Monday, December 10, 2007

Dead Hand of the Comparative Theory - 2 - Out-of-Taiwan?

Arthur Capell, writing nearly half a century ago, but only 20 years after the creation of proto-Austronesian, by Otto Dempwolff, gives some idea of just exactly how 'proto-Austronesian' came about:

Dempwolff (1938) established a vocabulary of some 2,000 words which he regarded as "Original Austronesian" (Uraustronesisch).
- The basis of this restoration is found in [just] two Western IN (Indonesian) languages, Toba-Batak (Sumatra) and Javanese, and one Northern IN language, Tagalog (Philippines).
These, with occasional references to Malagasy, Ngadju (Borneo), and a few other languages, served to establish proto-IN (Indonesian).
- He later added to his list Fijian and Sa'a (Southeast Solomons) and based a "proto-MN (Melanesian)" on the agreements of these with his IN (Indonesian).
- In the third stage, he examined three PN (Polynesian) languages (Tongan, eastern Futuna, and Samoa) and similarly established a proto-PN (Polynesian). In each of the latter two cases he sought to establish phonological innovations on the *AN sound-system, to determine what vocabulary appeared in each of the MN (Melanesian) and PN (Polynesian) areas, again with scant attention to MC (Micronesian).
- Moreover, all his PN (Polynesian) languages belong to the western subgroup of the family, without reference to Tahitian or Maori of the eastern subfamily. He did not seek to establish any original AN (Austronesian) morphology; and very little has yet been done in that sphere.

Arthur Capell - Oceanic Linguistics Today - Current Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 4. (Oct., 1962), pp. 371-428.

Andrew Pawley and Malcom Ross carry on the story:
During the 1960s and 1970s a more complex theory of AN high order subgroups emerged from work on historical phonology and morphology. The poorly documented Formosan languages, completely left out of Dempwolff's comparisons, became key witnesses in the reconstruction of PAN. Several changes to Dempwolff's proposed PAN sound system have been made in the light of Formosan testimony .

Dyen noted the possibility of a primary split in AN between
(a) some or all Formosan languages and
(b) a group containing all other AN languages on the grounds of phonological mergers common to all the extra-Formosan languages.
Dahl argued forcefully for such a primary split.
Blust named the extra-Formosan branch "Malayo-Polynesian" (MP) and gave a morphological argument supporting it. Although several scholars have expressed strong reservations (Wolff, Dyen),the hypothesis has gained increasing acceptance.

...According to Blust, Harvey, and Reid the Formosan languages may comprise more than one first-order branch of AN, perhaps dividing into Atayalic (northern), Tsouic (central), and Paiwanic (southern) groups.

... Although most Philippine languages seem at least superficially similar to each other, Reid suggests that they have no significant innovations in common. Zorc challenges Reid, arguing that Philippine languages share numerous lexical replacements and that these constitute innovations defining a Philippine subgroup. The problem in the Philippines, as in many other compact regions, is to distinguish innovations from borrowings among related languages that have been in contact for millennia. A recent study of Tiruray (Mindanao) vocabulary shows that this Philippine language has replaced nearly 30% of its basic vocabulary with loans from its neighbors.
Blust has proposed a more detailed family tree. In this tree the
Western MP comprises chiefly the languages of the Philippines, Malaysia, western Indonesia (including Sulawesi) as far east as mid-Sumbawa, and Madagascar and
Central MP comprises approximately the languages of eastern Indonesia east of Sumbawa and Sulawesi excluding Halmahera.

Oceanic remains, but it has been demoted to something like a fourth-order subgroup.[;-(]

...It is probably fair to say that of Blust's proposed subgroups, MP and three of its daughters-Eastern MP, South Halmahera/West New Guinea, and Oceanic-are rather widely accepted because each is based on a significant body of diagnostic innovations. Western MP, Central MP, and Central~Eastern M P, on the other hand, are much more problematic. The difficulties in finding innovations encompassing the entire putative Central MP group very likely reflect the existence of an earlier extensive and longstanding dialect network in the eastern Indonesian region . What one finds is overlapping innovations, each covering part of the region. As 'a whole, Western MP languages seem to inherit only the innovations shared by all MP languages, i.e. those attributable to Proto MP (PMP).

This suggests that there was no Proto Western MP, but rather that PMP diverged into a number of dialects, one of whose descendants became Proto Central Eastern MP. The Western MP languages are simply those MP languages that do not belong to the Central Eastern group. In the same vein, Central MP languages may be just those Central Eastern languages that are not members of Eastern MP.

However, Pawley and Ross do not even mention that Isidore Dyen, a giant in Austronesian language studies, still believes that the Austronesian languages originated around Melanesia, and merely relegate him to a bit-part in the formation of the Out-of-Taiwan paradigm.
Some Evidence Favoring the Central Hypothesis. Isidore Dyen. Yale University (Emeritus).

The Out-of-Taiwan paradigm rests on remarkably little:

The Malayo-Polynesian (MP) hypothesis (that all extra-Formosan languages belong to a single first-order An subgroup, while the Formosan languages constitute one or more first-order subgroups) rests on the following phonological (and some nonphonological) innovations:
(a) PAn *C and *t merged as PMP *t.
(b) PAn noninitial *L and *n merged as PMP *n.
(c) PAn *S became a glottal spirant in PMP, possibly merging with *h.
The Sound of Proto-Austronesian: An Outsider's View of the Formosan Evidence
Malcolm D. Ross Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 31, No. 1. (Summer, 1992), pp. 23-64.

But then Robert Blust, by now the leader of the pack, produced his bombshell:
Blust, R. (1999). "Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics" in E. Zeitoun & P.J.K Li (Ed.) 'Selected papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics' (pp. 31-94). Taipei: Academia Sinica.
showing not only that Formosan languages differed radically from all others in the Austronesian family, but they formed no less than nine separate first-order families, each ranking equal with Proto-Malayo-Polynesian.

This was soon followed by a blitz of publicity:
Taiwan’s gift to the world - Jared M. Diamond

Quote: "A reanalysis of Austronesian languages by Robert Blust strengthens the identification of the first Austronesian waystation, illuminates archaeological findings and the history of boatbuilding, and may help reinterpret the histories of other language families".
- In fact, of the 94 pages of Blust's 1999 paper:
- Only 14 deal with the language classification (within Formosa alone, not of Austronesian languages in general, and concerning phonology only), with some notes about coastal/inland Formosan vocabularies.
- 13 pages are devoted to dismissing competing theories
- 4+ deal with the putative Austronesian Mainland Homeland, (and the embarrassing question of why there's no trace of them). There's also the embarrassing question of why, if the speakers of proto-Malayo Polynesian left Taiwan, they also left no traces behind them.
- 9 deal with boats (although he has some difficulty in proposing a viable method of boat transport from Taiwan out to the Philippines that would be sufficient to set in train a major wave of emigration).

Entrenchment of the Myth:
When a multidisciplinary conference was held in Geneva in June 2004, Peter Bellwood felt able to say, with full confidence:
"As a linguistic category, the Austronesian languages have a history of dispersal from Taiwan through the Philippines into Island Southeast Asia and on to Oceania and Madagascar.

Malcolm Ross explained why the majority of linguists accept Taiwan as the Proto-Austronesian homeland and in what directions the ancestral languages spread and emphasized their transmission through inheritance rather than language shift, implying that the Austronesian language dispersal was associated with an actual movement of Austronesian-speaking people....
Bellwood, Peter & Alicia Sanchez-Mazas (June 2005). "Human Migrations in Continental East Asia and Taiwan: Genetic, Linguistic, and Archaeological Evidence". Current Anthropology 46:3: 480-485
So, it's definite, isn't it?

Well, this little map may be a clue to the 'political' (in the very widest sense) motivation of the Blust-Diamond-Bellwood-everyone else bandwagon, who (mostly) believe the Chinese kicked the Austronesians into Taiwan, and then nudged them gently out to Easter Island and Madagascar:
There may be a hint of the strong current political and nationalist motivation behind the Out-of-Taiwan hypothesis in the accompanying article

Indeed, one wonders whether Taiwan would figure in the Austronesian story at all from the 1950s onwards if Chiang Kai-Shek hadn't retreated there in 1949, and opened up the place to his American allies, and if a 'native' Taiwanese (Li Denghui) hadn't become president of Taiwan in 1990, with an implicit agenda of promoting Taiwanese separation from China.

