The Number Concept - Its Origin and Development
by Levi Leonard Conant
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[*Transcriber's Note: The following errors found in the original have been left as is. Chapter I, 14th paragraph: drop double quote before 'It is said'; Chapter IV, 1st paragraph: 'so similar than' read 'so similar that'; Chapter IV, table of Hebrew numerals (near footnote 144): insert comma after 'shemoneh'; Chapter V, table of Tahuatan numerals (near footnote 201): 'tahi,' read 'tahi.'; Same table: ' 20,000. tufa' read '200,000. tufa'; Chapter VI, table of Bagrimma numerals (near footnote 259): 'marta = 5 + 2' read 'marta = 5 + 3'; Same table: 'do-so = [5] + 3' read 'do-so = [5] + 4'; Chapter VII, table of Nahuatl numerals (near footnote 365): '90-10' read '80-10'; In paragraph following that table: '+ (15 + 4) x 400 x 800' read '(15 + 4) x 20 x 400 x 8000 + (15 + 4) x 400 x 8000'; In text of footnote 297: 'II. I. p. 179' read 'II. i. p. 179'; *]










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Set up and electrotyped. Published July, 1896.

Norwood Press J.S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


In the selection of authorities which have been consulted in the preparation of this work, and to which reference is made in the following pages, great care has been taken. Original sources have been drawn upon in the majority of cases, and nearly all of these are the most recent attainable. Whenever it has not been possible to cite original and recent works, the author has quoted only such as are most standard and trustworthy. In the choice of orthography of proper names and numeral words, the forms have, in almost all cases, been written as they were found, with no attempt to reduce them to a systematic English basis. In many instances this would have been quite impossible; and, even if possible, it would have been altogether unimportant. Hence the forms, whether German, French, Italian, Spanish, or Danish in their transcription, are left unchanged. Diacritical marks are omitted, however, since the proper key could hardly be furnished in a work of this kind.

With the above exceptions, this study will, it is hoped, be found to be quite complete; and as the subject here investigated has never before been treated in any thorough and comprehensive manner, it is hoped that this book may be found helpful. The collections of numeral systems illustrating the use of the binary, the quinary, and other number systems, are, taken together, believed to be the most extensive now existing in any language. Only the cardinal numerals have been considered. The ordinals present no marked peculiarities which would, in a work of this kind, render a separate discussion necessary. Accordingly they have, though with some reluctance, been omitted entirely.

Sincere thanks are due to those who have assisted the author in the preparation of his materials. Especial acknowledgment should be made to Horatio Hale, Dr. D.G. Brinton, Frank Hamilton Cushing, and Dr. A.F. Chamberlain.

WORCESTER, MASS., Nov. 12, 1895.


Chapter I. Counting 1 Chapter II. Number System Limits 21 Chapter III. Origin of Number Words 37 Chapter IV. Origin of Number Words (continued) 74 Chapter V. Miscellaneous Number Bases 100 Chapter VI. The Quinary System 134 Chapter VII. The Vigesimal System 176 * * * * * Index 211




Among the speculative questions which arise in connection with the study of arithmetic from a historical standpoint, the origin of number is one that has provoked much lively discussion, and has led to a great amount of learned research among the primitive and savage languages of the human race. A few simple considerations will, however, show that such research must necessarily leave this question entirely unsettled, and will indicate clearly that it is, from the very nature of things, a question to which no definite and final answer can be given.

Among the barbarous tribes whose languages have been studied, even in a most cursory manner, none have ever been discovered which did not show some familiarity with the number concept. The knowledge thus indicated has often proved to be most limited; not extending beyond the numbers 1 and 2, or 1, 2, and 3. Examples of this poverty of number knowledge are found among the forest tribes of Brazil, the native races of Australia and elsewhere, and they are considered in some detail in the next chapter. At first thought it seems quite inconceivable that any human being should be destitute of the power of counting beyond 2. But such is the case; and in a few instances languages have been found to be absolutely destitute of pure numeral words. The Chiquitos of Bolivia had no real numerals whatever,[1] but expressed their idea for "one" by the word etama, meaning alone. The Tacanas of the same country have no numerals except those borrowed from Spanish, or from Aymara or Peno, languages with which they have long been in contact.[2] A few other South American languages are almost equally destitute of numeral words. But even here, rudimentary as the number sense undoubtedly is, it is not wholly lacking; and some indirect expression, or some form of circumlocution, shows a conception of the difference between one and two, or at least, between one and many.

