5g. NEED TO MAKE NUMBERS CONSISTENT

CONSISTENCY IN NUMBERS

The above changes are designed to make English as consistent as possible. This reform is especially needed for the words used for numbers, which are some of the most important words to learn in a language. Changes in the names of numbers will probably generate more resistance than respelling and grammar changes, yet these changes would make daily living so much easier for people all around the world.

I have learned so much about the problems of the English language by trying to teach Thai students how to speak.  In Thai, the numbers for one to ten (“sip”) are unique, just as in English.  But in Thai, the word for eleven is “sip et” (ten one) for twelve is “sip song” (ten two), and so on consistently to “sip gau” (ten nine).  When I have tried teaching Thai students the numbers in English, the use of the first number 1 to 9 plus “teen” represents the next sequence and multiples of ten become “ty.”  Thus, six becomes sixteen and sixty, and so on though nineteen and ninety.  But, Thai kids cannot figure out why three does not become “threeteen” and “threety,’ and why five does not become “fiveteen” and “fivety”.

Having grown up as an English speaker, such a logical consistency would never have occurred to me before coming to Thailand.  The Thai words for numbers are much more consistent, efficient, and easy to learn than English. Learners of English have to remember the first ten numbers, as do learners of Thai, but in addition English speakers have to remember the irregular words eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen.  Another problem with numbers is that it is difficult to say and hear the slight difference between “teen” and “ty.”  Since the teens are only used once, and the numbers eleven to fifteen are so inconsistent, I suggest changing the numbers after ten so that they will be treated the same way that numbers after twenty are presently treated in English.

I suggest changing the number 2 to “twen,” which is already associated with two siblings.  Using twen makes number 2 consistent with twenty and also removes confusion with the other words “to” (direction) and “too” (also, excess) that are pronounced the same way as two.  The number 3 three is a difficult word that is often incorrectly pronounced as “tree,” so I suggest changing it to “thr” to be consistent with third and thirty. Number five should be changed to “fif”[rhymes with “if”] to be consistent with fifteen and fifty.

Another problem with numbers is the totally different ordinal words “first, second, third.” From the number four onward, the ordinal name is similar to the cardinal number: fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, etc.  To be consistent, the words “first, second, third” should be eliminated.  In their place, to be consistent with number one, first should be replaced with “oneth.” [rhymes with month]. For number 2 “twen” the ordinal number should be “twenth” instead of “second.” Eliminating the word “second” will have the added advantage of ending confusion about second as a mark of time, as in “sixty seconds in a minute.”

To make English numbers consistent, then, a reformed number system should be changed to become the following [note that additional spelling changes will be made for all words, including these numbers, but at this point I am merely introducing the concept of making English ordinal numbers consistently spelled with “th” at the end. If ordinal numbers one, two, three are changed, then ordinal numbers forth through tenth remain the same.]

1  one            1st should be changed to 1th “oneth”

2  twin    2nd should be changed to 2th “twenth” while 20 should be changed to  “twenty”

3  thir             3rd should be changed to 3th “thirth” while 30 is “thirty”

4  for              4th remains  “forth”  and 40 is “forty”

5  fif               5th remains “fifth” and 50 is “fifty”

6  six            6th remains “sixth” and 60 is “sixty”

7  seven         7th remains  “seventh” and 70 is “seventy”

8  eight             8th remains  “eighth” and 80 is “eighty”

9  nine           9th remains  “ninth” and 90 is “ninety”

10  ten          10th remains  “tenth”

[to be consistent with all numbers above 20, numbers in the teens should be changed. Because “tenty” is so close in spelling and sound to “twenty” the second “t” is deleted so that numbers 11-19 are pronounced “te-nee”]

11  teny one      11th should be  “teny oneth”

12  teny twen     12th should be  “teny twenth”

13 teny thir          13th should be  “teny thirth”

14 teny for            14th should be “teny forth”

15 teny fif             15th should be “teny fifth”

16 teny six            16th should be “teny sixth”

17 teny seven        17th should be “teny seventh”

18 teny eight          18th should be “teny eighth”

19 teny nine           19th should be “teny ninth”

Such changes in wording will admittedly take some getting used to, for present speakers of English, but this reform will make it so much easier for future generations to learn numbers in English.  This kind of consistency should be applied across the board to related groups of words. Suggestions and contributions of others to additional types of word groups will be appreciated.

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About englisheasylearning

Walter L. Williams, Ph.D., has taught at UCLA and as Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He taught English Language in Thailand and also as Fulbright Professor at Gadjah Mada University in Indonesia. He has published eleven books, including JAVANESE LIVES: WOMEN AND MEN IN MODERN INDONESIAN SOCIETY (Rutgers University Press).
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