Pentru al un milionulea de ori…

  • polyglot
  • School of Language — Rockist Part 4

I am converting numbers into words.

OK, so there is code out there to do this already, but the most commonly-cited Ruby solution requires the Linguistics gem, which is HUGE if you just want to display the number of comments on your blog or what-have-you. So I thought I'd have a go at it. It turned out not to be so hard, so I'm kind of internationalising it: so far, I support UK English, US English, French, Esperanto, and Romanian (!). You can check out the test cases (entirely readable by humans, I assure you) to see what it can do.

I have some unanswered questions, if anyone is so inclined:

  • USAnglophones: Can you think of a rule that governs when you use "a hundred" versus "one hundred"? So far, I think I am assuming that, where a speaker of UK English would say "a hundred and twenty-five", you would say "one hundred twenty-five" (again, see the test cases), and only use "a" where the hundred (or the million) is by itself ("a million", not "one million"). But I could be way off-base.
  • In general, I am short on information on pronouncing negative numbers ("minus five") or numbers too big for my calculations (I assume anything over a billion or so is too unwieldy to be required). I can't even do it confidently in French. Ideas? (Again, Americans: "minus five" or "negative five"?)
  • Anyone else like to provide some rules?

It's really interesting seeing how succinctly one can represent a set of rules like this. The champion so far has (predictably) been Esperanto (four rules and fourteen base cases); maybe I'll add Klingon for comparison.

mattmatt reads from your letters

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I say one hundred when counting and a hundred when describing something (a hundred coats). Same for the word "and", one hundred AND one when telling people about something. One hundred one when counting. It could be an unspoken rule or it could be me.

Negative five feels more right to me.

You probably need to visit the grammar gorillas if you are looking for text book answers.
Thanks! That is handy feedback :)
I agree with lepamplemousse's assessment. One hundred when counting and "a hundred" when describing things.

And I've heard Americans say both minus and negative for the numbers, although it seems like we'd say minus 5 only when talking about outside temperature?

I don't know any rules governing either situation.
With my knowledge of Americanglophonics (?), I'd say there are NO rules governing "a" versus "one". I say "a hundred" more often, only tending to use "one" when emphasising either the "one" (eg "not TWO hundred, ONE hundred") or the number in general (eg. "I want ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS"). The use of "and" in saying the number 125 would only be used when saying the number slowly ("hundred twenny-five" versus "a hundred and...twenty five."). All of this stuff is entirely up to the conversational style of the speaker, in my opinion - it's about what SOUNDS best for the given situation. Good luck putting rules on it.

Same goes for "minus"/"negative". I heard both used in my US school, and they were pretty damn near interchangeable.