Worth noting this detail towards the bottom of the article:
> Scores on the California Achievement Test in mathematics for the Kaktovik middle school improved dramatically in 1997 compared to previous years. Before the introduction of the new numerals, the average score had been in the 20th percentile; after their introduction, scores rose to above the national average. It is theorized that being able to work in both base-10 and base-20 might have comparable advantages to those bilingual students have from engaging in two ways of thinking about the world.
Or perhaps engaging with this topic so practically - understanding their native language's counting system and then devising a notation - sparked an interest in what is often perceived as a useless and boring topic.
I had a few "ooh, this is not only useful, but intellectually fun" experiences with math in school. Positional number systems was one of them. Distinct aha moment. So much of what had not made sense before suddenly did, including why we had just spent weeks on logarithms. Without at least a few experiences like that, I am sure I would have been even more tuned out in class, destined to hate math for life. I found the way it was taught most of the time to be a form of low-grade torture.
It's seems much more likely that the new system was easier to use because it's an iconic tally system (vertical stroke = 1, horizontal = 5) that doesn't require leaerning 9 digit symbols or place value.
> The Iñupiaq language has a base-20 numeral system, as do the other Eskimo–Aleut languages of Alaska and Canada (and formerly Greenland). Arabic numerals, which were designed for a base-10 system, are inadequate for Iñupiaq and other Inuit languages. To remedy this problem, students in Kaktovik, Alaska, invented a base-20 numeral notation
"However, Danish numerals are not vigesimal since it is only the names of some of the tens that are etymologically formed in a vigesimal way. In contrast with e.g. French quatre-vingt-seize, the units only go from zero to nine between each ten which is a defining trait of a decimal system."
Because numbers written in the given number system don’t necessarily match up with the words in the given language. Take the number 475, for example. In English that reads as ‘four hundred seventy five’. When you look at the number, the symbols correspond to the words. You have 4 (four, in position of hundreds), 7 (seven, in position of tens), and 5 (five).
Now consider a language which uses a different base, base 12 for example. The same number might be read as ‘three gross three dozen seven’. But when you look at the number, there is no symbol representing three, and no symbol representing seven in the position of units. The number is hard to parse and read out, and it is also hard to write when going by the words.
Although thirteen to nineteen show a clear connection to the older style of saying the ones place before the tens place (“four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie…”). Spanish has special words for eleven (once—pronounced ohn-say) to fifteen (quince) before moving to a standard form for sixteen (dieciséis—ten and six) through nineteen diecinueve—ten and nine).
Not really. French is effectively base-10, but with some vestigial names. English is basically the same -- we say eleven instead of ten-one. The only real difference is that we say eighty instead of quatre-vingt. But neither system maintains any semblance of base-20 beyond that.
A more familiar sense of disorientation of language mismatch would be when metric users encounter imperial units and their arbitrary bases.
You can get a very close analog by comparing English numbers (base 1,000) to Chinese numbers (base 10,000). The terminology coincides (with a couple asterisks) for numbers below 10,000, but above 10,000 it's essentially impossible to do mental conversion of numbers even though all the digits are the same.
Trying to operate simultaneously in a base 20 system and a base 10 system would be much worse than that, since all the digits would be different between representations.
I thought nonante (and septante, octante) were only used in Zwitserland and Belgium?
(If true, it would be a bit like saying in some dialects colour is written as color, while the latter is only(?) used in the States?)
So do the Danish, however the Danish language only counts the 10s in base-20. The 100s, the 1000s, the decimals and so on are still in base-10. So what ends up happening is that the numbers 40-90 are simply numbers with weird names and a perfect mapping to base 10. I don’t know how French count, but perhaps it is similar. This does not appear to be the case with Inuit counting.
You could certainly write numbers above 9 as their base-10 representation. For example, 12. That number can be represented in both Kaktovik numerals and arabic. But you end up with an extra digit in arabic numerals, because you're supposed to carry the 1 once you reach 10.
Instead, we represent hexadecimal (base-16) in programming as 0-9 AND a-f, for example, A is 10, B is 11, C is the same as saying 12.
If you have multiple digits, like A4C in hex, it gets more complicated to figure out what number you're talking about in base-10. A is 10, 4 is 4, C is 12. To convert base-10 number you need to do this equation: (10 * 16 * 16) + (4 * 16) + (12) = 2636
It explains the problem: they are not a good way to express a base-20 numbering system used in the language.
(Now, you could easily augment or modify them to do that—and the creators  of this system initially tried that but were unsatisfied—the common way of expressing base-16 using arabic numerals plus the first six letters of the alphabet as added numerals is an example, but if you aren't using a language whose existing writing system conventionally users Arabic numerals, why would you?)
I guess I was confused about that. I didn't think that a numbering system was considered part of a language. I always thought that a numbering system was more of an ADAPTER pattern (like Hexadecimal, binary, and octal are all "addons" to the English language).
The way that a language constructs number words can have an implied base; English has an implied based 10 in most of the language (though 0-19 uses a different structure that could imply base 20 if it continued.) Most germanic and romance languages I think do something similar, though, e.g. French (FR-fr, but not some other dialects) breaks back into an implicit base-20 at 60-99.
Having numerals that map well to words reduces friction for practical arithmetic.
> It used to be common to count by scores (twenties) in English, though this has mostly disappeared
Counting by scores isn't enough to be base 20. The special quantities designated by the system are still 10, 100, and 1000, an obvious sign that the numbers are conceived of in base 10. If the system pivoted around 20, 400, and 8000 (as the dozen/gross system you mention does), then you could (and should) call it a base 20 system.
The long (=great) hundred is 120, while the long thousand is 1200. It seems pretty understanding, so I wonder if anyone ever needed to use a long hundred thousand and worked out what that was supposed to be.
How inefficient! It only takes 10 distinct black-and-white pixels to represent 1000 distinct glyphs. Even low-res bitmap fonts are usually at least 6x6 pixels in size, meaning that we can use them to represent numbers in base 2^36. And with modern high-DPI screens we have easily enough room for glyphs that are 30 pixels square, letting us represent numbers in base 2^900. But why limit ourselves to black and white? We have the full 8-bit color space to work with, letting us devise a numeral system that can easily represent (2^24)^900 numbers using the space of a single glyph. :)
Base e would be the most efficient, if one assumes that the cost of representing a number in a particular radix is proportional to the radix. If you restrict the radix to natural numbers (e-state devices being rather hard to construct), base 3 would be more efficient.
As it happens, we've learned to make two-state devices way more cheaply than three-state devices, so binary wins in the real world, but if we figured out how to make three-state devices for at most 1.5 times the cost of two-state devices, base three would win.
It's fun to prove that base e and base 3 are theoretically more efficient than base 2 (and not all that difficult...only basic calculus is necessary).
Using your thumb, start counting on the first bone in each finger. That gets you to four. Continue with the first joint (8), then the second bone (12), then the second joint (16) and finally the tips (20).
5 fingers have 14 segments. Using segments on both sides of both hands = 2 sides of 2 hands = 56 finger segment slots. Counting the palms and backs of both hands = 4 hand sides = 60 segment slots and hand sides. Along with the 14 joints on 4 sides = 56 joint nodes = 116 joint nodes, segment slots and hand sides. Including the 10 finger (tips) gets a total of 126 and two arms is 128. Palms, backs of hands, arms, etc. could be further subdivided. Exercise: determine count of combinations.