Number Words & Number Systems - Answer to Laurent Sagart

Richard Parker richardparker01 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Apr 22 15:00:12 UTC 2007

  (...after a period of competition between *RaCep and *lima, *lima finally 
won out, displacing RaCep. It would be strange if *RaCep suddenly resurfaced 
in the Pacific: the total absence of reflexes of *RaCep between Taiwan and Vanuatu 
would be hard to explain.
  Well, it certainly would, wouldn't it? But, if *RaCep didn't start in Taiwan, 
but just ended up there, it wouldn´t be so difficult to explain. 
  It wouldn't be difficult to explain if the entire Western MP area was swamped 
  (quite recently, within the last 2 millenia, by languages originating from the Orang Laut, Badjau, Sri Vijayans, and other sea-going traders).
  I've already pointed out the parallel with Pasismanua (New Britain) -sip, 
but there are others (not very many, it has to be said):
  'bacin marahin sib' is 5 in Wampur, a North New Guinea (Morobe Prov) An language. 
'bacin marahin' is the 'hand word' as in 'bacin marahin bisangcwa'=6= 'b-m-1'.
(How you can possibly derive 'bacin marahin bisangcwa' from PAn *enem 
is quite another matter)
  I really wasn't trying to prove anything when I started on this project. 
I had always assumed that Austronesian, like Proto-Indo-European, was born 
with a fully-formed symbolic decimal numbering system. 
  One of the most impressive things about the language family was that much the 
same word meant 5 and hand from Madagascar to Easter Island, and Taiwan to 
New Zealand - half a world apart.
  I knew about a very few primitive numbering name/systems in Taiwan, and just one 
in Luzon, but then I glanced at and found there 
were scores of 'primitive' numbering systems roughly east of the Wallace Line. 
  So I decided to investigate them.
  I've found nearly 170 An languages where counting up to 5 is relatively simple, 
but from 5-9 is more primitive, as the 'add 1,2,3,4' system, in Rukai, or 
even something else altogether, like Saisiyat, but not the plain, simple and 
very memorable *enem, *pitu, *walu, *Siwa of PAn.
  It shouldn't be logically possible for anyone to 'retreat' to a more primitive 
numbering system if his language has already been handed a very simple and 
  easily memorable symbolic numbering/name system, by their Taiwan immigrant 
  The very obvious answer is that Austronesian settlers in New Guinea, etc, adopted 
the number morphemes and systems of their Papuan neighbours, for trade and tribute 
  So I added in every Papuan neighbour of those Austronesian speakers, and it simply 
isn't so. 
  Papuan number morphemes just don't match their neighbour An ones, but, occasionally,
  at first glance, the local numbering systems do. (This still needs a closer study to see if 
it's absolutely and consistently true). 
  In some places, Papuan-speakers (and don't forget we are talking about 8 different 
language phylae) are quite out-numbered by An speakers, as in Timor and Flores. 
They have adopted An number morphemes for 1-5, or parts of that system, but not a 
lot elsewhere. 
  So what are we left with ?
  1) The numbering systems and phonemes have been adopted from, or adjusted to, to 
  their local neighbours - not completely so. 
  2) Simple number symbols came from PAn in Taiwan and 'regressed'? Really?
  3) Local groups changed over entirely to speaking An, but kept to their 
ancestral number systems?
  4) The 'aberrant' number systems (and, by association, the languages) 
  evolved in just the places where they're still found.
  Richard Parker
Siargao Island, The Philippines. 
  My website at is about the island and its people, coastal early humans, fishing, coconuts, bananas and whatever took my fancy at the time.
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