These facts must of necessity deter the mathematician from seeking to push his investigation too far back toward the very origin of number. Philosophers have endeavoured to establish certain propositions concerning this subject, but, as might have been expected, have failed to reach any common ground of agreement. Whewell has maintained that "such propositions as that two and three make five are necessary truths, containing in them an element of certainty beyond that which mere experience can give." Mill, on the other hand, argues that any such statement merely expresses a truth derived from early and constant experience; and in this view he is heartily supported by Tylor.[3] But why this question should provoke controversy, it is difficult for the mathematician to understand. Either view would seem to be correct, according to the standpoint from which the question is approached. We know of no language in which the suggestion of number does not appear, and we must admit that the words which give expression to the number sense would be among the early words to be formed in any language. They express ideas which are, at first, wholly concrete, which are of the greatest possible simplicity, and which seem in many ways to be clearly understood, even by the higher orders of the brute creation. The origin of number would in itself, then, appear to lie beyond the proper limits of inquiry; and the primitive conception of number to be fundamental with human thought.

In connection with the assertion that the idea of number seems to be understood by the higher orders of animals, the following brief quotation from a paper by Sir John Lubbock may not be out of place: "Leroy ... mentions a case in which a man was anxious to shoot a crow. 'To deceive this suspicious bird, the plan was hit upon of sending two men to the watch house, one of whom passed on, while the other remained; but the crow counted and kept her distance. The next day three went, and again she perceived that only two retired. In fine, it was found necessary to send five or six men to the watch house to put her out in her calculation. The crow, thinking that this number of men had passed by, lost no time in returning.' From this he inferred that crows could count up to four. Lichtenberg mentions a nightingale which was said to count up to three. Every day he gave it three mealworms, one at a time. When it had finished one it returned for another, but after the third it knew that the feast was over.... There is an amusing and suggestive remark in Mr. Galton's interesting Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South Africa. After describing the Demara's weakness in calculations, he says: 'Once while I watched a Demara floundering hopelessly in a calculation on one side of me, I observed, "Dinah," my spaniel, equally embarrassed on the other; she was overlooking half a dozen of her new-born puppies, which had been removed two or three times from her, and her anxiety was excessive, as she tried to find out if they were all present, or if any were still missing. She kept puzzling and running her eyes over them backwards and forwards, but could not satisfy herself. She evidently had a vague notion of counting, but the figure was too large for her brain. Taking the two as they stood, dog and Demara, the comparison reflected no great honour on the man....' According to my bird-nesting recollections, which I have refreshed by more recent experience, if a nest contains four eggs, one may safely be taken; but if two are removed, the bird generally deserts. Here, then, it would seem as if we had some reason for supposing that there is sufficient intelligence to distinguish three from four. An interesting consideration arises with reference to the number of the victims allotted to each cell by the solitary wasps. One species of Ammophila considers one large caterpillar of Noctua segetum enough; one species of Eumenes supplies its young with five victims; another 10, 15, and even up to 24. The number appears to be constant in each species. How does the insect know when her task is fulfilled? Not by the cell being filled, for if some be removed, she does not replace them. When she has brought her complement she considers her task accomplished, whether the victims are still there or not. How, then, does she know when she has made up the number 24? Perhaps it will be said that each species feels some mysterious and innate tendency to provide a certain number of victims. This would, under no circumstances, be any explanation; but it is not in accordance with the facts. In the genus Eumenes the males are much smaller than the females.... If the egg is male, she supplies five; if female, 10 victims. Does she count? Certainly this seems very like a commencement of arithmetic."[4]

Many writers do not agree with the conclusions which Lubbock reaches; maintaining that there is, in all such instances, a perception of greater or less quantity rather than any idea of number. But a careful consideration of the objections offered fails entirely to weaken the argument. Example after example of a nature similar to those just quoted might be given, indicating on the part of animals a perception of the difference between 1 and 2, or between 2 and 3 and 4; and any reasoning which tends to show that it is quantity rather than number which the animal perceives, will apply with equal force to the Demara, the Chiquito, and the Australian. Hence the actual origin of number may safely be excluded from the limits of investigation, and, for the present, be left in the field of pure speculation.

A most inviting field for research is, however, furnished by the primitive methods of counting and of giving visible expression to the idea of number. Our starting-point must, of course, be the sign language, which always precedes intelligible speech; and which is so convenient and so expressive a method of communication that the human family, even in its most highly developed branches, never wholly lays it aside. It may, indeed, be stated as a universal law, that some practical method of numeration has, in the childhood of every nation or tribe, preceded the formation of numeral words.

