Numbers yet again - Re: New Book from SIL PNG

Richard Parker richardparker01 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Jun 30 04:37:00 UTC 2007

>>  The old documents preserve a lot. I know of only one An language
>>that had only 2 words, 1 and 2, for their entire counting system 
  >(Arop Sissano - N New Guinea).
  >This information, that Arop and Sissano only had 1 and 2, is an 
>illegal inference from the fact that only 1, 2 were published in >a wordlist in a book by Churchill. That he only listed 1 and 2 is >understandable as he was doing a comparative study, and there is >no statement there to say that there were only two numbers.
  The only data I currently have is from Eugene Chan’s list of numbers at
It shows 1 and 2 used for all numbers from 1-10. Chan was careful, and didn’t infer or claim numbering sequences that he hadn’t seen in authoritative sources. Many of his numbering systems stop, at, say, 6.
  The related Sera, next door, certainly does have morphemes for 3 and 5, but similar morphemes for 1 & 2.
  >Anyone seeing the actual number morphemes, which are not 
>Austronesian and not obviously cognate with any close Papuan 
  > language, in Arop and Sissano would have to ask if they are really linear Austronesian descendants!?
  They are probably not linear Austronesian descendants!?. Should they be?
  The two morphemes, /pontanen/ and /entin/, certainly don’t look like conventional An numbers, but they could, just possibly, be An hand parts, like finger, or thumb, or even ordinal numbers – first and second – where the use of visible hand tallying made the voicing of numbers almost redundant. Or they could even be special names for counting certain objects. I will need to wait for more information, before I get myself into even more illegalities.
  >Also, what seems not be widely known, body-tally systems are >attested in the torres straits and mainland australia. There are >some refs (though Bill McGregor should have a bigger database of the Australian cases):
  Many thanks for your paper (and your others) – very useful.
  >>  eg: many Vanuatu languages still retain hand+1,2,3,4 for 6-9, 
>> so those  islands must have been first settled before the full 
>> An decimal system was conceived. It's possible, even, to detect >> sequential waves of Vanuatu settlement as the number systems 
>> grow more sophisticated.
  >> There's an alternative, of course, that they were too stupid, >>or too conservative, to accept a simple new system brought in by >> Austronesian-speakers ready-equipped with the PAn decimal >>system.
  >This account is wrong in two places. The Vanuatu lgs could not have
>_retained_ an old hand+1,2,3,4-system if they are Oceanic (or you'd
>have to revise the POc-numeral reconstruction considerably).
  You said it! Something really should be done about large
 quantities of linguistically illegal number systems scattered 
around Oceania.
  I was using retained in the ‘normal’ way, not realising its
 implications as a linguistic technical term.
  But most Vanuatu languages use recognisable POc morphemes to
 construct 6-9. (I have next to no data on Vanuatu numbers above 
10). The number systems noticeably ‘degrade’ from north to south,
 until, in New Caledonia, POc morphemes are almost unrecognisable.
  POc: *sa-kai, *ta-sa, *tai, *kai  *rua  *tolu  *pat, *pati, *pani  *lima,  *onom,  *pitu,  *walu,  *siwa,  *sa (nga) puluq
  Now, are the following examples retentions of older systems in the normal sense, or innovations in the narrow linguistic sense?
  Motlav (Banks Islands, N Vanuatu): Bi-twagh, Bo-yo, Be-tel, Be-Bet, teBe-lem, leBe-te, liBi-yo, leBi-tel, leBe-Bet, songwul
  Katbol (Malekula): sapm, i-ru, i-tl, i-Bat, i-lim, sout, so-ru, se-tl, se-Bat, langal
  Iaai (Loyalty Islands): xacha, lo, kun, wak, thabung, thabung ke nua xacha, thabung ke nua lo, thabung ke nua kun, thabung ke nua wak, li benita
  Orowe (New Caledonia): rrake, keehru, kerrere, kevwe, keni, keni me rrake, keni me keehru, keni me kerrere, keni me kevwe, keni me keni.
(4 types of accented e omitted, for clarity)
  It looks quite obvious (to me) that the Oroweans have a less 
developed system, where 10 = 5 & 5, than the Motlavians, who use a single, freestanding word, and all of them have systems that are less developed than proto-Oceanic, which has a single ‘meaning-
free’ word for all the 1-10 digits. 
How can comparative theory linguistics accommodate this paradox?
>  Second, languages switch back and forth between decimal, quinary 
> and vigesimal systems with little correlation to stupidity. See a 
> recent OL article by Bender and Beller called classifiers and 
> counting systems or similar).
  I’ve read most of their articles available on the web, and can
 readily accept that people could retain a traditional system, 
possibly with substantial numeral classifiers, for counting things that are culturally important to them, alongside a new (usually 
decimal) system for new things, just as they still do on this 
island, where Spanish applies to some things, Surigaonon to 
others, and Americano when you’re not quite sure. 
And we English count dozens of eggs, and scores of years. The special counting system for tennis is said to be preserved in a small temple at Wimbledon.
I’ve yet to see any proven demonstration (although plenty of 
inferences) that whole groups of people have actually changed 
their systems back to something ‘more primitive’. 
Who would want to order thabung ke nua lo (say,cigarettes)in Iaai, when he could just say *pitu in his ancestral proto-Oceanic?
I’m actively hunting for examples of change of system and 
morphemes,together, either way, but, so far, I’ve only come across loans of some isolated words, as in Swahili, where Arabic names
 have only been adopted for 6,7, and 9: moja, mbili, tatu, nne, 
tano, sita, saba, nane, tisa, kumi, but Bantu retained (sorry – 
kept) for everything else.
Some of it is truly baffling:

The Papuan languages of Halmahera seem to use one (and only one) 
An word in their 1-10 words - /siwo/ for nine, yet their close An 
neighbours, Patani and Sawai, use /fapolo/ and /popet/.
This kind of 9 morpheme ‘1 before 10’ is rare, and usually seems 
to be symptomatic of a ‘suppressed’ base 4 system, where 8=2x4, as in some groups in Flores and Sumba, others in Aru Island, Enggano, Wuvulu, and almost half of the Taiwanese languages. 
The only straightforward An base 4 systems I can find are Biem and Wogeo in the New Guinea Schouten family.
(In none of the above do I have any data for numbers above 10, so 
I can’t yet tell if they go on from 4-8 to call 12 a dozen. I’m 
hoping somebody can help me out on this).
The construction of 9 in Nghada (Flores) - /ta esa/ is almost the 
same as Taokas (Taiwan) /tanaso/. Both have an combination phrase 
8 involving 4 morphemes, /zua butu/ and / mahalpat/. They’re 2200 
miles apart, and there’s nothing comparable on the straight line 
between them.
Here is a comparativist’s view of it:
‘An interesting set consists of Thao tanacu , Favorlang tannacho ,
 Taokas tanaso '9', which point to an earlier *[st]a[nng]aCu. The 
first syllable might reflect *sa- 'one', in which case we are 
perhaps dealing with a subtractive form.’
Laurent Sagart ‘The Higher Phylogeny Of Austronesian And The Position Of Tai-Kadai’
It actually seems to be the start of a new (suppressed) base 4 
count, from two 4s, and maybe the reconstruction puts the 1 at the wrong end.
  >Yes there are such cases. When I said there is no other etymology
>for 5 than 'hand', I should have said 'hand' or 'some part of the >hand'.
  >But I didn't, so you can have the 10 dollars if you want.
  No way would I claim a prize in such a specious way. But it is worth noting that ‘whole hand’ is not always the morpheme. 
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