Emira Mussau Numbers

Richard Parker richardparker01 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jun 25 07:01:23 UTC 2007

  Firstly, apologies to John Brownie for hijacking John Bowden's announcement of 
his somewhat more worthy endeavour in compiling 
'Mussau Grammar Essentials'  at:
  in favour of my own selfish  agenda. 
    Most An grammars or dictionaries don't treat numbers very seriously, and John Brownie's is
 a thankful exception which does - it is almost the only information so far, outside New
 Guinea, that I can find, on the net, on any numbers past 10.

  The Mussau name 'ai' for 100 is strange. /ai/ means, simply, 1, in some languages (eg: 
  But usually 'real'  Ans add on /gatus/  - from the Solomons to here in the Philippines, so far 
as I know. (/ekato/ is also 100 in Modern Greek, but I hope that's only a coincidence).
  Mussau /airari/ for 1000 looks as if it derives from /ai/ somehow, but it doesn't.
  Back in the 80s, Glen Lean recorded Mussau 100 as /ka teva airari/ and 1000 as /ka 
sangaulu-airari/. In just the very short interval between his records and John Brownie' s 
grammar description, Mussauans (and their missionaries and teachers) seem to have streamlined the system a bit. 
  /airari/ seems to relate to New Ireland, where 100 is often /mar/, /ong a mar/ or /ra mar/. 
  But on the NG mainland coast, Maleu Kilenge use /ringring/ for 1000. The Mutu, just
down the road, use /dingding/ for 100, while the Kovai, Papuan-speakers, use  /riring/ for 
  I suspect that someone, somewhere, invented a resounding name for the biggest number he had a use for, and probably a very emphatic hand-signal as well.
  The Yele-Dinye, Papuan speakers on Rossel Island, way off the Papuan Tip, use a 
cognate,  /yili/ in counting. They haven't quite got the hang of the decimal system, and count from 20-100 in 50s, shouting 'Yili!' at every 50. 
    It's quite possible that, if the Yele-Dinye language, as described by the Acting Administrator
J.H.P.Murray in the 1920s, was really: 
  '....extraordinarily unmusical in sound; it is full  of nasals and gutturals, and cannot be better described than as resembling the snarling of a dog interspersed with  hiccoughs.'
  that the silly asses called the Dinyes by the only word they could hear clearly, as they sat 
watching a feast being prepared for them, with their solar topees and pressed shorts.

  The Yele-Dinye use shell money, but instead of counting sensibly, 
in strings of shells, by fathoms (one stretched armwidth, like the New Britain Tolai do) they 
count each individual shell, so they need words for 1000s. 
  /yili/ , in Yele-Dinye, is also 1000. 

Then, local words for multiples were added, up to:
  8000 is /mwadab/
  9000 is /mwadi/
  but by then, Wonajo, the legendary inventor of the number system, was said to be weary
  so 10,000 is just /mwadi mwadab/ 9&8.  
  And, if I understand correctly, a Yele-Dinye speaker, if he's feeling too lazy to get up and 
do something, still says: ' Mwadi mwadab.......'
  best regards
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