Practical methods of numeration are many in number and diverse in kind. But the one primitive method of counting which seems to have been almost universal throughout all time is the finger method. It is a matter of common experience and observation that every child, when he begins to count, turns instinctively to his fingers; and, with these convenient aids as counters, tallies off the little number he has in mind. This method is at once so natural and obvious that there can be no doubt that it has always been employed by savage tribes, since the first appearance of the human race in remote antiquity. All research among uncivilized peoples has tended to confirm this view, were confirmation needed of anything so patent. Occasionally some exception to this rule is found; or some variation, such as is presented by the forest tribes of Brazil, who, instead of counting on the fingers themselves, count on the joints of their fingers.[5] As the entire number system of these tribes appears to be limited to three, this variation is no cause for surprise.

The variety in practical methods of numeration observed among savage races, and among civilized peoples as well, is so great that any detailed account of them would be almost impossible. In one region we find sticks or splints used; in another, pebbles or shells; in another, simple scratches, or notches cut in a stick, Robinson Crusoe fashion; in another, kernels or little heaps of grain; in another, knots on a string; and so on, in diversity of method almost endless. Such are the devices which have been, and still are, to be found in the daily habit of great numbers of Indian, negro, Mongolian, and Malay tribes; while, to pass at a single step to the other extremity of intellectual development, the German student keeps his beer score by chalk marks on the table or on the wall. But back of all these devices, and forming a common origin to which all may be referred, is the universal finger method; the method with which all begin, and which all find too convenient ever to relinquish entirely, even though their civilization be of the highest type. Any such mode of counting, whether involving the use of the fingers or not, is to be regarded simply as an extraneous aid in the expression or comprehension of an idea which the mind cannot grasp, or cannot retain, without assistance. The German student scores his reckoning with chalk marks because he might otherwise forget; while the Andaman Islander counts on his fingers because he has no other method of counting,—or, in other words, of grasping the idea of number. A single illustration may be given which typifies all practical methods of numeration. More than a century ago travellers in Madagascar observed a curious but simple mode of ascertaining the number of soldiers in an army.[6] Each soldier was made to go through a passage in the presence of the principal chiefs; and as he went through, a pebble was dropped on the ground. This continued until a heap of 10 was obtained, when one was set aside and a new heap begun. Upon the completion of 10 heaps, a pebble was set aside to indicate 100; and so on until the entire army had been numbered. Another illustration, taken from the very antipodes of Madagascar, recently found its way into print in an incidental manner,[7] and is so good that it deserves a place beside de Flacourt's time-honoured example. Mom Cely, a Southern negro of unknown age, finds herself in debt to the storekeeper; and, unwilling to believe that the amount is as great as he represents, she proceeds to investigate the matter in her own peculiar way. She had "kept a tally of these purchases by means of a string, in which she tied commemorative knots." When her creditor "undertook to make the matter clear to Cely's comprehension, he had to proceed upon a system of her own devising. A small notch was cut in a smooth white stick for every dime she owed, and a large notch when the dimes amounted to a dollar; for every five dollars a string was tied in the fifth big notch, Cely keeping tally by the knots in her bit of twine; thus, when two strings were tied about the stick, the ten dollars were seen to be an indisputable fact." This interesting method of computing the amount of her debt, whether an invention of her own or a survival of the African life of her parents, served the old negro woman's purpose perfectly; and it illustrates, as well as a score of examples could, the methods of numeration to which the children of barbarism resort when any number is to be expressed which exceeds the number of counters with which nature has provided them. The fingers are, however, often employed in counting numbers far above the first decade. After giving the Il-Oigob numerals up to 60, Mueller adds:[8] "Above 60 all numbers, indicated by the proper figure pantomime, are expressed by means of the word ipi." We know, moreover, that many of the American Indian tribes count one ten after another on their fingers; so that, whatever number they are endeavouring to indicate, we need feel no surprise if the savage continues to use his fingers throughout the entire extent of his counts. In rare instances we find tribes which, like the Mairassis of the interior of New Guinea, appear to use nothing but finger pantomime.[9] This tribe, though by no means destitute of the number sense, is said to have no numerals whatever, but to use the single word awari with each show of fingers, no matter how few or how many are displayed.

In the methods of finger counting employed by savages a considerable degree of uniformity has been observed. Not only does he use his fingers to assist him in his tally, but he almost always begins with the little finger of his left hand, thence proceeding towards the thumb, which is 5. From this point onward the method varies. Sometimes the second 5 also is told off on the left hand, the same order being observed as in the first 5; but oftener the fingers of the right hand are used, with a reversal of the order previously employed; i.e. the thumb denotes 6, the index finger 7, and so on to the little finger, which completes the count to 10.

