Sissano Numbers

Richard Parker richardparker01 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jul 2 09:31:02 UTC 2007

Malcolm Ross wrote:
>Sissano counts 1, 2, 2_1, 2+2, 2+2+1 (at least, it did when I 
  >collected data from native speakers in the 1970s).
  Thankyou, Malcolm. How else could I get such a first-hand 
  authoritative account, except via this forum?
  >As far as I know, these are not inherited Austronesian words. At some 
>point, shared ancestors of Arop/Sissano and Sera speakers lost the  
>quinary system of their earlier ancestors and replaced it with a  
>Papuan-like system. I don't know where the words came from. They  
>don't crop up elsewhere in wordlists for these languages.
  That would be a beautiful simple solution, but, regrettably, it's spoiled by ugly facts. 
  The A/S are in contact with, or near 3 Papuan groups (Warapu, Olo, and Fas) from 3 different phyla, each of whom has taken the major conceptual step from using just 2 words to a basic hand/foot tally system, with 'stages' at 5, 10, and 20.
  These 'backward' Papuans can easily count up to 20, and probably to 
  multiples of that. The A/S would be hard-pressed not to lose track after, say, 10.
  A/S adopted neither their neighbours' systems nor their number names. (Details privately if required by anyone).
  A/S's nearest An relative, Sera, to the west, at least has a word for 
  5 (no more data), implying that they have taken that giant step. 
  A/S's other An neighbours to the east, (in the same language branchlet, Schouten Siau) Tumleo, Yakamul, and Ulau-Suain, all have  full number names for 1-5, most of which are recognisably Austronesian. According to Lean they have full-on decimal 1-5, 10, 100 systems.
  Decimalising is another leap forward. You can now count on only two 
  hands, right up to 100. Best of all, you don't have to lean down 
  and tally your toes any more, so no giving someone a chance to 
  chop off your head. At this stage, the word for 5 may have fixed, and the word for hand be quite different.
  Or you can just memorise 1-10, and the rules for teens and decades.
  It doesn't seem plausible that Arop-Sissano could have just abandoned a 1,2,5,20 or a 1-10, 100 system, with all the conceptual baggage that would entail: the loss of a whole suite of 
physical and abstract concepts, not just a word or two.
  The most parsimonious answer must be that they never had a more complex system at all. 
  So why did they keep their very simple system for so long?
  - Do the A/S use hand signals, or simple visible division of spoils, in place of words, when counting or tallying? 

  Barbara Sayers says of the Australian Wik-Mingan group, who only have words for 1,2, and 'many', that signals are used for larger numbers, as at feasts, and only sometimes voiced,
 as in 'whole hand' for 5, 'two hands' for 10, and 'whole hands and feet' for 20. Their actual 
word for 'hand' was, of course, /ma'/. 
  - Could the A/S economy, based on plentiful but fluctuating seafood and sago, have left 
them with nothing worthwhile counting, while inlanders had regular game, pigs, chickens and garden produce to share out at feasts, accurately, to avoid jealousy?
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