The fifteen-fifty problem

English has an irritating problem: fifty and fifteen sound almost the same, as do other pairs like sixteen and sixty. In a noisy room or via radio, miscommunication is easy, and when the listener asks the speaker to repeat themself, the second utterance is usually no more clear than the first.

Can Ungglish solve this problem? I’m tempted to fix the problem by replacing “teen” with “ten”. Then we would have thhreeten, forten, fievten, and so on. “ten” is a fairly logical substitution, since it sounds and looks similar to “teen” and is easy to remember since “forten” would be four plus ten.

Note that the stress pattern tends to be different than in a list of numbers like “thhree, ten, for, ten”: if I say “thhreeten, forten”, you hear stress only on “thhree” and “for” only, but if I say “thhree, ten, for, ten” then all syllables are stressed (and there may also be a pause between the numbers).

I plan to include e.leven and twelv to maintain similarity with English, but arguably wun-ten and twen-ten (twen = 2, backformed from “twenty”) should also be permitted as synonyms.

Unfortunately, English speakers already say things like “six-ten”, meaning 610, making this solution much less attractive than it would otherwise be.

An alternate solution is to introduce the word “wunty” based on the number “wun”: wunty = ten, wunty-wun = 11, wunty-twen = 12, wunty-thhree = 13, etc. This solution would make the number system perfectly regular, instead of having a special pattern for numbers below twenty.

Finally, we could keep the original English teens but also introduce the “wuntys” as a new series, so that wunty-fiev and fievteen both mean 15. This allows a speaker to communicate teens clearly, but “sixty” could still be mistaken for 16. Still, this is the solution I am leaning toward. The teens could be placed in the extended vocabulary, thereby encouraging Ungglish speakers to prefer the “wuntys” when speaking Ungglish.

If the idea of multiple names for one number seems odd, you should see Filipino, which has three separate number systems from three different languages: labin-lima, fifteen and kinse all mean “15”; limampung, fifty and singkuwenta all mean 50. Now that is odd!

Note: Elements of Ungglish described in blog posts may change after publication