why a base of 10?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by vslayer, Dec 4, 2007.

  1. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    i was wondering, why is it that 10 seems to be a base number for counting? are there any languages in which their larger numbers are counted as multiples of 8 or 9? is there some logic to 10 being used in this fashion or is it just an arbitrary number that gained popularity and has never been challenged? if so then why do all the languages i know use 10?

    can anyone provide some insight on this?
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2007
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  3. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    Because eight was already taken by little elves.
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  5. leopold Valued Senior Member

    yes, because we have 10 fingers.
    i believe there have been other cultures that have used different number systems.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It is indeed because we have ten fingers. This is more obvious in some languages, in which the word for ten is clearly related to a word for fingers, hands, etc. I remember recently reading (perhaps in The Meaning of Tingo) about one language in which the word for eleven is something like "got to go down to the feet now."

    AFAIK the word for five in all Indo-European languages (e.g., L. quinque, Gr. pentos, R. pyat) is derived from the root word p'enkwe meaning "finger." This word is still preserved in the Germanic languages; the relationship is most obvious in German fünf and finger.

    The Basques--the only surviving pre-Indo-European people in Europe--may have vestiges of a base-five system. Their word for six, sei, is borrowed from Spanish seis.

    French has vestiges of base-twenty. Ninety-two is quatre-vingts douze, "four twenties twelve," and ninety-nine is quatre-vingts dix-neuf, "four twenties ten-nine."

    But everyone seems to use some multiple of five.
  8. maxg Registered Senior Member

    The Mayans used a base 20 system--presumably because they counted on fingers and toes.
  9. BenTheMan Dr. of Physics, Prof. of Love Valued Senior Member

    What about a base 21 system in male dominated societies?

    And we don't use a base 10 system for everything... Ever wonder why there are 60 minutes in an hour, as opposed to 100? You can thank the Phoenicians for that, I think. I seem to recall that they established a base six counting system, and everybody learned how to draw maps and navigate from them, so this is why we have minutes, seconds, and degrees that are divisible by six and not 10. I looked around for a few minutes and couldn't find a reference, so someone may confirm or deny this

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  10. kevinalm Registered Senior Member

    Babylonians I think, but I could be wrong. Base 60 does have the advantage that a lot of integers factor into it evenly.
  11. maxg Registered Senior Member

    According to Wikipedia at least the sexagesimal system originated with the Sumerians and was picked up by the Babylonians (& probably the Phoenicians as well).
  12. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    It was indeed the Sumerians(or even someone before them). I wonder why they would use a base 6(and 60) system...
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2007
  13. BenTheMan Dr. of Physics, Prof. of Love Valued Senior Member


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  14. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    The obvious advantage of a base 12 system (compared to base 10) can be used to counter the "intelligent design" believers. I.e. If God had any brains, she would have given us 6 fingers on each hand.

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    (Or even only four on each would have been more intelligent design. Prime number 5 is really stupid design.)
  15. Syzygys As a mother, I am telling you Valued Senior Member

    Actually the indo-german languages use 12 based counting systems, ain't they?

    They have special words for 11 and 12....
  16. Facial Valued Senior Member

    Phonetically English is base twelve - after that it breaks out into the 'teens'.

    Chinese is consistently base ten - after 'ten' one reads 'ten one, ten two, ten three,' and so on.
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    ]No. Etymologically "eleven" means "one loaned" and "twelve" means "two loaned." You can see the "tw-" from "two" in "twelve."

    Many languages have a breakpoint in the teens where they switch from an older counting system into a newer one. In English and German we go up to "twelve" and then we start using the suffix "teen." I don't know about the other Germanic languages but the Romance languages are not consistent. Spanish goes up to quince for 15 and then starts on diez y seis, "ten and six." French makes it to seize and then dix-sept. Catalan goes all the way up to setce for 17, but then 18 is deu-vuit.
    They ironed out their numbers a long time ago. 20, 30, etc. are er shi, san shi, "two ten, three ten."
  18. nebel

    Think of digits=fingers;-- 10 in the decimal system and --0/1 in computing
    the raised one digit / finger salute. but
    really it is 10 because the earth rates 10 in the Titius Bode law.and
    how about the French with their
    90= quatre-vingt- dix ? 4x20+10?
    70= soixante-dix ?
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2014
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Obviously, the remnants of an ancient base-20 ("vigesimal") number system. And a motley set of remnants it is. 60 follows the Latin paradigm, but 70 is "sixty-ten," while eighty follows an older paradigm as "four twenties," and ninety piggy-backs onto it.

    Vigesimal number systems arose in the Paleolithic Era--the "early stone age," which ended around 12KYA with the discovery of the twin technologies of farming and animal husbandry, which comprise agriculture. One would suppose (with virtually no evidence for the supposition) that it was seldom necessary to count beyond twenty.

    In one island language, the word for "eleven" means, literally, "I have to use my foot now."
  20. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    Take a pile of pennies
    place one on a flat surface
    place six in a ring around the first penny
    place 12 in a ring around the 1st ring
    place 18 in a ring around the 2nd ring
    place 24 .....etc
    place 60 in a ring around the ninth ring

    you will note that the first ring has 6
    the second ring has 12 (2 x 6 = 12)
    the 6th ring has 36 (6 x 6 = 36)

    and we have the beginnings of multiplication, and other math

    Is that "Why"?
    Is that how they came up with that system?

    That's archaeology, all we can do is guess and try to find a path that has the desired result---then guess again.
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2014
  21. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member


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