The linguistics of Spanish vs. English numbers...

I very often speak on the phone with people whose first language is Spanish and because I deal in part numbers, there is a lot of back and forth with numbers and something that I have noticed is that many Spanish speakers seem to prefer combination numbers to individual numbers, so the part number “XYZ-1234” is given to me as “XYZ dash twelve thirty four” as opposed to most English speakers who will say “XYZ dash one, two, three, four.”

Where it gets really crazy is when the number XYZ-204 becomes XYZ dash twenty, four and that gets written down as XYZ-24.

So I’m wondering if this is purely cultural, or is there something linguistically about saying numbers in Spanish that makes combination numbers preferred?

I’ve been told “on the street” that the Spanish speakers believe they should be saying “one thousand two hundred and thirty four” but that is beyond their English skills and so they revert to using the largest numbers they know. I have no idea.

Spanish speakers certainly are apt to give numbers as combinations, but a lot of English speakers do this as well. I couldn’t say how much more frequent this is.

In giving years or other numbers in thousands, you must say the equivalent of one thousand, nine hundred and eighty four rather than nineteen eighty-four. But I don’t think that would be a reason for saying other numbers the latter way when giving them on the phone.

In the US back in the 50s and 60s it was pretty common to pronounce numbers in two digit pairs from “ten” to “ninety nine”. Many street addresses and phone numbers were pronounced that way by ordinary English-language-only Americans.

ISTM the advent of so many more people dealing with so much more numeric data has caused more people to pronounce the individual digits. Which, as you say, eliminates a bunch of ambiguities.

From when I was pretty young I can vaguely remember a campaign to universalize the common pronunciation of the emergency number from “Nine-Eleven” to “Nine-one-one” supposedly because people in a panic couldn’t find the eleven on the dial.

It’s a “how do I translate” issue rather than cultural. Even in Mexican Spanish, “204” is not a number; it’s series of digits. Yeah, call it a “part number,” but it’s not a number per se; it’s just an identifier. But when you’re ESL, you don’t quite realize that, hey!, it’s the same in English. Just read the digits.

My gripe is with South African English (maybe others, but my experience is with them) doing the stupid “double-six” or “triple-two” thing when reciting digits. Oh, that’s drawing number “five two zero triple three nine.” It breaks and brakes the train of thought.

That must be frustrating. Or as Radar O’Reilly used to say “Oh H-E-double toothpicks !” :slight_smile:

It’s a matter of custom which varies by location and type of number, and as several people have said speaking in a second language makes it worse.

Nowadays, all phone numbers for Spain are 9 digits, but before cellphones each province had its own code number which you didn’t need to use when calling within the province. Provinces with the largest cities had 2-digit codes and 7-digit numbers; other provinces had 3-digit codes an 6-digit numbers. People from Madrid or Barcelona are still likely to split 123456789 as 12 345 67 89 (or 12 3 4 5 67 89), people from Cádiz or Burgos will split it 123 45 67 89 (or 1 2 3 45 67 89), and both halves of the country find the other half confusing.

I use combinations (or not) to make it clearer. Our old phone number used to end in 1632. When my wife would say the number to someone writing it down, I noticed that if she said sixteen thirty two, by the time she got past sixteen, they had already written down “six” and had to erase and start over. So I always said, “One, six, three two”.

The automatic ordering system at Walgreens is terrible at speaking prescription numbers. They have the format 1234567-12345. But the computer breaks it up into several shorter numbers with pauses, and it has nothing to do with the way it is written.