Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Feathery bumpit"

How about this for a totally charming linguistic remnant, courtesy of Jake Thackray, my favourite late, Yorkshire-based chansonnier:
Yan, Chan, Tether, Mether, Pip, 
Azar, Sazar, Akka, Cotta, Dik,
Yanadik, Channadik, Thetheradik, Metheradik, Bumfit, 
Yanabum, Chanabum, Thetherabum, Metherabum, Jiggit.
A bit of research reveals that this is a base 5 counting system used by shepherds in Swaledale, Yorkshire. Beautiful the way this arose from tools readily available to the shepherd: his hand and some stones... somehow it appears to be based on Celtic. Or maybe Cumbric.  

I wonder how badly our increasingly standardised "here and now" of a world will cheat us out of all this beautiful, useless idiosyncracy. The linguistic tendency to invent will always be there, but the more our references become similar and shallow, the less likely it is that our idiomatic range will be so large. 

What a shame for most people, whose self-expression will be limited and dull. What a great opportunity for those of us whose interest in history and/or language guarantees a mind richly fertilised with this kind of nourishing mulch. 

The best we can hope for from kids nowadays is something based on LOLspeak.

1 comment:

melo_t_003 said...

2009! They said it would never happen. I enjoyed your travel blog (last couple of entries, anyway).

Interesting post about numerical bases.

Someone explained the reason why all you old Englanders used to use 12 all the time instead of 10.

Turns out that 60 (5 x 12) is one of the most useful numbers in existence as it is divisible by loads of other useful numbers. Unlike 10 and 50 which you can't divide by three or four or six.

Also, 12 is obviously 2 x 6 and there's a way of counting using your fingers, starting thumb (one), two, three, four, five (little finger) then six is closed fist. Seven is thumb on other hand - all the way up to 12.

So it all makes sense!

Of course when I was learning Indian music in Leeds (is there such a thing as a Leeds hippy? Maybe I was the only one) - they taught me to count to 16 on one hand. Use the thumb to tap each segment and the bit of the palm it attaches to, of each of the other four fingers in turn. Voila! 16.

Ban the bomb! Ban the decimal!