At first thought there would seem to be no good reason for any marked uniformity of method in finger counting. Observation among children fails to detect any such thing; the child beginning, with almost entire indifference, on the thumb or on the little finger of the left hand. My own observation leads to the conclusion that very young children have a slight, though not decided preference for beginning with the thumb. Experiments in five different primary rooms in the public schools of Worcester, Mass., showed that out of a total of 206 children, 57 began with the little finger and 149 with the thumb. But the fact that nearly three-fourths of the children began with the thumb, and but one-fourth with the little finger, is really far less significant than would appear at first thought. Children of this age, four to eight years, will count in either way, and sometimes seem at a loss themselves to know where to begin. In one school room where this experiment was tried the teacher incautiously asked one child to count on his fingers, while all the other children in the room watched eagerly to see what he would do. He began with the little finger—and so did every child in the room after him. In another case the same error was made by the teacher, and the child first asked began with the thumb. Every other child in the room did the same, each following, consciously or unconsciously, the example of the leader. The results from these two schools were of course rejected from the totals which are given above; but they serve an excellent purpose in showing how slight is the preference which very young children have in this particular. So slight is it that no definite law can be postulated of this age; but the tendency seems to be to hold the palm of the hand downward, and then begin with the thumb. The writer once saw a boy about seven years old trying to multiply 3 by 6; and his method of procedure was as follows: holding his left hand with its palm down, he touched with the forefinger of his right hand the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger successively of his left hand. Then returning to his starting-point, he told off a second three in the same manner. This process he continued until he had obtained 6 threes, and then he announced his result correctly. If he had been a few years older, he might not have turned so readily to his thumb as a starting-point for any digital count. The indifference manifested by very young children gradually disappears, and at the age of twelve or thirteen the tendency is decidedly in the direction of beginning with the little finger. Fully three-fourths of all persons above that age will be found to count from the little finger toward the thumb, thus reversing the proportion that was found to obtain in the primary school rooms examined.

With respect to finger counting among civilized peoples, we fail, then, to find any universal law; the most that can be said is that more begin with the little finger than with the thumb. But when we proceed to the study of this slight but important particular among savages, we find them employing a certain order of succession with such substantial uniformity that the conclusion is inevitable that there must lie back of this some well-defined reason, or perhaps instinct, which guides them in their choice. This instinct is undoubtedly the outgrowth of the almost universal right-handedness of the human race. In finger counting, whether among children or adults, the beginning is made on the left hand, except in the case of left-handed individuals; and even then the start is almost as likely to be on the left hand as on the right. Savage tribes, as might be expected, begin with the left hand. Not only is this custom almost invariable, when tribes as a whole are considered, but the little finger is nearly always called into requisition first. To account for this uniformity, Lieutenant Gushing gives the following theory,[10] which is well considered, and is based on the results of careful study and observation among the Zuni Indians of the Southwest: "Primitive man when abroad never lightly quit hold of his weapons. If he wanted to count, he did as the Zuni afield does to-day; he tucked his instrument under his left arm, thus constraining the latter, but leaving the right hand free, that he might check off with it the fingers of the rigidly elevated left hand. From the nature of this position, however, the palm of the left hand was presented to the face of the counter, so that he had to begin his score on the little finger of it, and continue his counting from the right leftward. An inheritance of this may be detected to-day in the confirmed habit the Zuni has of gesticulating from the right leftward, with the fingers of the right hand over those of the left, whether he be counting and summing up, or relating in any orderly manner." Here, then, is the reason for this otherwise unaccountable phenomenon. If savage man is universally right-handed, he will almost inevitably use the index finger of his right hand to mark the fingers counted, and he will begin his count just where it is most convenient. In his case it is with the little finger of the left hand. In the case of the child trying to multiply 3 by 6, it was with the thumb of the same hand. He had nothing to tuck under his arm; so, in raising his left hand to a position where both eye and counting finger could readily run over its fingers, he held the palm turned away from his face. The same choice of starting-point then followed as with the savage—the finger nearest his right hand; only in this case the finger was a thumb. The deaf mute is sometimes taught in this manner, which is for him an entirely natural manner. A left-handed child might be expected to count in a left-to-right manner, beginning, probably, with the thumb of his right hand.

