Number Words & Number Systems

Richard Parker richardparker01 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Apr 24 04:37:03 UTC 2007

Thanks for everyone's contributions - every bit helps me 
  understand a bit more.
  In Pazeh, hand is ima, or rima, but five, and the compound numbers 
  6-9  use xasep, xaseb-1, xase-2, xaseb-3, xasebi-4 
(When I said Rukai in my last post, I was just getting confused).
  In Saisiyat, they´re ima? and aseb
  Saisyat also has a complex number-making system, quite different, 
  but uses a similar phoneme in sayboshi - 6, sayboshi o ?aha? (6+1) 
  and then kashpat - 8 (2x4). 9 is a?aha? and 10 is langpez. Quite a 
  few Austronesian languages use (the last-one-before-10) for 9.
  The 'Saisiyat' number system is quite rare - Motu in E New Guinea has something like it - 8 is taura hana - I 'read' that as 1-2-4. Nghada and Lio in Flores have zua butu (2-4), and ruambutu (2-4). West Tarangan has Karugwa (4-2), Ujir - karua, Dobel - ?aro, Kola 
  - kaFarua, all in Aru. Weyewa in Sumba has pondopata (pondo-4), and that's about it.
  There are plenty of Austronesian number systems like the Pazeh 
  5-1, 5-2, 5-3, 5-4 etc, 90 of which use their own number 5 in the 
  system, and 127 that use 'something else'. The 116 Vanuatu 
  languages I've got listed make up a large chunk of that. 
  Which is why Im trying to find out what the 'something else' 
  There are plenty of Papuan languages that also use the system, 
  which is not surpising, because it's such a very obvious one. So, 
  I've also listed the Papuan groups that are neighbours of 
  Austronesians, or even next-but-one, and am trying to check 
  whether there is any correlation between their number systems. 
  (There's not a lot between their number phonemes, with the 
  exception of 'bang' that has something to do with 'hand' in many 
  Papuan and Austronesian languages). 
  In Taiwan Favorlang, achab = (5) and rima or addas (hand). Their 
  6-9 goes naatap, na-ito, maaspat (ma-4), tannacho, zchiett, which 
  is just totally incomprehensible.
So it seems reasonable to consider the phoneme 'xaseb, aseb,achab' 
  means something altogether different than just plain 'hand'. I 
  don't understand how Laurent Sagart derives the proto- *RaCep from 
  that, but then I'm not a linguist. But *RaCep would reflect into 
  lasep, wouldn't it? Could the remaining s turn into R or l? (I 
  know that s can become h - I've seen it with my own eyes in Savu).
Local Surigaonons count using their right hand first, fist closed, 
  palm up, and the thumb bent over the forefinger. Little finger 
  comes out first - 'one', then 2, 3, 4 (index-finger), then thumb - 
  open hand = 'lima' = 5. Keep that hand open, (insurance!) then go 
  through the same procedure with the other hand. +1,+2,+3,+4 
  (otherwise 1 before last) to two open hands or 'full'. (In 
  Cebuano, sangka or pono means 'full' - any connection to the 
  standard *sa-puluq ?)
  If you want to emphasise and limit the number - 'only one!', 'only 
  two!', you use the hand held palm-down, with the fore-finger as 
  '1' - see the betting signals used at the local chicken-fights at:
  The Mapos Buang, Austronesians who live in East New Guinea, use a 
  dfferent system: The normal Buang method is to start with the 
  fingers of the left hand all extended, and then to bend them down 
  one at a time starting from the little finger. For five the thumb 
  wraps over the closed fist and counting starts with the right 
  hand. Two clenched fists held together indicate ten.; kaunim
  That's why I set out on a red herring of trying to see if 'right' 
  or 'left' had anything to do with these 'hand' words. It doesn't 
  seem so.
  I would certainly appreciate any 'finger-counting' method 
  anecdotes that anyone may have seen in action, as maybe this will 
  help me understand a little more of what's going on.
  From what I've read somewhere, some Papuan groups use 23 body-part 
  names to achieve a base 23 number system, then start on the other 
  side, to reach another 'two-score' with base 46. (I do hope that 
  Austronesian number systems don't involve anything quite so 
  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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