Yan Tyan Tethera sheep counting score

ricahrdbyers's picture

Good Morning from the UK. I would like to post something a little different to following on from Kent's Ordinal Numbers in Various Languages post in Feb 2008. I am presently working on a book, which is essentially about a ancient sheep counting score (base 20) used throughout the North of Endland up until around the 1850s. It is not heard today.

It goes something like this

1 YAN
2 TYAN
3 TETHERA
4 METHERA
5 PIMP
6 SETHERA
7 LETHERA
8 HOVERA
9 DOVERA
10 DICK
11 YAN-A-DICK
12 TYAN-A-DICK
13 TETHERA-DICK
14 METHERA-DICK
15 BUMFITT
16 YAN-A-BUM
17 TYAN-A-BUM
18 TETHERA-BUM
19 METHERA-BUM
20 GIGGIT

I have already done a lot of research on and off the web, but what really interests me is the similarities of these numbers to other languages across the world. It appears obvious to me that there is a mix of both cardinal and ordinal numbers here. Also any other comments would be appreciated.
Enjoy!
regards Richard

Nick Shinn's picture

Dave Farey (Cachet, Highlander) mentioned these in a talk he gave at TypeCon a few years ago, IIRC.

Typography had its own idiosyncratic math system (minikin, brilliant, diamond, &c.) but that didn’t utilize prosody mnemonically (e.g. rhyming), unless one considers the bizarre nature of the names and their contrast with one another to be an aid to memory.

riccard0's picture

Very interesting. They reminds me of a blog post by Michael Everson (http://evertype.com/blog/blog/2007/12/03/counting-preservation-in-west-v...).
Unfortunately, his site seems unreachable at the moment (even its cache).
But there’s a (not sure if legit) copy of it here: http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=6102

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I don't get it--so these are the words they said when they were counting? Did they not know numbers in any other language[s], ('one,' 'deux,' etc.), or were they simply using these words only when counting something?

Love how dangerously close some of these word pairings are to cuss words--so pimp.

cerulean's picture

I feel like I've heard these, particularly "yan tyan tethera". Have they survived in folk music and fairy tales, perhaps?

Té Rowan's picture

@Ryan – Somehow I doubt that a crofter would (or even could) spend much time on forn tongues.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yan_tan_tethera

Nick Cooke's picture

Funny folk these Northern English sheep farmers.

Theunis de Jong's picture

"Yan, tyan, tethera" gets actually said by the blue pixies in one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. From the context I was able to grok its meaning :-)

(Also from context: They seem to be quite foulmouthed in jenneral, I didn't dare to look up if anything of it was actually an existing language!)

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

This connects to Gaelic in someway, yes?

John Hudson's picture

Yes, to Gaelic, but properly one should say to Brythonic, of which Gaelic is just one modern subdivision.

The point of the system is that it is made up of sequences of rhyming and rhythmic words, so it is less easy to lose count than if one is trying to keep numbers in one's head.

Té Rowan's picture

Far's I can tell, the Pictsies (or Nac Mac Feegle) speak with a Scottish accent, thick as peat, one I think the Hogwarts Depute would ken on the spot.

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