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 Decem < Pie "two Hands"?, Interesting etymological speculation
Double sharp
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 08:38 AM


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IIRC I wrote earlier this year that if we actually somehow found alternative universes using bases like 8, 12, or 14, because of their number of fingers, the historical development of the PIE number words implies that they will call "10" "ten" in their respective bases, which will make people happy when they make contact because they already know how to count and can focus on the written form, until they cooperate on a cross-universe project, interpret "70" as just under a decimal hundred, and crash an expensive probe.

The main hope to avoid this is if you postulate that they were originally decimal, but changed somewhere along the way, as I think we have been doing. Only then would the need for disambiguation assert itself and cause the choice of new words. If the change happened early enough, then the old decimal nomenclature may simply be lost without trace in favour of the dozenal, only being necessary as an explanation of this problem.
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wendy.krieger
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 09:42 AM


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NASA has already crashed probes by putting ft-lb for N-m. The Gilmo Glider is the cunning result of operators taking clearly labeled units and poking them in as 'densitels' &c. You really don't need another base to do this. So often that some wag did a cartoon on 'erosive forces on mars', and showed various space-probes headding for the surface.

Grace Hopper balanced her cheque book in octal, and I have done some pretty hideous things with twelfty (event = 2 hours = 2.00 minutes. This tape takes 180 = 1.60 min, so we need to change tape half way through: unfortunately the box said 180, the cassette said 30.)

Even fibonacci, when discussing fractions, gives egyptian and added fractions in the same form (like 1/2 1/3, which as an added fraction is 2/3, but as an egyptian fraction is 5/6).

It is much more subtle than reading '70' for '84', though.


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Kodegadulo
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 10:37 AM


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QUOTE (Oschkar @ Jul 17 2017, 07:16 AM)
To return to the original topic of this thread, I quote Guus Kroonen’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic:

QUOTE
The cardinal number ‘ten’. It was ultimately derived from the root *deḱ- ‘to fit (in a row)’,

Like anything relating to PIE, this is a hypothesis just as speculative as any other, hence the asterisk. If this were originally a solid root in its own right, and not merely the accidental juxtaposition of *de "two" + *kmt "hand", them why would the *de so easily drop off when forming *dkmtom > centum?

How credible is this source, and how much evidence backs up this assertion?

---
The fictional premise I'm entertaining in this thread is what if ordinary pentadactyl humans contrived a culture that saw the dozen as a "full count", but a count of only "two hands worth" as deficient. I make this somewhat plausible by placing this development in the PIE culture while they were culturally isolated. They wouldn't merely have assigned the same words to dozenal that they were going to develop anyway for decimal. They also eventually need to deal with decimal neighbors and adapt to a binumeral environment, but somehow they manage to establish their "plenimal" as the prestige base. No interdimensional travel required.

We make much of the fact that decimal seems to be inevitable because of finger-counting. But this overlooks the fact that most adults disdain anyone above the age of a hand who must resort to counting on their fingers.

A what if scenario going all the way back to the Carboniferous to change the hox genes in our tetrapod ancestors would suggest far more radical divergence in subsequent evolutionary history, such that even anything recognizably human would be farfetched. But SF alt history authors have gotten away with worse. (Harry Turtledove's A World of Difference postulates an Earth-sized planet in place of Mars, called Minerva due to its greyish-blue color and occasional solar reflections off its oceans being evocative of the "grey flashing eyes" of the goddess. Yet, except for cliche space aliens being dubbed "Men from Minerva", somehow all of human history is exactly the same, right up until the first Viking probe lands on the surface ... and is destroyed by a club-wielding Minervan sentient.)
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Double sharp
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 02:13 PM


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It is part of a quite well-regarded series of Indo-European etymological dictionaries, and given that it was published in 2013, I would think that it should reflect rather recent scholarship.

