The number that the French refer to as “quatre-vingts” is 80. The literal translation of “quatre-vingts” into English is “four twenties.” This unique way of expressing the number 80 highlights the vigesimal (base-20) influence in the French counting system, which stands in contrast to the more familiar decimal (base-10) system commonly used in many other languages.
Historical linguistic studies suggest that the use of a vigesimal system is possibly rooted in ancient Celtic traditions, where counting by twenties was practiced. Given the significant Celtic influence in what is now modern-day France, it is conceivable that this counting methodology was incorporated into the French language.
In everyday use, when French speakers refer to 80, they say “quatre-vingts.” When counting beyond 80, they continue with this base-20 influence. For example, 81 is “quatre-vingt-un” (four-twenty-one), 82 is “quatre-vingt-deux” (four-twenty-two), and so on, until 99, which is “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf” (four-twenty-nineteen).
However, it’s worth noting that in some Francophone regions, such as Belgium and Switzerland, the numbering system is different. For instance, in Switzerland, 70 is “septante,” 80 is “huitante,” and 90 is “nonante.” This system aligns more closely with the decimal system and avoids the base-20 nomenclature seen in standard French.
In conclusion, the term “quatre-vingts” is an interesting linguistic feature of the French language, shedding light on the historical and cultural influences that have shaped the way numbers are expressed in various languages and regions.