To the law just given, that savages begin to count on the little finger of the left hand, there have been a few exceptions noted; and it has been observed that the method of progression on the second hand is by no means as invariable as on the first. The Otomacs[11] of South America began their count with the thumb, and to express the number 3 would use the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger. The Maipures,[12] oddly enough, seem to have begun, in some cases at least, with the forefinger; for they are reported as expressing 3 by means of the fore, middle, and ring fingers. The Andamans[13] begin with the little finger of either hand, tapping the nose with each finger in succession. If they have but one to express, they use the forefinger of either hand, pronouncing at the same time the proper word. The Bahnars,[14] one of the native tribes of the interior of Cochin China, exhibit no particular order in the sequence of fingers used, though they employ their digits freely to assist them in counting. Among certain of the negro tribes of South Africa[15] the little finger of the right hand is used for 1, and their count proceeds from right to left. With them, 6 is the thumb of the left hand, 7 the forefinger, and so on. They hold the palm downward instead of upward, and thus form a complete and striking exception to the law which has been found to obtain with such substantial uniformity in other parts of the uncivilized world. In Melanesia a few examples of preference for beginning with the thumb may also be noticed. In the Banks Islands the natives begin by turning down the thumb of the right hand, and then the fingers in succession to the little finger, which is 5. This is followed by the fingers of the left hand, both hands with closed fists being held up to show the completed 10. In Lepers' Island, they begin with the thumb, but, having reached 5 with the little finger, they do not pass to the other hand, but throw up the fingers they have turned down, beginning with the forefinger and keeping the thumb for 10.[16] In the use of the single hand this people is quite peculiar. The second 5 is almost invariably told off by savage tribes on the second hand, though in passing from the one to the other primitive man does not follow any invariable law. He marks 6 with either the thumb or the little finger. Probably the former is the more common practice, but the statement cannot be made with any degree of certainty. Among the Zulus the sequence is from thumb to thumb, as is the case among the other South African tribes just mentioned; while the Veis and numerous other African tribes pass from thumb to little finger. The Eskimo, and nearly all the American Indian tribes, use the correspondence between 6 and the thumb; but this habit is by no means universal. Respecting progression from right to left or left to right on the toes, there is no general law with which the author is familiar. Many tribes never use the toes in counting, but signify the close of the first 10 by clapping the hands together, by a wave of the right hand, or by designating some object; after which the fingers are again used as before.

One other detail in finger counting is worthy of a moment's notice. It seems to have been the opinion of earlier investigators that in his passage from one finger to the next, the savage would invariably bend down, or close, the last finger used; that is, that the count began with the fingers open and outspread. This opinion is, however, erroneous. Several of the Indian tribes of the West[17] begin with the hand clenched, and open the fingers one by one as they proceed. This method is much less common than the other, but that it exists is beyond question.

In the Muralug Island, in the western part of Torres Strait, a somewhat remarkable method of counting formerly existed, which grew out of, and is to be regarded as an extension of, the digital method. Beginning with the little finger of the left hand, the natives counted up to 5 in the usual manner, and then, instead of passing to the other hand, or repeating the count on the same fingers, they expressed the numbers from 6 to 10 by touching and naming successively the left wrist, left elbow, left shoulder, left breast, and sternum. Then the numbers from 11 to 19 were indicated by the use, in inverse order, of the corresponding portions of the right side, arm, and hand, the little finger of the right hand signifying 19. The words used were in each case the actual names of the parts touched; the same word, for example, standing for 6 and 14; but they were never used in the numerical sense unless accompanied by the proper gesture, and bear no resemblance to the common numerals, which are but few in number. This method of counting is rapidly dying out among the natives of the island, and is at the present time used only by old people.[18] Variations on this most unusual custom have been found to exist in others of the neighbouring islands, but none were exactly similar to it. One is also reminded by it of a custom[19] which has for centuries prevailed among bargainers in the East, of signifying numbers by touching the joints of each other's fingers under a cloth. Every joint has a special signification; and the entire system is undoubtedly a development from finger counting. The buyer or seller will by this method express 6 or 60 by stretching out the thumb and little finger and closing the rest of the fingers. The addition of the fourth finger to the two thus used signifies 7 or 70; and so on. "It is said that between two brokers settling a price by thus snipping with the fingers, cleverness in bargaining, offering a little more, hesitating, expressing an obstinate refusal to go further, etc., are as clearly indicated as though the bargaining were being carried on in words.

The place occupied, in the intellectual development of man, by finger counting and by the many other artificial methods of reckoning,—pebbles, shells, knots, the abacus, etc.,—seems to be this: The abstract processes of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even counting itself, present to the mind a certain degree of difficulty. To assist in overcoming that difficulty, these artificial aids are called in; and, among savages of a low degree of development, like the Australians, they make counting possible. A little higher in the intellectual scale, among the American Indians, for example, they are employed merely as an artificial aid to what could be done by mental effort alone. Finally, among semi-civilized and civilized peoples, the same processes are retained, and form a part of the daily life of almost every person who has to do with counting, reckoning, or keeping tally in any manner whatever. They are no longer necessary, but they are so convenient and so useful that civilization can never dispense with them. The use of the abacus, in the form of the ordinary numeral frame, has increased greatly within the past few years; and the time may come when the abacus in its proper form will again find in civilized countries a use as common as that of five centuries ago.