Even if finger-counting is not well-regarded today, that is surely because we are expected to be fluent in arithmetic and not need the crutch. But surely when counting was first thought of, we must have needed such a concrete representation. If fingers had nothing to do with the initial acquisition of the base, one would find it so difficult to explain why decimal and vigesimal are utterly dominant.

So I would think that it would be slightly more plausible if the development of dozenal among your hypothetical PIE-speakers only occurred after decimal number-words had already developed, when they then had the numeric tools to conduct some first investigations of the natural numbers, and realised the benefits of going to 12 instead of 10, as you say.
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Kodegadulo
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 03:54 PM


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QUOTE (Double sharp @ Jul 17 2017, 02:13 PM)
So I would think that it would be slightly more plausible if the development of dozenal among your hypothetical PIE-speakers only occurred after decimal number-words had already developed, when they then had the numeric tools to conduct some first investigations of the natural numbers, and realised the benefits of going to 12 instead of 10, as you say.

It actually would be more convenient to the story if this alt-PIE in fact developed an underlying substrate of decimal language identical to our own, as well as this parallel dozenal language, both arising during PIE isolation. The enablers for this embroidery would be the same as for their outlandishly ornate inflected grammar. The motivations for dozenal might be the same as what motivated it in our world: ease of divisibility allowing more equitable mercantile transactions and therefore less conflict, and other practical matters. Just taking the idea to an extreme a lot earlier, within an isolated monoculture.

But I'm presuming this linguistic development happened in a pre-literate era, long before any PIE speakers encountered or developed written language, and certainly long before numeric notations or formal methods of arithmetic. Even long before developing any calculating tools such as abaci or "stone boards". The only tool available to them would have been their spoken language. But I'm relying on Sapir-Whorf to explain how such a linguistic skill might translate into unusual mental capabilities, such as preternatural facility at mental arithmetic and conversion between bases, as well as a tendency to make savvy deals in trade.
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Oschkar
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 06:02 PM


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QUOTE (Kodegadulo @ Jul 17 2017, 10:37 AM)
QUOTE (Oschkar @ Jul 17 2017, 07:16 AM)
To return to the original topic of this thread, I quote Guus Kroonen’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic:

QUOTE
The cardinal number ‘ten’. It was ultimately derived from the root *deḱ- ‘to fit (in a row)’,

Like anything relating to PIE, this is a hypothesis just as speculative as any other, hence the asterisk. If this were originally a solid root in its own right, and not merely the accidental juxtaposition of *de "two" + *kmt "hand", them why would the *de so easily drop off when forming *dkmtom > centum?

How credible is this source, and how much evidence backs up this assertion?

The *d drops off in *dkmtom because it’s a dental stop next to a velar stop followed by a consonant. It doesn’t really matter whether ‘ten’ comes from ‘two hands’ or ‘a row of things’; it’s just a phonological process. The same thing happened in the oblique cases of ‘earth’, which is why there’s a theta in χθών ‘earth’, but not in χαμαί ‘on the ground’. The latter started with *dhǵhm- in PIE (the ending is still unclear, since it’s a remnant of an allative that was only productive in Hittite; perhaps *dhǵhméh₂?), and the former was *dhǵhōm, with a vowel after the velar stop protecting the dental.

It seems to be a very reliable source, at least for Proto-Germanic. I find it a bit lacking for PIE, but that’s just my inexperience. It does display some Leiden University-specific biases, but that’s normal for the IEED. For the record, neither of the other two books in the IEED series that I currently have access to (Michiel de Vaan’s Latin and the other Italic Languages and Rick Derksen’s Baltic Inherited Lexicon) mention the root *deḱ in their respective entries for decem and dešimt, so I’m not sure if that root in particular is just a speculative idea by Kroonen. (Neither of them mention *dwóyh₁ ḱomtúh₁ either, though.)
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Kodegadulo
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 07:41 PM


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QUOTE (wendy.krieger @ Jul 17 2017, 09:42 AM)
The Gilmo Glider is the cunning result of operators taking clearly labeled units and poking them in as 'densitels' &c.  You really don't need another base to do this.

