How to say “eleven” in 11+11+11 languages?

On this auspicious date 11/11/11 it’s time to look at how number eleven is constructed in a number of languages. (To be precise, in 11+11+11 = 33 languages.)

Let’s start from Germanic languages that also include English. “Eleven” comes from an old Old English form of “endleofan” that meant “one left” (over ten). Modern Danish and Norwegian resemble most, both with “elleve”. Swedish “elva”, German and Dutch “elf” all derive from the same root.

Latin “undecim” is a compound of un + decem (one + ten).  Of all Romance languages, Italian deviated the least from the Latin form with “undici”.  In most other Romance languages the first syllable of the Latin “decim” was dropped and the word became “once” (Spanish and Catalan) or “onze” (French and Portuguese). Romanian is different. First of all, a d>z consonant shift resulted in „zece” (ten). The word for eleven is „unsprezece”, literally „one over ten”.

Russian „одиннадцать” (odinnadtsat’) is literally „one above ten”, although the first letter of ten (десять) is merged with the equivalent of „above” (над), the wovel is lost from the first syllable and the „s” sound became a „ts” sound.  Ukrainian одинадцять follows a similar pattern.  Among Western Slavic languages, the Polish word for eleven is “jedenaście”, Czech is “jedenáct”. In all these forms, the full first syllable of „ten” is lost (just as in the case of Spanish and French, remember?).  In the Southern Slavic group, Slovenian uses “enajst”, Croatian “jedenaest”, and Bulgarian „единадесет”. All of these forms can be traced back to a now extinct „-nadeset” form, which literally meant „over ten”. Bulgarian seems to have kept this old form. Other Slavic languages follow very similar patterns.

In the Baltic group, Lithuanian is famous for its archaic forms. Eleven is “vienuolika”, which literally means „one left”, just as in the Germanic languages. The Latvian word is „vienpadsmit”, i.e. „one over ten”.

Hungarian “tizenegy” is literally “one over ten”, with the word for ten coming first. Finnish “yksitoista” is more interesting: it literally means „one of the other/second” (the word for ten is totally different: kymmenen).

Turkish „on bir” is very simple: „ten one”. The same pattern used in some other Asian languages too. Chinese is 十一 (pronounced as Shí yī), Japanese is also written as 十一 (pronounced as jū ichi). Korean uses two distinct forms (십일, shipil, and 열 하나, yeolhana), both are simple compounds following the „ten one” pattern.

Arabic أحدَ عشر is pronounced as aḥada ʿašar , and it’s made up of „one + ten”, with both words slightly different than the two standalone words.  The Hebrew word for eleven is written as אחת עשרה and pronounced as achad asar, making it mutually understandable with Arabic.  Swahili „kumi na moja” is simply „ten and one”.

Georgian uses a 20-base counting system, just like French (and Basque). Eleven is თერთმეტი or t’ert’meti.

And finally let’s turn back to another Indo-European language, Hindi. ग्यारह is pronounced as „gyāraha”, and it’s not related to ten (dasa) nor one (ek).

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