In the elaborate calculating machines of the present, such as are used by life insurance actuaries and others having difficult computations to make, we have the extreme of development in the direction of artificial aid to reckoning. But instead of appearing merely as an extraneous aid to a defective intelligence, it now presents itself as a machine so complex that a high degree of intellectual power is required for the mere grasp of its construction and method of working.



With respect to the limits to which the number systems of the various uncivilized races of the earth extend, recent anthropological research has developed many interesting facts. In the case of the Chiquitos and a few other native races of Bolivia we found no distinct number sense at all, as far as could be judged from the absence, in their language, of numerals in the proper sense of the word. How they indicated any number greater than one is a point still requiring investigation. In all other known instances we find actual number systems, or what may for the sake of uniformity be dignified by that name. In many cases, however, the numerals existing are so few, and the ability to count is so limited, that the term number system is really an entire misnomer.

Among the rudest tribes, those whose mode of living approaches most nearly to utter savagery, we find a certain uniformity of method. The entire number system may consist of but two words, one and many; or of three words, one, two, many. Or, the count may proceed to 3, 4, 5, 10, 20, or 100; passing always, or almost always, from the distinct numeral limit to the indefinite many or several, which serves for the expression of any number not readily grasped by the mind. As a matter of fact, most races count as high as 10; but to this statement the exceptions are so numerous that they deserve examination in some detail. In certain parts of the world, notably among the native races of South America, Australia, and many of the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia, a surprising paucity of numeral words has been observed. The Encabellada of the Rio Napo have but two distinct numerals; tey, 1, and cayapa, 2.[20] The Chaco languages[21] of the Guaycuru stock are also notably poor in this respect. In the Mbocobi dialect of this language the only native numerals are yna tvak, 1, and yfioaca, 2. The Puris[22] count omi, 1, curiri, 2, prica, many; and the Botocudos[23] mokenam, 1, uruhu, many. The Fuegans,[24] supposed to have been able at one time to count to 10, have but three numerals,—kaoueli, 1, compaipi, 2, maten, 3. The Campas of Peru[25] possess only three separate words for the expression of number,—patrio, 1, pitteni, 2, mahuani, 3. Above 3 they proceed by combinations, as 1 and 3 for 4, 1 and 1 and 3 for 5. Counting above 10 is, however, entirely inconceivable to them, and any number beyond that limit they indicate by tohaine, many. The Conibos,[26] of the same region, had, before their contact with the Spanish, only atchoupre, 1, and rrabui, 2; though they made some slight progress above 2 by means of reduplication. The Orejones, one of the low, degraded tribes of the Upper Amazon,[27] have no names for number except nayhay, 1, nenacome, 2, feninichacome, 3, ononoeomere, 4. In the extensive vocabularies given by Von Martins,[28] many similar examples are found. For the Bororos he gives only couai, 1, maeouai, 2, ouai, 3. The last word, with the proper finger pantomime, serves also for any higher number which falls within the grasp of their comprehension. The Guachi manage to reach 5, but their numeration is of the rudest kind, as the following scale shows: tamak, 1, eu-echo, 2, eu-echo-kailau, 3, eu-echo-way, 4, localau, 5. The Carajas counted by a scale equally rude, and their conception of number seemed equally vague, until contact with the neighbouring tribes furnished them with the means of going beyond their original limit. Their scale shows clearly the uncertain, feeble number sense which is so marked in the interior of South America. It contains wadewo, 1, wadebothoa, 2, wadeboaheodo, 3, wadebojeodo, 4, wadewajouclay, 5, wadewasori, 6, or many.

