Numbers and Pictures

Wanted to post something today but didn’t have the energy to write up a full-on descriptive thingie, so I thought I’d put up some of my work on the Gheshvan number- and writing systems.

Gheshvan is one of the main languages of Halci, though it’s considered archaic–it’s not much spoken among human populations anymore, only in the north (Gejara, Krovichanka, Gherenoch) and in some scattered tribes.  A different, more evolved version of the language exists in the far south, where the language originated, but what migrated north stayed mostly in simplistic and pictographic form.  As the language of the ogres, it cuts out several common letters which they can’t pronounce due to their tusks — ‘m’, ‘p’ and ‘b’ — and a few others for stylistic purposes –‘c’ and ‘q’ (replaced with ‘k’ or ‘s’), ‘f’ and ‘j’ (pronounceable but just not usually used in Gheshvan) and ‘w’ (replaced with ‘v’).

Thus why ogrekin have atrocious accents, and why I haven’t had any of them speaking in these blog excerpts, though they do speak in the novels.

I have been working on the writing system in dribs and drabs, both the pictographs themselves and a sort of Gheshvan alphabet derived from them.  Not a whole lot — nothing to show off yet, though I’ve figured out how to structure names, do dialogue markers and suffixes and modifiers and the like.

What I have managed to do is get the number system relatively done.

Gheshvan counts in base-six, which is to say that they don’t acknowledge individual numbers higher than six; there is no concept of seven, eight, etc.  This is not to say that they can’t count higher than six, just that seven is six-plus-one to them, not a separate number in its own right.  Just like twenty is two tens — every number is looked at as how it relates to the number six, instead of the number ten, which would be our standard base-ten counting system.

I chose base-six because the ogres (and the rest of the native races) revere six elements as the basis of all life, perceive there to be six dimensions of time and space, recognize six points of view/persons (I, you, him/her/it, us, them, everyone), and otherwise consider it an important and almost holy number.  The Gheshvan numbers are roughly based on the elements, as shown below:

In order, one is fire (khaele), two is air (ysa), three is wood (treas), four is water (nixa), five is earth (isgart), and six is metal (soraes).

Well, the actual names of the numbers are nin, kav, nev, nik, ris and ket, but you get the idea.

After six, the naming gets a bit more complicated.  The word -xu- (in this case pronounced ‘shu’ but elsewhere ‘kshu’ or ‘ksu’ depending on dialect) is used to connect two anythings, but in this case two numbers.  Seven, which in Gheshvan is basically six-plus-one, is ketxunin (ket-shu-nin).  Thirteen, which would be two-six-plus-one, is kavketxunin.  And onward, adjusting the first and last numbers until you come to thirty-five (five-six-plus-five, or risketxuris).  Pictographically, the numbers stack up by sixes, like little bars of metal, with the secondary number on top in elemental form, so that counting visually just requires adding up the number of metal six-stacks and the single elemental number on top.

At thirty-six you get the first changeover in pictograph form and also in numerical terminology.  The word for thirty-six is lot, and the pictograph is just that box of six squares, which no longer gets modified by elemental numbers on top of it.  Instead, the elemental numbers start again to the side of it, building their stacks of sixes toward a new ‘lot’.  Terminologically, you just add ‘lot’ to the beginning of the new elemental number, such that thirty-seven is ‘lot nin’ and seventy-one is ‘lot risketxuris’.

The last figure of the picture above is seventy-two, and shows what begins to modify ‘lot’ as the numbers grow larger.  ‘Lot’ has now been underlined, indicating that it is instead two ‘lot’s, or kavlot.

In this next picture, you’ll notice I’ve skipped ahead and made a mess everywhere.  Since this is mostly for my own information, I only put as many examples as I felt I needed.  Numbers continue to increase in the manner as before, up to rislot risketxuris (five-thirty-six five-six-plus-five, or 215), with the original ‘lot’ stack of metal bars being slowly enclosed by lines that indicate multiples of ‘lot’.  At 180, the box is closed, but the count continues the same until 216, when the ‘lot’ numbers and the boxed stack of metal bars turn into tiat, the crossed-box-inside-a-box.

Like ‘lot’ before it, tiat stands alone, being modified only by multiples of itself.  In this case, tiat’s modifiers are little circles at its corners, though I might use little cornery L-things instead since I haven’t decided whether the circles are in theme.  Anyway, tiat continues to be added to as the numbers rise, first with an elemental number and then with a ‘lot’ stack and finally with its little circles, until the next transition point at 1296.

And yes, these terms change at the square of six, then at the cube of six, then at the….up-four of six, whatever that’s called.  Hypercube?  Oh, fourth power.  Sorry, small divergence into math-land.  Basically six-times-six is lot, six-times-six-times-six is tiat, six-times-six-times-six-times-six is kenat, and onward and upward.

I’m not completely sold on my own pictographs for kenat (1296), kithit (7776) or xinit (shi-nit, 46656), but I really don’t think they’re used much, except by the few ogres and Gheshvan speakers who bother using actual numbers instead of estimating.  There are ogrish scientists and mathematicians, and there are probably another few powers of six that I should draw, but this seemed enough for now.

Complicated, yes.  Long-named when you get into the big numbers?  Undoubtedly.  46655 is riskithit riskenat ristiat rislot risketxuris, which is certainly a mouthful, but so is forty-six-thousand six-hundred fifty-five.  And xinit is substantially shorter than forty-six thousand six-hundred fifty-six — or even fifty thousand.

And while adding various power-of-six numbers together is difficult for us from a base-ten perspective, it would not be so for people who live in a base-six perspective, where the world is counted in stacks of metal bricks and little licks of flame.

Still, I certainly can’t do it without a cheat sheet.

About H. Anthe Davis

Worldbuilder. Self-published writer.
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