Syllable counts

Posted by – November 25, 2009

I learnt on Wikipedia that the intro to Whipping Post is in 11/4 time. 11/4, what the hell? Eventually I figured out how that goes, and also noticed that Finnish is no good for counts that go above 10. Till then most numbers have natural one-syllable abbreviations, but 11 doesn’t. Its unabbreviated form has 4 syllables, one more than in English. Hmm. Long story short, I made a graph of the syllable counts of the counting numbers up to 100 in 9 languages (thanks to Zet@#aspekti for many of them):

(click to see large version)

Some observations:

  • French is most compact, except in the 80-100 range where English (which is quite consistent overall) is best
  • Finnish really is verbose
  • Northern Sámi is most boring
  • Estonian is quite interesting
  • Everybody counts in base 10
  • 3-4 syllables is a sweet spot
  • Graphs with too many lines in them are difficult to read

Btw, a good solution to the Finnish problem: go hexadecimal. Yks kaks kol nel viis kuu see kaa yy aa bee cee dee ee äf.

edit: oh, and code to languages:

Suomi = Finnish
Français = French
Svenska = Swedish
Eesti = Estonian
Davvisámengiella = Northern Sámi, spoken in Lapland
Magyar = Hungarian
Afsoomaali = Somali
Komi = Komi, a Uralic language

4 Comments on Syllable counts

Respond | Trackback

  1. Vadim says:

    Wau. Cool. Isn’t there something like an exception for 10-base in French around 80? I no nothing about French, but I think 80 = 20*4 in French.


  2. sam says:

    Yeah, that’s right, and 70 = 60+10 and 90 = 4*20+10. The base 10 thing was just the observation that the graph has obvious dips at each multiple for 10 of every language. There are similar irregularities in other languages as well.


  3. Anonymous says:

    have you heard spark by tori amos ? it has verses in 13/8


  4. sam says:

    Anonymous: no, I hadn’t. I listened to it on youtube now. I would have been oblivious without knowing that – I have no rhythm.