Turning to the languages of the extinct, or fast vanishing, tribes of Australia, we find a still more noteworthy absence of numeral expressions. In the Gudang dialect[29] but two numerals are found—pirman, 1, and ilabiu, 2; in the Weedookarry, ekkamurda, 1, and kootera, 2; and in the Queanbeyan, midjemban, 1, and bollan, 2. In a score or more of instances the numerals stop at 3. The natives of Keppel Bay count webben, 1, booli, 2, koorel, 3; of the Boyne River, karroon, 1, boodla, 2, numma, 3; of the Flinders River, kooroin, 1, kurto, 2, kurto kooroin, 3; at the mouth of the Norman River, lum, 1, buggar, 2, orinch, 3; the Eaw tribe, koothea, 1, woother, 2, marronoo, 3; the Moree, mal, 1, boolar, 2, kooliba, 3; the Port Essington,[30] erad, 1, nargarick, 2, nargarickelerad, 3; the Darnly Islanders,[31] netat, 1, naes, 2, naesa netat, 3; and so on through a long list of tribes whose numeral scales are equally scanty. A still larger number of tribes show an ability to count one step further, to 4; but beyond this limit the majority of Australian and Tasmanian tribes do not go. It seems most remarkable that any human being should possess the ability to count to 4, and not to 5. The number of fingers on one hand furnishes so obvious a limit to any of these rudimentary systems, that positive evidence is needed before one can accept the statement. A careful examination of the numerals in upwards of a hundred Australian dialects leaves no doubt, however, that such is the fact. The Australians in almost all cases count by pairs; and so pronounced is this tendency that they pay but little attention to the fingers. Some tribes do not appear ever to count beyond 2—a single pair. Many more go one step further; but if they do, they are as likely as not to designate their next numeral as two-one, or possibly, one-two. If this step is taken, we may or may not find one more added to it, thus completing the second pair. Still, the Australian's capacity for understanding anything which pertains to number is so painfully limited that even here there is sometimes an indefinite expression formed, as many, heap, or plenty, instead of any distinct numeral; and it is probably true that no Australian language contains a pure, simple numeral for 4. Curr, the best authority on this subject, believes that, where a distinct word for 4 is given, investigators have been deceived in every case.[32] If counting is carried beyond 4, it is always by means of reduplication. A few tribes gave expressions for 5, fewer still for 6, and a very small number appeared able to reach 7. Possibly the ability to count extended still further; but if so, it consisted undoubtedly in reckoning one pair after another, without any consciousness whatever of the sum total save as a larger number.

The numerals of a few additional tribes will show clearly that all distinct perception of number is lost as soon as these races attempt to count above 3, or at most, 4. The Yuckaburra[33] natives can go no further than wigsin, 1, bullaroo, 2, goolbora, 3. Above here all is referred to as moorgha, many. The Marachowies[34] have but three distinct numerals,—cooma, 1, cootera, 2, murra, 3. For 4 they say minna, many. At Streaky Bay we find a similar list, with the same words, kooma and kootera, for 1 and 2, but entirely different terms, karboo and yalkata for 3 and many. The same method obtains in the Minnal Yungar tribe, where the only numerals are kain, 1, kujal, 2, moa, 3, and bulla, plenty. In the Pinjarra dialect we find doombart, 1, gugal, 2, murdine, 3, boola, plenty; and in the dialect described as belonging to "Eyre's Sand Patch," three definite terms are given—kean, 1, koojal, 2, yalgatta, 3, while a fourth, murna, served to describe anything greater. In all these examples the fourth numeral is indefinite; and the same statement is true of many other Australian languages. But more commonly still we find 4, and perhaps 3 also, expressed by reduplication. In the Port Mackay dialect[35] the latter numeral is compound, the count being warpur, 1, boolera, 2, boolera warpur, 3. For 4 the term is not given. In the dialect which prevailed between the Albert and Tweed rivers[36] the scale appears as yaburu, 1, boolaroo, 2, boolaroo yaburu, 3, and gurul for 4 or anything beyond. The Wiraduroi[37] have numbai, 1, bula, 2, bula numbai, 3, bungu, 4, or many, and bungu galan or bian galan, 5, or very many. The Kamilaroi[38] scale is still more irregular, compounding above 4 with little apparent method. The numerals are mal, 1, bular, 2, guliba, 3, bular bular, 4, bular guliba, 5, guliba guliba, 6. The last two numerals show that 5 is to these natives simply 2-3, and 6 is 3-3. For additional examples of a similar nature the extended list of Australian scales given in Chapter V. may be consulted.

Taken as a whole, the Australian and Tasmanian tribes seem to have been distinctly inferior to those of South America in their ability to use and to comprehend numerals. In all but two or three cases the Tasmanians[39] were found to be unable to proceed beyond 2; and as the foregoing examples have indicated, their Australian neighbours were but little better off. In one or two instances we do find Australian numeral scales which reach 10, and perhaps we may safely say 20. One of these is given in full in a subsequent chapter, and its structure gives rise to the suspicion that it was originally as limited as those of kindred tribes, and that it underwent a considerable development after the natives had come in contact with the Europeans. There is good reason to believe that no Australian in his wild state could ever count intelligently to 7.[40]