The Gimli Glider incident (see the wiki page about it) was actually caused by a complex series of multiple malfunctions in systems, procedures, and interpersonal communication. The confusing of metric vs. Imperial units in calculating the amount of fuel to load was only one of many snafus.

The aircraft was supposed to have redundant electronic fuel indicator systems to give the pilots truth about their fuel, but a malfunction in one was causing both to blank out unless the faulty one was masked. The plane had flown without mishap with one masked the day before, but a distraction to the maintenance worker during refueling caused him to leave the faulty one unmasked, but appearing to be masked, and logged as such. The wording of the maintenance log gave the pilots the false impression that they should expect the fuel indicator systems to be blank but that this would be fine; it did not indicate that the masking of one should leave the other operational. So they were essentially relying on dead-reckoning of remaining fuel by the computer, based on plugging in an incorrectly-calculated number. Garbage-in, garbage-out.

Previous models of planes in Air Canada's fleet had required a pilot, copilot, and flight engineer in the cockpit, with the latter trained and responsible for correctly computing and _verifying_ the fuel load. The 767 was a relatively new model that dispensed with the flight engineer, leaving the responsibility for the fuel ambiguously distributed between the pilots and the ground crew, vulnerable to miscommunication. The investigation would eventually cite the airline for failing to establish new procedures and clear responsibilities.

The miscalculation of units can be attributed to a mistake in the conversion factor between the weight of fuel needed in kilograms, and the liters needed, based on the fuel density, which varies with the current temperature and needs to be looked up. The ground crew plugged in density in pounds per liter rather than kilograms per liter, but it's unclear whether the form they were using required them to "clearly label" their units, or whether it allowed them to just plunk in an unadorned number. The flight crew validated the arithmetic but did not notice the units error; the conversion factor looked perfectly familiar to them. A snafu with how the ground crew "validated" the volume of fuel manually with the dipstick method further contributed to leading everyone involved down the primrose-path.

This had absolutely nothing to do with the "cunningness" of the unit names involved, and certainly nothing at all to do with Primel's 'densitel unit, a name which would not be coined for some three decades hence.

What any of this might have to do with an alternate-history speculation about the development of language and number sense among the PIE tribes in the prehistoric Pontic steppe, completely escapes me.
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Kodegadulo
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 09:01 PM


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QUOTE (Oschkar @ Jul 17 2017, 06:02 PM)
It seems to be a very reliable source, at least for Proto-Germanic. I find it a bit lacking for PIE, but that’s just my inexperience. It does display some Leiden University-specific biases, but that’s normal for the IEED. For the record, neither of the other two books in the IEED series that I currently have access to (Michiel de Vaan’s Latin and the other Italic Languages and Rick Derksen’s Baltic Inherited Lexicon) mention the root *deḱ in their respective entries for decem and dešimt, so I’m not sure if that root in particular is just a speculative idea by Kroonen. (Neither of them mention *dwóyh₁ ḱomtúh₁ either, though.)

It seems at least within the realm of possibility that this *dek derivation could be a "folk" etymology that arose along the Germanic branch after the fact and was then projected retroactively, but may not reflect what actually happened in PIE.

That said I could accept that the evidence for the title of this thread might also be flimsy ...
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Oschkar
Posted: Jul 17 2017, 09:08 PM


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QUOTE (Kodegadulo @ Jul 17 2017, 09:01 PM)
It seems at least within the realm of possibility that this *dek derivation could be a "folk" etymology that arose along the Germanic branch after the fact and was then projected retroactively, but may not reflect what actually happened in PIE.

That’s definitely possible. After all, something similar is responsible for the Germanic word for ‘finger’: it’s definitely descended from PIE *pénkʷe with a common suffix *-ró-, but the compound as such is only found in the Germanic branch.
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