Dead Hand of the Comparative Method - 1

I may sound like a linguist, and even flatter myself occasionally that I'm learning and aspiring to be one, but I try to keep my head clear, as much as possible, from the complex phonological and grammatical technicalities that seem to be the meat of so many current An linguistics papers:
- The origin of the Kelabit voiced aspirates: a historical hypothesis revisited.
- On the origin of Philippine vowel grades

- The pronoun system in Galeya: arguments against a clitic analysis.
Oceanic Linguistics Dec 2006
Of course, these phonological and grammatical details are essential in the recording and study of existing languages, as a whole. They are extremely useful in differentiating between, and grouping, related languages.

But they are simply irrelevant in studying the typology and semantics of number words and number-sets, en masse, as I am attempting to do. (Later on, if I ever get there, I may use phonology to resolve the very ends of the twigs, or, if it's worthwhile, to analyse the mass of Western Malayo-Polynesian number-sets which look, very boringly, almost identical. It is essential to know the inherited sounds of a particular language to be able to help distinguish between inherited words ('reflexes') and borrowed words).

I do feel that the analytical power of phonology is greatly over-estimated in the special field of historical linguistics, and that over-reliance on it can lead to a very misleading results.

A statement like this, from the doyen of An linguists, who kindly sent me the numerals chapter of his forthcoming book:
"Although this may seem like a drastic departure from the decimal system that these languages inherited from a remote common ancestor, even more drastic innovations in numeral systems are found in some AN languages of New Guinea, where they clearly reflect Papuan contact influence."

makes me go quietly ballistic.

It completely reverses the 'normal' hypothesis that a less-developed number system will evolve into a more-developed one. It states that, somehow, all the less-developed and 'irregular' number systems in Austronesian languages (more than half of them) are 'innovations' from a 'pure' An ancestor.

[And, so far, I have not found a single instance where an An number system in New Guinea can be shown to 'clearly reflect Papuan contact influence']. If anything, it seems to have been quite the opposite.

It's easy to see how this happened: the WMP (Western Malayo-Polynesian, once called Indonesian) languages (from which PAn was originally derived) are fairly well homogenised, and all have a full decimal system (with only two minor exceptions). The majority of them use recognisably similar words for those numerals.

- Therefore, so does PAn (proto-Austronesian), the reconstructed ancestor of all Austronesian languages. You sift through those words, just like you'd pan some gravel, end up with some glittering cognates, and reconstruct the familiar 'proto-Austronesian':
*esa/isa, *duSa, *telu, *Sepat, *lima, *enem, *pitu, *walu, *Siwa, *sa-puluq

- Therefore, POc (proto-Oceanic) must also inherit this system, because it also has to demonstrate descendence from PAn.

- Therefore, if you reconstruct a proto-lexicon by sieving through a gradually-reducing mesh of current cognate words you will end up with a 'proto numeral' lexicon that mirrors the majority of current vocabularies, even if that particular lexicon set has been relatively recently introduced, and become very rapidly widespread. If that numeral lexicon also implies a fully-developed number system, you've allowed yourself to be led right down the plughole.

From there on, you must consider anything else as a deviant numerical practice, or innovation (probably brought about by miscegenation with fuzzy-wuzzies).

Therefore, most Melanesians and Polynesians are raving numerical deviants.

The limitations of the Comparative Method are revealed (between the lines) by its greatest current exponent, Robert Blust:

Historical linguistics depends for its results on two fundamental and by now well-tested claims about the nature of language: (1) The relationship between sound and meaning is largely arbitrary, and (2) sound change is largely regular. The first of these claims was first clearly enunciated by Saussure (1959), and the second by various of the Neogrammarians during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Both have been challenged in various ways, but both remain as pillars of linguistic method.

Like everything in Nature, language changes. In time words come to differ in shape and perhaps also in meaning. Since sound change is regular, the differences in the sound shape of words are systematic, and permit the original forms to be reconstituted with a rather high degree of confidence. The procedures followed in such reconstitution of prehistoric forms are collectively known as the Comparative Method. Where we have documentary checks, as in comparing the modern Romance languages with their immediate common ancestor, Latin, we are encouraged that even in the absence of documentary support our results will not ordinarily go far wrong.
The application of the Comparative Method to related (cognate) words by a process of triangulation results in a reconstruction of the sound system and vocabulary of an earlier language, called a proto-language.

To illustrate with three simple examples, Malay langit, Samoan langi, Hawaiian lani "sky", Malay tangis, Samoan tangi, Hawaiian kani "weep"; and Malay mata, Samoan mata, Hawaiian maka "eye" show recurrent correspondences of sound in words of related meaning, and so are assumed to derive from (reflect) a common ancestral form in each case, conventionally preceded by an asterisk to show that it is based on inference, not on observation.
For our purposes here (leaving out information that can be supplied only by the aboriginal languages of Taiwan), these forms can be reconstructed as *langit "sky", *tangis "weep" and *mata "eye".

Robert Blust
The Prehistory of the Austronesian-Speaking Peoples: A View from Language
Journal of World Prehistory, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1995

Having reconstructed a proto-language, you can then then propose it as the root of a family tree, and trace back the branches to separate the modern, existing languages into their bunches, or groups, each bunch of twigs descended from one node on a major branch.

You end up with a family tree that looks like this:
(Click on the picture for a larger version)

You´ll soon notice a few peculiarities:
1) The family tree is upside down. This is only one of linguistics' weird idosyncrasies, where 'reflect' means derive from, 'innovation' can mean 'reversion', etc.

2) The tree is heavily weighted towards the right, ie towards Oceanic, with a proto-language featured at each node. On the other major branches:

Formosan languages
Western Malayo-Polynesian

There are no proto-languages at the major nodes at all.
Each of those major groups has proved impossible to reduce down to an ancestral proto-language, so far.
Which is a great pity, since it implies that around the majority of all current Austronesian-speakers speak an orphan language, or at least one whose immediate parental identity and location are in doubt.

But you've got a neat map, showing the distribution of language groups.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Decades in Polynesia

To mitigate the Tongan 50 SNAFU, I posted a list of Polynesian numbers that I consider are overlays on older sytems:

Language - 10 - 20 - 50
Takuu - sinafuru - matarua, rue - matarima, lima
Vaeakau-Taumako - katoa, kharo, dumaa - gatoaelua - gatoaelima
Futuna East - kau, agafulu - kaulua - kaulima
Pukapuka - laugaulu - tinolua, laulua, luangaulu - tinolima, laulima, limangaulu
Fijian - e tini na, sagavulu, - rua-sagavulu - lima-sagavulu
Niuean - hongofulu - tekau - lima fiha
Tongan - hongofulu - tekau - nimangofulu
Rarotongan - nga'uru - rua nga'uru - rima nga'uru
Tahitian - ho'e'ahuru - piti 'ahuru, ta'au, arooato - ?
Marquesan - 'onohu'u, 'okohu'u - tekau - ?
Hawaiian - umi - iwakâlua - haneli
Maori - ka-cahuru, ngahuru, tekau - rua tekau, tekau - rima tekau

The 'proto-Austronesian' number system goes:
10 = *sa-puluq (1 x10) - 20 = *duSa-puluq (2 x 10) - 50 = *lima-puluq (5 x 10)
so, any major variations in the Polynesian numbers (ie non-cognates) must be, by the rules of the game, innovations in the purely linguistic sense.
But in the real world, a retained number-name from an older vigesimal system (above no 10), cannot possibly be a technical innovation.

Even linguists recognise that
90=quatre-vingt dix
are not 'innovations'.

Most of these Polynesian systems appear to be relatively 'modern' constructions:
Only Rarotongan shows a regular series.
Why else should Fijian make 20= 2 x 1 x 10, 5 x 1 x 10?
Why else does Maori rename 20 as 10, in modern times, and then make up a series?
And what does fiha mean in Niuean? Or haneli in Hawaiian?

Old Numbers Overlaid by New ?

The evidence of 4 base systems, plus several quite scattered and different 'subtractive from 10' systems, suggests that Austronesian number systems may have evolved individually through separate stages in many different areas, ,just as 'Papuan' , and many other languages appear to have done.

They could then have invented or borrowed new words for increasing needs to count exchangeable agricultural or fishing surpluses, and later again adopted very widespread loanwords with more contact and real trade, perhaps long after proto-Austronesians or proto-Oceanics were actually speaking those languages.

(Perhaps, like the Kilivila (Trobriand) chief who got to 9000 and 10000, for counting shells, and ran out of options, they just invented new words on the spot).

