind
aoind
1 year ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Well I suppose they are plentiful enough. In my youth I would enjoy the blackbird’s song at night. These days I’m fast asleep.

Ruth
Ruth
1 year ago
Reply to  berlingrabers

Except that american blackbirds are different species from european blackbirds. Perhaps a lot of birds make good pies.

DEmberton
DEmberton
1 year ago

In modern English we still say thirteen (three and ten), fourteen (four and ten) etc. At least German is consistent.

Carossi
Carossi
1 year ago

 Dear Enmanuel, there is one little mistake.
In the phrase, “There’s even a claim that school children are worth in arithmetic”, the word should be “worst” (“~schlechter in Arithmetik~).
I completely agree with the last sentence of your translation.
Thank you for the Advent calendar.
Regards,

Mark
Mark
1 year ago

Diese Eigenheit der deutschen Sprache treibt mich einfach zu Wahnsinn! Ich glaube allerdings, dass das Video mindestens eine andere Sprache, die diese Eigenheit ebenfalls aufweist, ausgelassen hat. Slowenisch hört sich beispielsweise sehr komisch an, wenn man Kroatisch kann, weil Slowenisch die Vorgehensweise der deutschen Sprache übernommen hat.

Amelad
Amelad
1 year ago

Danke für den Transkript und die Übersetzung!
Erst fand ich die Verdrehung sehr komisch, aber jetzt bin ich daran gewöhnt (nicht 100% natürlich :p)
Wichtig: Mann muss immer Leerzeichen zwischen den Zahlen lassen wenn mann sie notiert :D