Don't let commas distract you from the big money!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/07/22 12:31 -04:00, original URI:

It was about a month ago that Language Log's Bill Poser asked in Caribbean Monetary Notation whether anyone could confirm the feedback he had received that several Caribbean countries, in both English and Spanish, although ordinary numbers are written with the usual grouping into threes, in monetary values only the low group of three is delimited. In other words, an ordinary number looks like this: 123,456,789 but the same number of dollars is written $123456,789.

I was unable to find out anything about the origin (the reason for the one month delay was the vain attempt!) but I can confirm the practice. In fact, it is true of all of the following locales supported by Windows:

Now all of the other places we have data for that use this pattern (e.g. Ethiopia, Russia, Tajikistan, Greenland, Laos, China1) seem to do it both for regular number grouping (LOCALE_SGROUPING) and currency grouping (LOCALE_SMONGROUPING). It is just these few in the Caribbean with this interesting difference.

Perhaps people in the area with a lot of money find the commas distracting so they really prefer when they are omitted? :-)

Or to be more serious, from my time in the Caymans in years past2, larger sums of money (e.g. a month long hotel bill over the Christmas holiday, the price for renting a section of a private beach for a weekend) were never described in words using the same verbal notation as in English. At the same time sizes (e.g. the length of the runway at the airport, the size of the section of beach that someone else was actually going to pay for!) was described in the same way as in the US.

Now Microsoft does not have data for Grand Cayman or any of the Cayman Islands, but from two examples I was personally involved with seem to suggest that Bill's Number Delimitation post which suggested the link between verbal currency bur not number descriptions and preferred currency but not number groupings might be spot on....

Anyone else know if this is why, or if there is another (better) reason?

Also, I am not sure if Bill Poser is as regular of a reader of this blog as I am of Language Log, so if there is anyone over in Language Log Plaza who could make sure he gets the message (albeit later than I had hoped to post it, sorry about that!).


1 - Well, for Tibetan, Mongolian, and Uighur, at least!
2 - A story for another post, or more likely a story never to be repeated unless severely intoxicated!


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