Sunday, 4 August 2013

abc's and 123's

Slate has an excerpt from Daniel Tammet's new book on thinking in numbers, in which the author experiences the cultural nuance, chiefly while visiting Iceland, where amounts are treated as something qualitative as well as quantitative and not something separate and abstract.
For the numbers one through five, there are different forms for years, sheep (it reminds me of the shepherd’s rhyme and special number system for counting sheep and stitches for knitting—Yan Tan Tethera, and probably also useful for sending someone off to slumber-land), people, naming trains and highways and houses—reflecting declination and something categorical that has no equivalent English despite the occasional encounter with twain, deuce, score and murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, etc. The fourth sheep is called something like “Sheep Number Four,” as if it were a city-bus—preserving a sense of cardinal bias, something not strictly ordinal, since four follows three only by the reckoning of the counter, unlike the passage of time. Bigger numbers are not elaborated in the same kind of way. I would like to read this book and find out how ways of counting influence the cognitive process and possible assumptions made about the significance upon encountering the unusual.