Sunday, September 9, 2007

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.