Going through New Guinean language records, it's very obvious that the new decimal Tok Pisin has influenced modern speakers very quickly, obliterating earlier recorded systems, at least in the higher numbers. The overlaying process is ongoing, and very visible.

In my Filipino village, everyone now uses Spanish numbers for trade, and nobody can tell me the 'real Surigaonon' for 10, any teens, or 20 up, except 'gatus'=100, which is still used in fishing and agriculture. But the 'native' system was decimal anyway, so there's no radical system change.
It should be quite possible, then, to infer multiple overlays of newer systems on old.

Tongan may be an example:
10 = hongofulu
20 = tekau
50 = nai rima avuru (why has hongofulu become avuru?)
(this turned out to be a very definite SNAFU - situation-normal- all-fucked-up.. The Tongan 50 turned out to come from Uruava in the Solomon Islands)

The only An languages that seem to have preserved traces of apparent original number systems are out of the mainstream:
Formosa, Ilongot, Borneo, Sumba, Flores, Timor, SW Maluku, Micronesia, and all of Melanesia south of a fairly definite line.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whothehellami ?

The word for 'person, human' in certain Formosan languages is:
Favorlang/Babuza - babosa
Ci'uli Atayal - ci'uli?
Squliq Atayal - squliq
Sediq Taroko - sediq
Siraya - sidaia
Bunun - bunun
Which is a very obvious answer to 'What do you call yourselves?'

But not as good as the Australian native who was asked what a certain animal was, and answered: 'How the f**k should I know?' which is why we now call it a kangaroo.

The indri (lemur)'s name means nothing special; it's just 'Here it is!' in Malagache, the local Austronesian language of Madagascar. In Filipino Bisayan, also an Austronesian language, more closely related to Malagache (6000 miles away) than French (22 miles away) is to English, the same expression is "Diri na!"

If I could read Chinese (台灣;) I might tell you what T'ai-wan means. Wikipedia says "Both Tayoan and the island name Taiwan derive from a word in Sirayan, one of the Formosan languages"

The only word I can find in Siraya that remotely resembles that is 'mat-tauwa' meaning 'laugh'. Perhaps the colonising Dutch really were laughable, before they started in on the usual native massacres.

Formosa just means 'beautiful', so, if I was one of the very few Formosans left, I would be happy that everyone else, including even linguists ;-) called me that.
Many years ago, I went travelling around Wadi Rum in Jordan, with a local guide named Ahmed Hellawi. We kept on getting lost, so he still has the nickname: "Where The?"

Monday, November 26, 2007

Base 4 - How?

A very well known Austronesian linguist wrote, in the An-Lang group:
"I cannot imagine what may have been the source of having '4' as a base for numeration."

I responded: The 1-4 numeral system is not so baffling when you consider that virtually all numbering systems began with finger-counting.
It just comes down to whether you consider the thumb part of the finger-count or not.
Different ways (and directions) in totting up fingers seem to have quite perceivable effects on the resulting number words.
Either way.
You might [ignore the thumb or] even emphasise it:
Bargam (Papuan) uses abainakinta (thumb) for 5.

The 'Papuan' Kewa of the PNG Southern Highlands have two number systems, a full body part tally (hand, up arm, over, and down the other side) giving a 47-cycle number system, used mainly by elders for massive gift exchanges, and a 1-4 cycle system for everyday stuff.
They're described at:
(The strange bit, that I still can't fathom, is how 7 = hand + 3 thumbs).
There's even a Papuan language (Kote, from Morobe Prov) that has a 22 cycle system, because they count both nostrils as well as their fingers and toes. (Wouldn't want to buy a dozen bread rolls from them, though).
There are more than a few Austronesian numeral systems that [seem to] show vestiges of an archaic 4 cycle system, with 8 at the end of the 2nd cycle, but most are now overlaid with a 10
In fact, they are rarer in New Guinea, with its multiple language families, and quite absent in Papuan languages west of there. They're not so very common elsewhere. (Except in California - where else?)
And there is even a suggestion of a vestigial trace of a 4 cycle system in Indo-European, in that *oktô is apparently the dual form of *kwetwores - Beeler (1964, p. 1). Common counting in dozens may be another vestige.
If the 6-9 numbers are simple 5+1, 5+2, etc, then 8 would include, somewhere, 3. If it's subtractive from 10, it would include 2. If it includes 4 then that indicates something
quite different.
If 9 includes a 1 morpheme, then it might be like 'sembilan' in Indonesian, or 'salapan' in Sunda, ie 1 from 10, or it could 'start again' from 8, which it would seem to do in the cases where 8 involves 4.
The next cycle, to 12, seems to have been mostly overlaid now by 10/teen systems.
Except, perhaps, in English, where 11 and 12 are 'irregular'.
Austronesian 4 cycles:

Formosa: Siraya, Thao, Favorlang/Babuza, Taokas, Saisiyat,
Atayal, Sedeq
- all show no. 8 inclusive of 4, then start again with 'something different', often including a 1 morpheme.

Enggano (which may not be An at all) - has an 8 related to 4.

Simba: Gaura Nggaura and Lamboya have 8 = pondopata ='x'.4 (or cognate) and banda' iha (or cognate) for 9.

Flores: Ende, Rongga, Lio and Nghada - have 8=2x4 and 'ta esa' (or cognate) for 9

Aru: Kola, Dobel, Ngaibor, Barakai, Tarangan West, Ujir - 8= karua and 9= ser, or tera (or cognates)

Keule, Wogeo, and Biem, offshore of E Sepik Prov, PNG, have straightforward and obvious 1-4 systems: Boiken, a neighbouring Papuan language shares this, but only in one offshore island dialect, near the An speakers. But the system may be related to nearby Vanimo, Rawo and Mountain Arapesh, Papuan languages, also with 1-4 number systems.

Ormu, Tobati/Yotafa and Kayupulau near Jayapura, have 'symptoms' of a 4 cycle. Adjacent to them is Nafri, the only member of the Sentani family to have a 4 cycle system.

Of all these, it seems only the Wogeo/Biem and Ormu/Yotafa groups may have existing neighbouring non-An languages with 1-4 systems. But those Papuan languages are very much in the minority themselves, so without more information there is no way of telling which way the influence went.

There are other languages that have a 4 morpheme in 8, but they seem to have a multiplicative system, with 6=2x3, etc, rather than a 1-4 cycle:

Wuvulu-Aua, in the Admiralties, has a strange (and very lonely) number system, analysed by Dempwolff (1905) as:
aiai : 1 - 1
gu-ai : 2 - 1
odu-ai : 3 - 1
gui-ne-roa : 2 - 2
ai-pan : 1 hand
ode-roa : 3 - 2
ode-ro-miai : 3 - 2 +1
vai-ne-roa : 4 - 2
vai-ne-ro-miai : 4 - 2 +1
(Almost all other Admiralties numerals show the unique Manus subtractive system).

'Motu' languages (under the 'tail' of Papua New Guinea) also (mostly) have a number 8 related to 4 (taura hani), and 9=8+1, but these also have 6='2'x3 (taura toi) with 7 = a 'regular' hitu, or ima ua =5/2 or 6/1 (karakoi ka pea). Quite mongrel systems.

Some of the Formosan number systems may be similar to this.

Or something else:
Makassarese: 8=7+1 - mystery in Sulawesi
but many languages in Borneo have 7= tudju (or cognate) and 8 = aya, hanga, or mai, followed by 9 = piah, jalatien, riqi (or cognates), which look as if they might just be 'start-agains'.

Cognates of 'hanga' for 8 also appear in the Solomons.

(I have no translations or even speculative etymologies for any of them, having 'discovered' them only yesterday, thanks to Anthony Jukes giving me the link to his excellent new Makassarese Grammar at:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ilongot Number System - A Wild Exception (Updated 5/12/07)

The Ilongots are the only group in the entire Western Malayo-Polynesian language family area (coloured violet on the map below) that still retain their original non-decimal counting system, where everything is hunky-dory up to No 5, then goes 5+1, 5+2, etc, in the usual way of people who have not yet made the break from counting their fingers to having a full decimal system.

The Ilongots are a head-hunting tribe of Central Luzon (the northernmost large island of the Philippines). You can find out more about them here and here, and here.
"The Ilongot live in Nueva Vizcaya Province of Luzon in the Philippines. They numbered about 2,500 in 1975. The name "Ilongot" is Tagalog and Spanish, and is derived from "Quirungut" (of the forest), one of the people's own names for themselves. The Ilongot language is Austronesian, and there are three dialects: Egongut, Italon, and Abaka. They use Ilocano and Tagalog in trading. The Ilongot are culturally conservative and unsubjugated. They live as an enclave and resist incursions into their territory".

Their numbers go:

6tambiang nu sít7tambiang nu dava8tambiánggot tagó9tambiang nu apát10támpu

I don't know their words for 11-19, or if they continue carrying on to count their toes, but they do call twenty duwampu, which means 'two tens', ie they do (now) have a decimal system, after all.

They call No 5 gima, which is the usual lima word for 5, but they also have tambiang, which is remarkably close to many of the words from New Guinea, more than 3000km away (and not used anywhere at all in between those areas). Bang, if you remember from my earlier post, is very widespread as a 'hand/five' word there.

This strengthens my case that the standard proto-Austronesian numbers:
esa/isa *duSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *sa-puluq?
did not exist, at all, when the 'ancestral' language was actually being spoken.

If the PAn numbers did exist way back then, then comparative linguists, following their arcane rules, would have to call the Ilongot number word combinations 'innovations' (ie new inventions), as indeed, they do.

The continued existence of the 'aberrant' Ilongot system proves that it is not just a few obscure and primitive New Guineans who didn't learn their new Austronesian numbers properly, but a previous stage of language development that has only been suppressed by massive population movements and growth in the WMP area during the past two millenia.

Update (5/12/07) I have since seen a fuller Ilongot number-word list, that includes the teens and decades. It shows what I consider an earlier system overlaid with loanwords from neighbours.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Pidgin in the Making - Boronglish

The new-style numbers used by the Borong tribe, of that little bump, the Huon Peninsula, on the 'rear end' of Papua New Guinea, were in the very process of 'pidginising' a new set of numbers, still under the influence of English colonialists, when these numbers were recorded in 1984:

‘Native’ BorongBoronglish
1 motongowan kembing One finger ?
2 woictu kembingTwo finger?
3 karongtiri kembing3 finger
4 nemumgacfo lolo‘4’ – 2 2
5 boro mongHand onefa ingambeMy hand?
6 boromong ano motongo Hand one + one sapsapNow this one?
7 boromong ano woicHand one + twotepelongaLonger?
8hetewe8 e wa
9hene roka9 e wa
10 borowoicHand twohe ten ingThis 10

But the numbers beyond 10, which went: 11 henareka, 12 henembing, 13 nemungawong, 14 henaru, still followed their traditional system.

This example shows all the symptoms of pidginisation, when a language keeps its own grammar, structure, and idiosyncracies (more or less) but adopts someone else's words.

Much the same must have occurred to those Melanesians along the coasts and islands of New Guinea (and much of the rest of Island South East Asia) when the Austronesian languages first became dominant.

Numbers have been almost standardised now, with the national language of PNG, Tok Pisin, numbers:
wan, tu, tri, foa, faiv, sikis, seven, et, nain, ten, with 11 = wanpela ten wan

The Tok Ples (Talk Place - native tribal) number systems are being fast forgotten. Perhaps in less than a couple of generations, the majority of the 800+ languages spoken until recently in New Guinea, may have disappeared.

Alternatively, they will survive, and Tok Pisin will just be a superficial lingua franca, as Latin once was, and many of the unique customs and languages of New Guinea will survive,after all.

Numbers - This Little Piggy - Finger Tallying

I mentioned the strange counting system used by the Maisin people of coastal New Guinea, in my Why Study Austronesian Numbers? post.
Their numbers went:
1 - sesei
2 - sandi
3 - sinati
4 - fusese
5 - fakete
6 - faketi-tarosi-taure-sesei
7 - faketi-tarosi-taure-sandi
8 - faketi tarosi taure sinati
9 - faketi tarosi taure fusese
10- faketi tau tau

It helps to understand it when you learn that fakete (5) is hand.
6 is faketi-tarosi-taure-sesei = hand-one side-other side-one.
But other New Guinea Papuan language groups take the body-part tallying to extremes.

The Oksapmin developed a body-part counting system that went beyond one hand, up the arm to the head, and then down the other side. The Oksapmin example results in a numbering system of base 27.

They also had to memorise each of the 27 body-part names:
(1) tip^na, (2) tipnarip, (3) bum rip, (4) h^tdip, (5) h^th^ta, (6) dopa, (7) besa, (8) kir, (9) tow^t, (10) kata, (11) gwer, (12) nata, (13) kina, (14) aruma, (15) tan-kina, (16) tan-nata, (17) tan-gwer, (18) tan-kata, (19) tan-tow^t, (20) tan-kir, (21) tan-besa, (22) tan-dopa, (23) tan-tip^na, (24) tan-tipnarip, (25) tan-bum rip, (26) tan-h^tdip, (27) tan-h^th^ta.s
It's easier than it looks - you only have to go up one side, and then repeat the same names in reverse, down the other.
Most numbering systems started with finger-tallying, and the physical way this was done affects the number words that were derived from it.

When you get to 5, it's an open hand. In certain places around New Guinea, where this kind of finger-counting occurred, the words for number 5 should reflect just this.
Filipinos, for example, start with a closed fist, extending fingers one by one, starting with the smallest

But in other parts, they fold their fingers down, one by one, stating with one - the little finger of the left 'weak' hand.

Or six can be the little finger on the second, left hand.
In Gadsup, 6 = apä?tä?te mänayemänä?i - 1 added to 'weak hand'

So 5 = closed fist, or sometimes, 'thumb'.

In Bargam, the word for 5 is abainakinta (thumb-1); thumb is abainagin.

Fist should show up in many of the number words for 5, as well. (Trouble is, I don't know many Papuan languages, and not many travelling language recorders wrote down words for 'fist').

I'll find the connections someday

Sissano Lagoon 1998

This is what happened to Sissano Lagoon and its inhabitants on the evening of 17 July 1998. Such disasters, or similar ones, happen regularly to coastal areas anywhere, and have quite random, but devastating effects. It's almost as if the Earth and the Sea are casually swatting a few irritants.

This is an area of low-lying coastal plain broken by isolated hills of basement rocks: Oligocene volcanic arc rocks and associated limestone. Further inland, foothills give way to the steep-fronted Bewani and Torricelli ranges. The coastal plain is bounded seaward by a coastal sand barrier that stands 1-2 m above sea level and is typically a few hundred meters across. The sand barrier is highest at the beachfront and slopes gently downwards away from the sea -- a common morphology for coastlines where sea level is rising relative to the land, and where there is a steady supply of sand distributed along the coast by longshore drift. Much of the sand barrier is planted with coconut palms and there are occasional large trees (kalopilam Callophylum inophyllum; breadfruit or kapiak Atocarpus altissima; talis Terminalia catappa; and mango Magnifera indica) and thickets of yar (Casuarina equisetifolia).

On the evening of 17 July 1998, on the Aitape coast of Papua New Guinea, a strongly felt earthquake was followed some 10-25 minutes later by a destructive tsunami. The tsunami comprised three waves, each estimated to be about 4 m high. The second of the three waves rose to a height of 10-15 m above sea level after it had crossed the shoreline and caused most damage. Maximum wave heights and greatest damage were recorded along a 14-km sector of coast centered on Sissano Lagoon. In this sector the wave fronts moved from east to west along the coast; all structures were destroyed, and 20-40 percent of the population was killed. Partial destruction extended 23 km to the southeast and 8 km to the northwest, and effects of the tsunami were felt as far as 250 km to the west-northwest, beyond the international border. More than 1600 people are known to have died, with some estimates as high as 2200; 1000 were seriously injured, and 10,000 survivors were displaced.

Before the tsunami, about 12,000 people lived in the coastal villages west of Aitape, from Malol to Sissano. Most houses were of traditional materials, and most were within a few hundred meters of the waterfront and on land that was not more than a few metros above sea level. Each village extended for a kilometer or more along the coast.

The main shock was sufficiently vigorous and prolonged that at Malol, Arop and Warapu people left their houses and moved into open space. At Arop and Warapu cracks opened in the ground, and water squirted upwards, house foundation posts shook and water rose around the posts, and there was a smell of hydrogen sulfide. At Sissano Mission the earthquake caused minor damage to the 62-year-old church, and in the nearby villages some houses collapsed. At Malol the shaking was strong enough to cause concern that the water tanks at the Mission might collapse. At Vanimo, 140 km from the epicenter, the earthquake was described by one long term resident as stronger and more prolonged than any he had experienced.

The main shock was followed, some minutes later, by a loud boom, as though of thunder; this was heard from Sissano to Malol. A few minutes or up to five minutes later there was a roaring sound, variously described as the noise of a low-flying heavy jet plane, the approach of a large ship, or as the woop-woop-woop of a heavy helicopter. The sound progressed eastward along the coast then back again to the west, and was heard all along the coast from Sissano in the west to Aitape High School in the east.

Although the sun had set at 6.37 pm, there was still sufficient daylight that the day's activities were continuing. Men were painting a canoe, young people were playing touch football and their elders were moving around in the villages. People went to the beach to investigate the unusual noise and observed that the sea was 'boiling' or bubbling, and had receded by 50 m or so, exposing the nearshore sea bed. They then saw a wave develop in the distance, as a dark line on a sea surface that otherwise reflected the light of the sky. The wave approached and, when 200-300 m from the beach, started to break, rolling from the top. 'Smoke' or haze rose from the top of the wave, and many saw a red glow in the top of the wave.

One observer (John Sanawe, a former Colonel in the PNG Defense Force) reported that he first saw the sea on the skyline rise and explode, sending spray high in the air where it caught and diffracted the late afternoon sunlight into rainbow colors. He then heard a sound like distant thunder. He wondered at hearing thunder on a day when the sky was clear, then linked this sound to the explosion. Then there was a sound like a heavy helicopter, or such as can be heard when a bottle is held under water, and the sea started to retreat from the shore. The rhythm of the helicopter noise slowed as the retreat of the sea slowed. Then there was silence for 4-5 minutes, followed by the noise of a low-flying jet aircraft. Sanawe looked to sea and saw that a wave had formed at or near the site of the explosion. The wave then approached at great speed.
People ran from the approaching waves but almost all were caught. A few escaped by climbing trees, or pushing their boats into the lagoon.

People in the waves were vigorously tumbled and turned in water that was laden with sand and debris. They were stripped of their clothing, lost skin by sand abrasion, were battered by hard objects and some cut or impaled by timber and metal objects. Those who were fortunate were carried into the lagoon and were able to cling to floating debris. An infant was deposited miraculously on the floating roof of a house. Those less fortunate were carried into swampland or into the mangroves that fringe the lagoon where some were impaled or were buried under piles of logs and debris. Some who had survived the initial impact were swept out to sea as the waters receded. Most had ingested water from the waves.

Wave heights, on shore, were 10-15 m above sea level and there was extensive damage for distances of up to 500 m from the coast. Damage was less on either side of a 14-km sector.

By 7.20 or 7.25 pm the water had retreated, though much standing water remained. At this moment, according to survivors, the sky was filled with a yellow or yellow-red glow that provided sufficient light for people to start searching for family members. They said that without the glow this would not have been possible.

At Sissano Lagoon a low haze had advanced with the wave and this now blotted out the stars, so that it became pitch dark, so dark that people moving inland, away from the lagoon, held on to each other to maintain contact.

Rescue began that night, the survivors helping each other. The first outside help arrived 16 hours after the event on the Saturday morning, and a major rescue effort began a day later, 40 hours after the event.

Three concrete slabs (right) are all that remained of the class rooms at Warapu school.

Amazingly, the coconut trees mostly survived.

This photo, taken from the sea's edge, at Arop village, shows the destruction inland of the belt of coconut palms at the top of the beach.

And there were other horrors accopanyng the waves, which arrived just after dusk:

John Kimene of Nimas was one of a group that was fishing at a drowned reef 8-10 km from the coast at about 10 am on Thursday 16 July 1998. This probably is the reef marked on the map just inside the 200 m isobath, which stands at 82 m depth. As the party trolled 1-2 km west of the submerged reef they were surprised to run into a succession of 2-3 m waves that loomed and steepened as though about to break. They took this to be evidence of a new shoaling of the water in an area that previously had been quite deep. There was a smell of dead fish.

On Friday 17 July 1998 at about noon Tom Kaisiera, a teenager from Nimas, paddled to the same general area and was surprised to find the sea bubbling with odorless gas. The area of bubbling was large, perhaps 100-200 m across. The canoe was drawn toward the center of bubbling area and it was only by paddling strongly that he could escape.

Three unusual lighting effects were reported. Many observers saw a red light on the horizon before the tsunami developed: "After the first earthquake, a long streak of red light like fire appeared just above the ocean on northern horizon, it flashed and then disappeared, then within seconds there was a loud bang". Also, many observers described a red glow or "fire" in the top of the wave.

After the wave passed, observers at widely separated locations (Warapu, Malol and Raihu) saw a yellow or yellow-red glow in the sky over the sea. "The sky lit up after the wave had destroyed the villages" (observer at Malol) and "after I climbed down from the tree I saw a big light over Arop and in the direction of Aitape" (observer on an island near the lagoon mouth). The Sisters at Malol recall that after the waves had passed they looked seaward and saw a calm golden sea. Warapu survivors recall that the yellow glow in the sky helped light their search for survivors.

I'm indebted to the following excellent report for the pictures and descriptions:
The Aitape 1998 tsunami: Reconstructing the event from interviews and field mapping.

Numbers: Backwards, Forwards, or Sideways?

Trying to find out the reasons for the extreme primitiveness of some of the numbering systems, particularly around New Guinea, is the crux of my research.

I've come up with certain possibilities:

1) Austronesians arriving from the West (about 3500 years ago, with 'proto-Austronesian numbers', already invented) married into, and converted some local tribes to speak their language, but the locals retained much of their original language, and the numbering systems that they'd always used before, merely adopting new Austronesian pidgin names for them.
The Austronesian speakers' systems regressed.

2) Austronesian speakers were already resident some time before that, and were (and still are) in the process of forming their own numbering systems, from scratch.
The systems progressed, (and are still doing so).

I see indications of this in the strange numbering systems used by the Manus islanders, the Motu aound Port Moresby, the 4-base system of the Schouten islands, further West in Irian Jaya, and so on.
In addition, the Papuan languages in the interior of Cape Finistere (the bump above the tail) are much more sophisticated (ie tending towards decimalisation) than other non-Austronesian languages. I'll discuss each of these in later posts.

I have found three such groups; the Sissano, the Dawawa, and the Kuni, widely separated.

Neither the Sissano nor the Kuni have any more number names than 1, 2, and a few, and perhaps many. The Dawawa and some of their neighbours have names for only 1 and 2, and make up all bigger number combo-names from these two alone.

Sissano: 1 = pontanen, 2 = entin, and many = tartar.
Kuni has only kaona, lua, and koi.
Dawawa has only 1 = tegana, and 2 = rabui. 5 is rabui rabui be tenagu.

The number names in Sissano resemble nothing else at all, in either the local Papuan languages or the Austronesian. The
Kuni names are recognisably 'Austronesian', and the Dawawa names are used by a number of other An groups in their area.

The Rev Dr Strong wrote this of the Kuni a century ago:

"There is one quite exceptional Melanesian-speaking people who are strangely deficient as regards counting. In 1905 I was in their country. They live on the south coast in the Kuni district, inland from Hall Sound. These people have, or at least in 1905 had, no trace of any numeral beyond three. For "two" they used lua, and for " three" koi. These words are both obviously of Melanesian origin.

In 1905 I was using a Motu-speaking Kuni native as guide. On asking him how many times we would have to sleep on the road in going from Mafulu to Kabadi, he replied in Motuan, " three times, toi. Like many of the people around Hall Sound he was unable to say a "t" and pronounced all his "t's" as "k's." So his pronunciation of the Motuan word toi was really koi.

On my asking the names of the places we had to sleep at, he correctly mentioned five names, and these names I afterwards verified. On asking him to explain why he said we had to sleep koi times and yet gave five names, he seemed quite unaware that the fact required explanation.

At the time, I discussed this with some of the missionaries who could talk the Kuni language, and they confirmed the fact that in practice the Kuni people used the word koi to mean a few.

The Kuni people, in fact, really only counted one, two, a few, many.

The Kuni are the only Melanesian-speaking people in British New Guinea who have gone far inland. Their language is obviously a regular Melanesian one, very closely allied indeed to the Motu of Port Moresby, which has a well-defined system of numeration, going at least up to a thousand.

It is very difficult to see how the Kuni people can have lost numerals like " five," if they ever had them.

I feel rather driven to the conclusion that the Melanesian numerals above toi are a comparatively recent introduction, subsequent to the arrival of the Melanesians in New Guinea.

The Kuni natives are by no means deficient in intelligence. The Kuni guide I had was quite intelligent and particularly energetic". [He needed to be, if he was going to stop for 5 nights, but only sleep 3].

Some Personal Experiences in British New Guinea. W. M. Strong
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 49. (Jul. -Dec., 1919), pp. 292-308. Available at JSTOR

Note: At that time, Austronesian speakers in New Guinea and around about, were called 'Melanesians'.

In fact, the Motu have a very strange numbering system, where 5 = ima (An), but 6 = 'a bit more' 7 = 6 +1, 8 = other 4, and 9 = 8+1, but they were active traders along the coast, and needed sophisticated numbers for just that.

But how could Austronesian immigrants, with inherited, and very simple, proto-Austronesian numbers, possibly have regressed?

I don't think that Austronesian immigrants came with ready-made numbers at all. The numbers developed around New Guinea, and were taken back to the West, and on to the East, together with a host of cultural characters we like to think of as 'pure' Austronesian.

There simply wasn't a simple 'Express Train' migration from Taiwan to Polynesia.

There is, confusingly, a third possibility.

New Guineans, during the last two centuries, have been overwhelmed by a 'superior' culture, that has introduced new languages, customs, mores, and a monetary economy. The hundreds of small groups, each speaking their own language, have travelled away from their own areas to work, stopped headhunting, and, however painfully, are being absorbed into a larger entity.

Most of all, though, they had to become more number conscious now that they were trading more widely, and , for the first time in some 40,000 years of human presence in New Guinea, were being gainfully employed, for money.

The New Guineans first invented a pidgin, that has now developed into a fully-formed creole language of its own: Tok Pisin, with elements of 'Papuan', English, some German, and even some of a world-wide lingua franca, Nautical Pidgin.

Almost all New Guineans have adopted the new numbers: wan, tu, tri, foa, faiv, sikis, seven, et, nain, ten, with 11 = wanpela ten wan

But most still employ their own native numbers, from 1 to 5, in everyday use, just as my neighbours here in Siargao do: qesa, duhá, tuyú, qepát, lima, but then the 'Spanish' sais, siete, otso, nueve, jeis.

In Siargao, all the native numbers above nine have been completely forgotten, except for isa ka gatus (100), which is used by fishermen for depth-sounding, and by the locals for 100 pesos ($2), which is a lot of money around here.

It is therefore possible that the Sissano, Dawawa and Kuni have just completely forgotten their old number systems. But if that's happened, why have all the others not done the same?

I prefer to think that they are just the outlying remnants of the area where number systems first developed, and that, somewhere in the area in between them, simple number systems evolved.

But then, in some mysterious area, the 'proto-Austronesian higher numerals' were invented, and were brought back, though not to the whole area, or indeed, to very much at all of Melanesia.

PS The Sissano have had a very raw deal, and it is surprising that their language survives at all - see coming post.

Numbers: Cleanup Spreadsheet - No 9 Causing problems

I've suddenly got inspired again, and started cleaning up the whole mess of the spreadsheet, at:

I'm deleting all my previous columns analysing supposed phonetic comparisons, and will, instead, focus on the real meat.

My spreadsheet now lists numbers in over:
1000 Austronesian languages,

and about 240 in 'Papuan' languages (those that I think might just have had some contact with An immigrants on the coast),

plus a few bits and pieces of Asian Mainland languages.

(Don't take my statistics too exactly; some language rows are duplicated, where I wanted to show an older, or a dialect form).

I should have thought of, and done, this long ago, but what I'm doing now is blitzing the whole list of each number, marking each one which is obviously descended from 'proto-Austronesian', and concentrating on the rest.

About 500 of the 1000+ Austronesian languages that I've listed don't have cognates (words in common) with the PAn *Siwa for 9.

That's half of them, which cannot trace the ancestry of their word for 9 to the 'common ancestor' word Siwa.

I find it difficult to conceive of any way that so many of them could have learned ancestral PAn numbers and then abandoned them, willy-nilly.

Two very scholarly papers, by giants of the trade, on the implications of PAn *Siwa = 9 argue what might seem to a layman very minor points of pronunciation:

Sibilant assimilation in Formosan languages and the
proto-Austronesian word for'nine': a discourse on method
- Robert Blust

and: Austronesian Numerals - Otto Dahl
(Warning: a very bad 2nd hand OCR copy - HTML version only available)

Perhaps neither of them, had they'd known that 50% of Austronesian languages showed no evidence whatever of ever having this word in their ancestry, would have expended quite so much effort on the phonology of this single word.

Numbers: Centenary of Discovery of Austronesian Origins

Googling about earlier today, to see if someone outside there in the big wide world could help me with the etymology (how the word came about) of the Borneo version of number 9, jalatien, I came across this, serendipitously:

The Oceanic Languages, Their Grammatical Structure, Vocabulary, and Origin
By Daniel Macdonald
London ; New York : Henry Frowde, 1907.

Now, I've been told by some very eminent linguists (Lawrie Reid for one) that I should just buckle down, get my nose into some books about linguistical know-how, and learn the trade from the bottom up, as the real professionals did.

So when I came across this (most of Googlebooks are shown only as teaser fragments) I began to read, very earnestly. It becomes seductive if you do enough of it.

(I have to say that reading most linguistics papers makes my eyes glaze over, and going to Google's Define: to find out what the technical words mean, breaks the stream of thought somewhat. And, of course, most of this was impenetrable stuff about grammar, that I've loathed aqnd feared since being stuffed with Kennedy and Donkin's Latin Grammar at boarding school, a long time ago).

But then I searched within the book (you can do that with Googlebooks) and came across:

"These twelve Oceanic numerals are the ancient
Semitic numerals, but some of them have been
lost from certain dialects. Thus, eg only the
first five are now found in Ef., and in Ambrym
the first five, and that for 'ten'. In Santo you
find all the twelve in one village, and only the
first five in a neighbouring village. In such
cases as the latter the natives have found it
easier to remember the first five than to remember the
second five to substitute for them combinations
of the first five thus: 51, for 6; 5+2 for 7; 5+3
for 8; 5+4 for 9; 2 of 5 for 10. These
combinations in Ef. are la-tesa 6, larua,7,
latolu, 8, lifiti, 9, rualima,10, latesa being
for lima tesa, &c., and rualima, two of five,
for 10. And Ef. having lost or forgotten the
ancient words for 100 and 1000, has substituted
for them other words, bunti and manu'.

Well, a little interesting (eyes hadn't glazed over completely), although I might not have blurted out quite so easily that the (black) natives couldn't remember numbers 6-10, 100, or 1000, so had to be lazy sambos. For want of mental capacity, they had to casually make do with something else.

But then I read on, and realised this gentleman was actually proving that the language of the natives of Efate, in Vanuatu (then The New Hebrides) was a direct descendant of the Semitic languages of the Middle East (once the Fount of Civilisation, and now the Fount of War).

And this year is the Centenary of the publication of the revelation that the Austronesians came from the Fertile Crescent if not the Holy Land itself.

And, I've never seen this hypothesis refuted, although the mountains of SW China, and from there through via Taiwan, and on to Hawaii, about as likely, are the current paradigm for Austronesian origins in historico-linguistic circles.

Now, insinuating that this fellow was yet another nutter looking for the Lost Tribe of Israel, would be to belittle his efforts a great deal more than he deserves.

The 'real' Lost Tribe of Israel (also here) has now been found, and they've been repatriated here. (Tr: The Judaean Hills are the same thing as the Occupied Territories. The white bits are what the colonists reckon they should keep, and the brown bits are the ghettos).

MacDonald wrote the first dictionary of the Efate language, in Vanuatu, and he was a man of some integrity:

D. MacDonald DD
The New Hebrides Mission
Member of The Societe D'Ethnographie, Paris

- a missionary, and spite of my personal reservations about proselytising any particular religion at all, he seems to have been a very good one.

He possibly stopped them from eating their neighbours or visitors.

And his findings are still being quoted:

"The preverbal pronominal position is recorded in Macdonald's 1907 dictionary, where he says, "thus instead of ka fano, ke fano we have aga fano, iga fano, in exactly the same sense, but, literally, 'I to go,' 'he to go. This variation in Ef. of the order of the three elements of the expression in no way varies the sense, and seems to be purely for euphony" (Macdonald 1907:84-85). If his conclusion about the sense of these forms is correct, it indicates that the grammaticalization of the benefactive was only incipient at the end of the nineteenth century. However, it is more likely that the benefactive was already a functioning construction that was not taken into account by Macdonald's analysis, especially considering that there are examples of benefactives in the 1874 Genesis translation, as seen in (23) above".

I'll keep the linguist in this case anonymous. Perhaps you'll understand why my eyes glaze over some times.

Numbers: Come In Number Five

Number Five must have been the first 'real number' to be invented, and given a name, in any language.

There is an earlier 'number' system, which linguists distinguish as a trial, meaning something like a few, ie a new concept, better than just a one or a two. (I'll discuss the Wik-Mungan Oz Aboriginal number system in a later post - it's very relaxed).

I'll refer you to an article at Wikipedia, and if you get out of that alive, understanding what you've just read, I'll send you a FREE OFFER for the Siargao Diet .
In most of the Austronesian languages, 5 has the same meaning as lima = hand

Which is quite obvious, because almost everyone starts counting on their fingers.

Lima=hand=5 is all-pervasive in most Austronesian (An) languages:
proto-Austronesian - *lima
Hawai'i (USA) - e-lima
Maori (New Zealand)- rima
Madagascar (Africa, but no oil - still independent) - dímy
Easter Island (Chile) - rima

But it isn't the same in other An languages, although their word for 5 may be the same as, or has a relationship to hand:

For example, bang, or something very like it, is very common around New Guinea:
5 = bang-kud'ai - means 5-1 in a 'Papuan' language, Bom in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea.
5 = agi banggia-ng gafen i sib (hand = banggia) in Sirasira, a dialect of Adzera, in the Markham Valley, Papua New Guinea.
5 = pinggari pontene - means 5/1 in Sera, a very 'primitive' An language from North New Guinea. More on this in a later post.
5 = bäni in Gedaged, another East New Guinea An language.
5 = abainakinta in Bargam, another 'Papuan' language (abainakin = thumb, ta = 1, in this language, hand/arm is amulik)
5 = y'eting in Abui, a 'Papuan' language in Timor, thousands of miles away. (tang bang = to carry)
5 = bagerata in Malasanga, an An language on the North coast of New Guinea. (bage=hand) 5 = aipan in Wuvulu-Aua, An speakers on a tiny atoll North of New Guinea (pani = hand)

In the An language, Ansus, of Maluku, -bang means 'palm of the hand'. I don't have many (meaning almost none at all) sources for the word palm, but in a local Philippine language, Cebuano, it is palad. Flipped over, (metathesis), dalap means handspan, ie 4 inches.

The strangest example of this particular morpheme (word) is the Formosan (Taiwan) 5 = bangan/mangan, in a dialect of Atayal.

Formosa (Taiwan) is reckoned to be the place where the whole An language started, so just how did a 'New Guinean' word for hand get all the way back there?

Many, if not most, Austronesian and 'Papuan' languages in and around New Guinea also use their own hand word:

Language An/Pap....Hand .....Five

Irahutu An ..............fra- ............přande-pinde
Taupota An...........ura...........ura i-tutu
(hand-complete, ie fist. Very unusual, because Taupota has both nima and ura for hand, but prefers to use the 'wrong' one for five)
Weliki bisuk
Selepet nombok
Nukna Pap...............get............get kamandauk
Sialum Pap.............mete.........metam
Burum Pap.............boro .........boro kun
Mesem Pap............ bainim.....bainimbeke
Kube Pap.................mere........mere mong
Ufim Pap................ kande......kande kwa
Hote An...................baheng....baheng pi
Maisin An/Pap......fake..........faketi

...and in most of these cases, the word for five is 'hand-one' - that is, you've counted the fingers of one hand, it's finished now, so you'll go on to the other hand, and repeat the performance.

In many 'primitive' An and Papuan languages, the word for hand and arm was the same. It's only my speculation, but I think they only began to separate the meanings of hand and arm when fingers began to be used for counting, as in:
Auhelewa An....harigigi .....'all my fingers'

There was a crucial stage, when people stopped counting on their fingers, and just thought of the number 5 as a definite abstract amount, ie more than a few, and less than very many.

Number 5 probably began as a 'handful' and then developed into something that people could assume as a certain definite quantity that the ones they were talking to could trust.

You can tell that this happened in certain languages, when the words for hand and five begin to diverge.
Lavongai New Britain An.......kunga-......alima
Uruava Solomons An......kabe-na.....rima
Note that in Uruava, they're still using a 'bangi' word for hand, but five is a completely separate new word.

and so on .... there's a definite line separating the mainland New Guinea An and Papuan number systems, that give every evidence of growing up in situ, from the later arrivals, the 'proto-Austronesians' who came in with their ready-made new simple number names.

In New Guinea, this line roughly follows the limits of the 'conventional' language sub-groupings 'North New Guinea Linkage' covering the North coast of Papua New Guinea, right tound the corner to the Huon Gulf, and the southern half of New Britain Island, and 'Papuan Tip' which is basically the An languages of the 'tail' of Papua-New Guinea. It's roughly the area where the proto-Oceanic language is thought to have been spoken.

But they are not limited to this area alone; many of the number systems and names in Vanuatu and New Caledonia also show definite signs of growing their own number systems.
The presence of the 'aberrant number systems' in both of those areas strongly suggests that they were settled initially by Melanesians before the new PAn number system had arrived.

Where did these 'proto-Austronesians' with their new way of counting, come from?

Well, according to the current paradigm, they poured out of Taiwan, the original homeland of the Austronesian languages, pushed by the expansion of the Han Chinese, and went on, intrepidly, to conquer the oceans east and west of them.

Well, maybe they didn't. Perhaps they invented and grew their own language family (or at least, their number systems) right there, somewhere in the thousands of islands of South East Asia, or off the North coast of New Guinea, from an ancestor language that gave birth both to them and to the 8 major families of languages in New Guinea, which is a small continent in its own right.

How Can You Dig Up History From a Bunch of Numbers?

Well, you can't, of course, directly.

Languages are not like good, solid archaeological sites, where you can reasonably expect to dig down, and find successively older layers, with, hopefully, telling remnants of (usually) rubbish that might give you some ideas of how people lived in the past, who they were, and where they came from.

Modern languages are the only observable twiglets of an invisible tree, hiding an immensely complex and quite unseeable history of lost and decayed subterranean roots and undergrowth, where languages have diverged from common ancestors, moved locations, had incestuous relations, indulged in miscegenation, and generally mixed up the results so much that all speculations on what happened in the past, as derived from what we can observe in the present can only be that - speculations.

It's a little different when languages have been recorded in writing in the past. We can speculate with much more assurance if we hold, say, a Latin text and a Modern French text, 2000 years apart, in our hands, and compare them.

Austronesian languages were not written down in the past, so historical linguists have to use a quite different methodology, by tracing out the observable changes in sounds from one branch to another, and reconstructing the family tree from the top down.

Or, as is the case in linguistics, showing the reconstructed tree upside down, like this:

This shows, at the root (top of the diagram) a major split between Formosan (Taiwan) Austronesian languages, and then next, another major split between Western Malayo-Polynesian languages, and all the others.

Western Malayo-Polynesian languages are, roughly, all those spoken West of the Wallace Line, which divides the 'spheres of influence' of the ancient, now drowned, continents of Sundaland, to the West, and Sahul (including New Guinea and Australia), to the East.

This family tree concentrates on the major branch leading to the native languages of the Pacific Ocean islands.

The other major branches, of the languages to the West, are summarised as single lines, which is quite necessary, because no-one has yet worked out the detailed family tree of the Western Malayo-Polynesian languages, which 95% of modern Austronesians actually speak.

Numbers, though, are quite different from other words in a language. They show, not only a set of words with exact, unambiguous and enduring meanings, but they also preserve, as a set, the evolution of the systems used in the past, as people developed from counting fingers and toes to conceiving of numbers as abstract symbols.

You can judge, with some confidence, that a language that has words for only one, two, and many should at least be less-developed than one where the speaker touches his fingers and toes as he names them, and the final stage, where lima is only a fossilised remnant that hands were ever used at all.

Now it happens that the area, comprising Bima, Timor, Flores, other islands of Nusa Tenggara and the Moluccas, the islands and coastal strip of North and East New Guinea, together with the Bismarcks, the Admiralties, the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia holds a mass of diverse Austronesian languages.

That is the part coloured orange on this map, and the left hand part of the huge yellow area denoting the Oceanic lanuages.

The very same places also have almost all of the more than 200 'aberrant' number systems, so it should be possible to physically map the visible development of the number systems, and indicate, at least in general terms, the actual physical place of origin of those number systems.

Those number systems were surely conceived and developed long after the very first ancestral speakers were around.

So far, I've found it easy to see the overall picture of the development of the primitive number systems, with the most primitive, and the most diverse, centred on the Bismarcks and the adjoining coast of New Guinea. This is precisely the area which, by quite different linguistic analyses, is generally accepted to be the birthplace of Proto-Oceanic, the root language for all of those Melanesian and Polynesian languages East of there.

It's also possible to see a strict breakline between this area, and another, where the 'Proto-Austronesian' abstract, symbolic numbers are used exclusively.

What is very, very difficult to find is where and how the primitive systems developed into the final finished one. I have a sneaking feeling that this development happened somewhere in the purple area of the map, and all traces of it have been 'drowned' by the spread of 'more modern' Western Malayo-Polynesian languages.

What is also very difficult is to judge by just how much Austronesian languages were affected by their contact with an amazing variety of very much older 'Papuan' languages, almost none of which ever developed a full abstract number system.

Why Study Austronesian Numbers?

I quite often walk along the beach here (but seldom with a Walrus, or a Carpenter, and never with a gaggle of perambulating Oysters).

It's a very good place for emptying the brain, and letting idle thoughts develop.

But then, something disastrous happened to my happy empty island life. We got cellphones and the internet. I'm not much interested in porn (been there, done that) , too much interested in conspiracy theories, etc, so I fiddled around.

One day, fiddling about on the internet, (which has only been available in my home here for a year) I discovered a fascinating website,
Numbers from 1 to 10 in Over 5000 Languages that listed numbers in most, if not all, the Austronesian languages.

The Austronesian language family is probably the largest on earth, with about 1200 languages, spoken from Madagascar to Easter Island, and from Hawaii to New Zealand, so there were a lot of them, and something very strange.

I had always thought that number names throughout this vast region were pretty standard, something like:

*esa/isa *duSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *sa-puluq

That is, if I ever have the opportunity to buy something from an Easter Islander, a New Zealand Maori, a Sakalava from Madagascar, or a savage headhunter from the mountains of Taiwan, I would just say lima and get 5 of whatever I want

Not quite so - but we'll get to that later.

Now we have to look at some technical linguistics stuff:

Proto-Austronesian is an artificial construct, derived from existing languages by tracing back words that look and mean the same (cognates), and studying the sound changes that have happened in the meantime, to group all the languages into one big family tree.

If you want to find out how professional linguists reconstruct these proto-languages, then look
here. There (just to the right of the Austronesian language family tree) you'll see how it's done.

I'll discuss the flaws of the classical linguists' 'Comparative Method' and why it cannot apply to number systems, at a later date.

So Proto-Austronesian is at the very root of this family tree, and is said to be the ancestral language spoken by the very first speakers of a tongue that has now developed into about 1200 different languages.

Except that the majority of languages, roughly in the area East of the Wallace Line and West of Polynesia, had number systems and names that were distinctly unlike Proto-Austronesian, and couldn't possibly have been derived from it.

That part of the Austronesian world is right in the very middle of it; the bit coloured orange on the map, and the parts labelled New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and MELANESIA.

In the very middle of that area is the very place that another ancestral language, Proto-Oceanic, is considered to have developed. You can find a bit more about this proto-language

As I began to look at these number lists, I could see that many of the systems were in various stages of development, from a very basic: one, two, few, and many, through various methods of tallying fingers and hands, and even toes and feet, right up to the standard symbolic numbers that appear to have arrived, fully-formed and complete, in Proto-Austronesian, supposedly ancestor of them all.

Even now, the word for 5 in most Austronesian languages is lima, or something very like it, which also means, simply: hand.

In English, we don't have the same connections between number-names and the original counting methods; you can't trace five back to anything very much, except a Proto-Indo-European *penkwe, which doesn't tell you anything very much.

But you can see the family resemblances between Indo-European languages, from:

Proto-Indo- European+
*oynos / *sem, *duwo:, *treyes, *kwetwores, *penkwe,
*sweks, *septm, *okto:, *newn, *dekm.

Developing into some long-dead languages, that, thankfully, were written down:

Sanskrit+ éka, dvá, trí, catúr, páñca,, saptá, as.tá, náva, dáça.
Classical Greek+ hei:s, dúo:, trei:s, téttares, pénte, héx, heptá, októ:, ennéa, déka.
Latin+ u:nus, duo, tre:s, quattuor, quinque, sex, septem, octo:, novem, decem.

Through a reconstructed 'ancestor' of the Germanic branch, that led to Modern English:

Old Germanic+ *ainaz, *twai, *thrijiz, *fithwor, *fimfi, *seks, *sibum, *ahto:, *niwun, *tehun.

Old English+ án, twá, þrí, féower, fíf, sex, seofon, eahta, nighon, tíen.

Middle English+ an, two, three, four, fif, six, seven, eihte, nien, ten.

Modern English one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

And another, still spoken, from a different branch of the Indo-European family, Celtic:

Welsh un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump, chwech, saith, wyth, naw, deg.

And a few more you might never have suspected had any relationship with English:

Hindi/ Urdu ek, do, ti:n, ca:r, pã:c, chai, sa:t, a:th, nau, das.

Farsi (Persian) yak, do, se, chaha:r, panj, shesh, haft, hasht, noh, dah.

Polish jeden, dwa, trzy, cztery, pie,c', szes'c', siedem, osiem, dziewie c', dziesiec'.

Syrian Gypsy e:kâ, di:, târân, shta:r, panj, sha:s, h.o:t, h.aisht, na:, da:s.

Pashto (Afghan) yaw, dwa, dre, tsalór, pindzé, shpag, owé, até, ne, les.

Sinhalese eka, deka, tuna, hatara, paha, haya, hata, ata, namaya, dahaya.

Vedda ekamay, dekamay, tunamay, hataramay, pahamay, pahamay tava ekamay,
pahamay dekamay, pahamay tunamay, pahamay hataramay,
tava pahamay

By now, you're probably going a bit goggle-eyed over numbers lists, but take another look at the last one.

Vedda is a language spoken by a very primitive negrito tribe in Sri Lanka, and up to five, their system is the same as the Sinhalese spoken throughout Sri Lanka, except that they add may to each number, for some unknown reason.

After five, things go a bit haywire. If you look a bit more closely, you' ll see that the pattern goes:

Six = 5+1
Seven = 5+2
Eight = 5+3
Nine = 5+4
Ten = 5+5

The Vedda counting system is the only one of its type in the whole long list of 265 different Indo-European number systems listed

All the rest have quite normal symbolic words.

The Vedda system, though, shows all the signs of being, not so very long ago, one that was counted on the fingers of one hand, and then on the other, repeating the same 'early number names' from 1 to 5.

But among Austronesian languages, fully 20% have such 'primitive' numbering systems. That is what first sparked my interest.

Maisin, an Austronesian language spoken on the Eastern coast of Papua New Guinea, has numbers that go:

sesei, sandi, sinati, fusese, fakete, faketi-tarosi-taure-sesei,
faketi-tarosi-taure-sandi, faketi tarosi taure sinati,
faketi tarosi taure fusese, faketi tau tau

How could those numbers possibly be descended from an ancestral Proto-Austronesian:

*esa/isa *duSa *telu *Sepat *lima *enem *pitu *walu *Siwa *sa-puluq ?

Why would anyone want to dump a simple number system like that in favour of something so cumbersome? And what did the words mean, anyway?

Why would the migrating Austronesians, supposedly coming from Taiwan (according to the most acceptable current theory on their origins) give their languages to coastal New Guinea natives, but not their simple numbers? After all, they are generally thought to have been sea-borne traders who brought a superior (and possibly whiter) culture to the poor benighted blackies (Melanesia means Black Islands) of New Guinea.

So I decided to try and find out the answers to these questions, and, in so doing, found out quite a lot about numbering, and wandered down side roads into cul-de-sacs, but also found out a great deal about some quite unrelated things, just like:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

So, in blogs to come, I'll wander off topic to discuss shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages (actually, taro), kings, when the sea is boiling hot (not quite, but it looks like it), and, if pigs didn't have wings, then how in hell did they get to some of those tiny Pacific islands?

And, if those wonderful noble savages of the Pacific islands, so celebrated by
Rodgers and Hammerstein, and almost everyone who's met them before or since, had hit on Mauritius on their way to Madagascar, would we have had our very favourite extinct bird, the Dodo, to remember?