‘And a partridge in a pear tree’

Just before Christ-mass last year I devised a lesson based on ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ – the idea of gift-giving is universal, at least.

The song is useful because it contains the cardinal and ordinal numbers and several pronunciation difficulties, most notably the consonant clusters on the end of the ordinal numbers (with /θ̱/ and clusters like /ksθ̱d/ in the middle of ‘sixth day’ (I suspect that 99% of English speakers simplify that cluster)).

As the students were finishing the fortnightly test, I wrote English words and numerals on the board. Soon after, a student came to the board and wrote Urdu numerals and numbers, and English transliterations of the numbers. I attempted to add Korean numbers, but got as far as 일 – 이 – 삼 – 사 – 다섯 – 여섯 before seriously forgetting what comes next. There is a good reason for that, which those of you who know Korean numbers have probably already spotted.

When I came back into the classroom after the break, other students had written in Chinese (two sets of numbers), Roman numerals and Nepali numbers. Then during the lesson another student wrote Punjabi numbers.

So, in the photo below, we have: English ordinal numbers/numerals – Chinese ‘financial’/ordinary numbers – English cardinal numbers/numerals – Urdu numerals – Punjabi numbers – Urdu numbers – Roman numerals – Urdu numbers in transliteration – Nepali numbers

20141218_124404 low_res

During the lesson, most of the students explained various aspects of their numbering systems, and I’ve done a little bit of reading online since I got home. Combining all that:

Chinese ‘financial’ numbers are used for official purposes; the ordinary numbers are too easy to alter – a bit like English banks using words on cheques. As the student read the numbers I remembered the Korean numbers, and realised why I’d floundered. Korean has two numbering systems, one ‘native’ and the other derived from Chinese and usually called ‘Sino-Korean’ (they are used in two different sets of contexts, among other uses, the native numbers are used for hours and the Sino-Korean for minutes). The latter numbers correspond exactly to the Chinese: yī (Ch) – il (S-K), èr – i, sān – sam, sì – sa, wǔ – o, liù – yuk, qī – chil, bā – pal,  jiǔ – gu, shí – ship (pronounced closer to ‘sheep’). (I had switched from S-K to Korean in the middle.)

The Punjabi and Urdu alphabets are clearly related, and the pronunciations are very similar. Because Punjabi is a regional language and Urdu is the national language, more Punjabi speakers understand Urdu (in fact most of their education takes place in it) than Urdu or other regional language speakers understand, learn or speak Punjabi or another regional language.
Some of the transliterated Urdu numbers are clearly related to other Indo-European languages, and it is possible to speculate on others. Next to ‘DUS’ I wrote ‘Dis’ (French) [edit: oops! ‘Dix’, pronounced ‘Dis’] and ‘Decimal’ (English from Latin). The interesting one is ‘PANCH’, which is related to the English word ‘punch’ (the drink) in that the classical formulation of the drink, which the British encountered in India, contains five ingredients: alcohol, sugar, lemon, water, and tea or spices (pañc being the Sanskrit word for five).

The Nepali numbers are pronounced very similarly to the Punjabi and Urdu. Indeed the Pakistan and Nepalese students can converse in the overlap between those languages.

(Some historical linguists have reconstructed Proto-Indo-European numbers, but that goes way beyond what I want to talk about here.)

Note that at the top of the board, one student wrote ‘A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others’. Hmmm …

Unfortunately, not all my classes are this interactive or interesting.


2 thoughts on “‘And a partridge in a pear tree’

  1. Pingback: oneth, twoth, threeth, fourth … | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

  2. Pingback: How soon is too soon? | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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