The idea for the Wall of Numbers came from language trainers. "We would like to have a place to discuss numbers and language" they told us. And so the idea evolved into a little green wall, which is located behind House 2 not far from the bee house at the Campus Kottenforst. On the one hand, this wall can provide trainers with a tool to draw attention to the connection between language and numbers in their trainings. However, the number wall also invites participants to take a journey through the world of numbers, either together or by themselves, to explore different concepts of language, culture, and numbers, and to learn interesting new things.

Around the world with numbers and proverbs

Proverbs usually evolve over time and often bear regional implications. They are metaphorical expressions which often carry somewhat hidden meanings and carry underlying wisdoms. Because a proverb is of traditional and folkloric origin, there are countless proverbs in the world, often representing people's perspectives and world views. Here, on the Wall of Numbers you will find a total of 7 proverbs from all over the world in which numbers play a special role.

The following proverbs are depicted on the Wall of Numbers. Maybe you can find parallels to the languages you speak?

Language

Proverb (original language)

Proverb (German)

Literal translation

Portugese (Brazil)

Quero conhecer os quatro cantos do mundo

I want to discover the whole world.

I want to discover all four corners of the world.

Mooré

Nisaal yaa wè, ka ta piig ye

Nobody knows everything/ nobody is perfect.

A person is a 9, but never a 10.

Lao

3 ມື້ດື 4 ນື້ໃຂ້

Sometimes like this, sometimes like that (this proverb illustrates the indecisiveness)

3 good days, 4 days of illness.

Russian

один за всех, все за одного

One for all, each for one.

One for all, each for one.

Arabic

عشرة على عشرة

Straight A.

Ten out of ten.

Vietnamese

Một nụ cười bằng mười thang thuốc bổ

Laughing is the best medicine.

A laugh equals ten doses of medicine.

Swahili

Samaki mmoja akioza, huoza wote

One sick sheep spoils the whole flock.

If one fish rots, they all rot.

1, 2, and many?

From an early age, we learn to count, we use tools like the abacus, maybe even a calculator, and we learn the multiplication tables by heart. Counting is difficult, despite the fact that each object is only assigned one word. We can make a tally list or use complicated algebraic laws: the world of numbers is infinite. No one knows exactly who invented mathematics, it is probably a joint creation by many cultures on this earth. And yet numbers are abstract and culturally shaped constructs. This becomes clear in the example of the number concept of the Pirahā tribe (Papua New Guinea), which comprises only three words: one, two and many. How we count influences us, our thinking and above all our realities of life.

If you are interested in this topic, you can find more information under these links:

Use your fingers to show the number three! Do you find it easier to show the number with your thumb, index and middle finger? Or do you prefer to hold up your little finger, ring finger and middle finger? Maybe you count in a completely different way? Our body is a true calculator and you can use it in many different ways. For example, you can count each finger as a single unit, i.e. as "1", that way you have a superb counting system on a base of 10. However, if you use the individual sections of each finger (excluding the thumb), you have a counting system on a base of 12. Of course, you can also add the toes and thumbs, then you have a base of 20. Some cultures also use their whole body to visualise numbers. Of course, this also has an influence on language. It is not a coincidence that in English "digit" means both "finger" and "number". Of course, our bodies can do much more than just count, some people communicate exclusively via hand signs and gestures. If you want to communicate numbers in sign language, for example, you have to know the rules, because the smallest difference in gestures conveys completely different messages. If you are interested in this topic and would like to learn more about "finger counting" across different cultures, please have a look at these links:

The universe of numbers is huge. Accordingly, the vocabulary in many languages is just as large, because each number must also be assigned a specific term. Some languages, however, have made use of the numbers themselves and especially maths to minimise this problem. Why develop countless numerical expressions when you can represent a number perfectly in the form of a small calculation? In French, for example, one uses the calculation "4 times 20" instead of the term "80". For language learners, these sometimes highly complicated calculations may seem a bit cumbersome at first, but mental arithmetic is known to train the brain. In fact, the language we learn seems to have an influence on our mathematical understanding and approaches to solving problems. Can you think of any other languages that involve a lot of maths?

The sun, the moon, and the stars?! The concept of time and date

For many people, the number 365 represents something quite clearly, because for them 365 days represent exactly one year. But not everywhere people calculate in this way. Numbers play a decisive role when it comes to years and annual seasons, but different cultures on this earth use different counting and thus also calendar systems. While the Gregorian calendar has 365 days per year, the Pawukon calendar in Indonesia, for example, has 210 days. Many calendar systems are based on the course of the moon (= lunar calendar) or the course of the sun (= solar calendar), both of which are closely linked to the ever-recurring seasons.

The saying "the clocks work differently here" is no coincidence either - and we do not refer to time differences. Not everywhere does the day begin with the "first hour" at midnight. Swahili time, for example, is shifted back by 6 hours, where 6 o'clock refers to what is known elsewhere as midnight and 7 o'clock is referred to as 1 o'clock - the first hour following sunrise. It is essential to remember that cultural, religious and geographical factors influence our understanding of time (and numbers). If you would like to know more about this, you can find further links here - or take a look at the time table on the first floor of House 2:

Numbers are not only useful for calculations and the quantitative representation of things, they also represent values, stories and myths. Each culture has its own legends and meanings associated with certain numbers. While the number "13" is considered a particularly unlucky number in many places, this number is considered to be very lucky in Italy, for example. The belief in the significance of numbers can go so far that certain seat numbers do not exist in aeroplanes or the numbers of floors in lifts skipping a supposedly ill-fated number. So, exploring the meaning associated with numbers can provide an interesting insight into the mythology of different cultures. And who knows whether everything is truly just superstition...?

If you are interested in this topic, you can find more information here:

The world has an almost infinite number of different writing systems and corresponding regions. This ranges from East Asia, which is characterised by the Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing systems, to the Middle East, where the Cuneiform, Hebrew and Arabic writing systems have their origins, to Europe, where the Greek and Latin writing systems, among others, are used. These are of course only examples of writing systems, the list is much longer. Writing systems and the associated visual representations of numbers all have their own unique characteristics - while some are more symmetrical and angular, others are much more rounded and squiggly. The reading direction also differs. While some writing systems and numbers are read from left to right, others are read from right to left.

Just like cultures, writing systems change over time. Religion and science have an influence, but so do society and everyday language use. For example, the spelling used in Germany today contrasts greatly with the old German spelling.

More on this topic can be found under the following links: