Philip Newton (pne) wrote in linguaphiles,
Philip Newton

Special forms of numerals for phonetic disambiguation

The other day, a Persian taught me to count to ten in Persian, and I found it interesting that the numbers 7 and 8 (هفت haft and هشت hašt) were so similar—as I heard it, three out of four segments were identical and the remaining one was a voiceless fricative in both cases.

That made me wonder whether some method of disambiguation is used in Persian in higher-noise environments (e.g. over the telephone), and by extension, what disambiguations are used for similar things in other languages.

Three things that came to my mind are:

  • The use of zwo instead of zwei "two" in German (because of the similarity in sound with drei "three"), in contexts such as spelling out telephone numbers or postal codes. (I believe this is originally from a different case form.)
  • The use of Juno instead of Juni "June" and of Julei instead of Juli "July" in German.
  • The use of niner in some contexts in English (aviation? radio?) instead of nine to avoid confusion with five.

What similar examples are there in other languages?

(I also thought about the use of oh instead of zero in some cases, but this does not seem to be motivated by a desire for disambiguation. I'm guessing that this choice is to reduce the number of syllables spoken.)


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