Numbers in Korea

Before we get going, if your reading this because you are our friends and family and you’re thinking, “Geez, Akasha is a big geek.”  Well, you should know that already.  If not, welcome to my mind.  This is a blog entry I’ve been mulling over for a while.

Numbers in Korean are very different in many ways.  This has fascinated me and been a struggle for me as we have lived here.  Thinking in numbers and organizing things is such a cultural thing that it is very challenging to learn to group things differently.

Making Tally Marks:

Clustering in the United States groups 4 tally marks with a diagonal slash to represent five units. talley marksClustering in Korea comes from the Chinese tradition and the individual builds a character.  The five strokes build on each other and when completed represent five units. Korean hash My Korean peers scratch their heads when I tally things and it took me forever to figure out their system.  I can read it, but I can’t write it without copying. To me, it is jarring to start going across at the top and to mark the 4th unit as a disconnected stroke.  This system is used to keep score of classroom games and when ordering food at our favorite kind of Korean fast-food restaurants, Kimbap Naras.

Counting to a Million:

Counting changes with language.  I remember studying French and laughing because the French word for 70 is sixty-ten, 71 is sixty-ten-one.  Yup.  True story.  So, we move to Korea and discover that numbers are grouped differently here. how so?  Let’s start with counting to a million. We group numbers into ones, tens, and hundreds, then repeat.

1,10, 100,

1,000, 10,000, 100,000,

1,000,000, 10,000,000, 100,000,000

Not Korean. They group into ones, tens, hundreds,  thousands, ten thousands, then start again.

1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000.  Okay easy.

Wait, I forgot to tell you that counting 1-100 is different too :

1 one                                  11 ten one                     20 two tens one

2 two                                 12  ten two                    22 two tens two

3 three                              13 ten three                 23 two tens three

4 four                                14 ten four                    24 two tens four

5 five                                15 ten five                      25 two tens five

and so on

Okay, so you’re counting to a thousand:

1 one     10 ten     11  ten one          21 two tens one    100 hundred

okay, clunky, but I’ve got it. Let’s count to 10,000

100 hundred        150 hundred five tens        550 five hundred five tens

555 five hundred five tens five                        1000 thousand

1,500 one thousand five hundreds

5,555  five thousands five hundreds five tens five

Now we are going to group in  ten thousands, which have their own word

10,000  ten thousand

100,000 ten ten thousands

1,000,000 one hundred ten thousands

till we get to 1,000,000,000 which gets its own word.

Okay.  So, imagine you are buying a cheap car.  After taxes and licensing fees it cost $1,200 or in Korean won 1,402,198 you would say  one hundred, four ten thousands two thousands, hundred nine tens eight. (or: bek-sa-ship-man i-chun-bek gu-ship pal.)  Or, that is what the person at the DMV would say in Korea. Yup.  Sometimes buying stuff makes my head spin.

Two number systems 

Korea and China have a long history together and there has been a lot of cultural sharing and borrowing that I am not knowledgeable enough to begin to explain.  BUT, Korea has 2 number systems.

The Korean numbers             and the     Sino (Chinese numbers)

1         hana                                                     1 il

2         dul                                                        2 i

3        set                                                         3 sam

4         net                                                       4 sa

5         daseot                                                   5 o

6       yeoseot                                                  6 yuk

7         ilgop                                                      7 chil  and it keeps on going.

Okay, so now the fun really starts.  Cause you need to know when to use each set of numbers.  Oh, and sometimes they blend them. Telling time uses Korean numbers for the hour and Sino numbers for the minutes   Ex: 5:30 is daseot si sam ship or five hours three ten.

I find this stuff amazing.  It has been like yoga for my brain, teaching me to find new ways to classify and arrange things.  I think that overall, understanding the Korean counting system has made me a much better teacher. When I was in my first Second Language Acquisition class we learned Chomsky’s theory that we are born with the capability to learn all languages, to make and distinguish all sounds.  Over time we identify the sounds and patterns of the languages spoken in our community and disregard the rest.  The same must be true for numbers.  There must be infinite ways to classify and organize things, but overtime we focus on the ones used in our community. Seems to me that the more ways you can express concepts the more ways you have to solve problems and understand others points of view.

Just to dork it up some more, I’m reading and loving Number: the Langauge Of Science by Tobias Danzig. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

This is blog post is based on our casual observations of the function of numbers in Korea.  We may have made errors, I verified the information with a Korean bilingual friend, but I did not do academic verification.  Do not cite our observations.

spring in Shinan

Non-numbers stuff- We’ll be home in less than a month.  We still have blog posts on some of our favorite things in Mokpo and Korea before we take of on the next adventure.  Can’t wait to see y’all soon.

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2 Responses to Numbers in Korea

  1. L.G. says:

    Hey there, fellow dorks – looking forward to seeing you guys too…just watched a TED talk on crocheting hyperbolic space. One of my first thoughts – I could see Akasha doing that!

  2. Chris says:

    Yes, I really miss numbering things that Chinese traditional way. To me it will always just seem Korean, I guess they must do it in China that way as well. And I feel so rich if I measure my wealth in millions… of won. XD

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