In certain portions of Asia, Africa, Melanesia, Polynesia, and North America, are to be found races whose number systems are almost and sometimes quite as limited as are those of the South. American and Australian tribes already cited, but nowhere else do we find these so abundant as in the two continents just mentioned, where example after example might be cited of tribes whose ability to count is circumscribed within the narrowest limits. The Veddas[41] of Ceylon have but two numerals, ekkameī, 1, dekkamei, 2. Beyond this they count otameekai, otameekai, otameekai, etc.; i.e. "and one more, and one more, and one more," and so on indefinitely. The Andamans,[42] inhabitants of a group of islands in the Bay of Bengal, are equally limited in their power of counting. They have ubatulda, 1, and ikporda, 2; but they can go no further, except in a manner similar to that of the Veddas. Above two they proceed wholly by means of the fingers, saying as they tap the nose with each successive finger, anka, "and this." Only the more intelligent of the Andamans can count at all, many of them seeming to be as nearly destitute of the number sense as it is possible for a human being to be. The Bushmen[43] of South Africa have but two numerals, the pronunciation of which can hardly be indicated without other resources than those of the English alphabet. Their word for 3 means, simply, many, as in the case of some of the Australian tribes. The Watchandies[44] have but two simple numerals, and their entire number system is cooteon, 1, utaura, 2, utarra cooteoo, 3, atarra utarra, 4. Beyond this they can only say, booltha, many, and booltha bat, very many. Although they have the expressions here given for 3 and 4, they are reluctant to use them, and only do so when absolutely required. The natives of Lower California[45] cannot count above 5. A few of the more intelligent among them understand the meaning of 2 fives, but this number seems entirely beyond the comprehension of the ordinary native. The Comanches, curiously enough, are so reluctant to employ their number words that they appear to prefer finger pantomime instead, thus giving rise to the impression which at one time became current, that they had no numerals at all for ordinary counting.

Aside from the specific examples already given, a considerable number of sweeping generalizations may be made, tending to show how rudimentary the number sense may be in aboriginal life. Scores of the native dialects of Australia and South America have been found containing number systems but little more extensive than those alluded to above. The negro tribes of Africa give the same testimony, as do many of the native races of Central America, Mexico, and the Pacific coast of the United States and Canada, the northern part of Siberia, Greenland, Labrador, and the arctic archipelago. In speaking of the Eskimos of Point Barrow, Murdoch[46] says: "It was not easy to obtain any accurate information about the numeral system of these people, since in ordinary conversation they are not in the habit of specifying any numbers above five." Counting is often carried higher than this among certain of these northern tribes, but, save for occasional examples, it is limited at best. Dr. Franz Boas, who has travelled extensively among the Eskimos, and whose observations are always of the most accurate nature, once told the author that he never met an Eskimo who could count above 15. Their numerals actually do extend much higher; and a stray numeral of Danish origin is now and then met with, showing that the more intelligent among them are able to comprehend numbers of much greater magnitude than this. But as Dr. Boas was engaged in active work among them for three years, we may conclude that the Eskimo has an arithmetic but little more extended than that which sufficed for the Australians and the forest tribes of Brazil. Early Russian explorers among the northern tribes of Siberia noticed the same difficulty in ordinary, every-day reckoning among the natives. At first thought we might, then, state it as a general law that those races which are lowest in the scale of civilization, have the feeblest number sense also; or in other words, the least possible power of grasping the abstract idea of number.

But to this law there are many and important exceptions. The concurrent testimony of explorers seems to be that savage races possess, in the great majority of cases, the ability to count at least as high as 10. This limit is often extended to 20, and not infrequently to 100. Again, we find 1000 as the limit; or perhaps 10,000; and sometimes the savage carries his number system on into the hundreds of thousands or millions. Indeed, the high limit to which some savage races carry their numeration is far more worthy of remark than the entire absence of the number sense exhibited by others of apparently equal intelligence. If the life of any tribe is such as to induce trade and barter with their neighbours, a considerable quickness in reckoning will be developed among them. Otherwise this power will remain dormant because there is but little in the ordinary life of primitive man to call for its exercise.

In giving 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, or any other small number as a system limit, it must not be overlooked that this limit mentioned is in all cases the limit of the spoken numerals at the savage's command. The actual ability to count is almost always, and one is tempted to say always, somewhat greater than their vocabularies would indicate. The Bushman has no number word that will express for him anything higher than 2; but with the assistance of his fingers he gropes his way on as far as 10. The Veddas, the Andamans, the Guachi, the Botocudos, the Eskimos, and the thousand and one other tribes which furnish such scanty numeral systems, almost all proceed with more or less readiness as far as their fingers will carry them. As a matter of fact, this limit is frequently extended to 20; the toes, the fingers of a second man, or a recount of the savage's own fingers, serving as a tale for the second 10. Allusion is again made to this in a later chapter, where the subject of counting on the fingers and toes is examined more in detail.

In saying that a savage can count to 10, to 20, or to 100, but little idea is given of his real mental conception of any except the smallest numbers. Want of familiarity with the use of numbers, and lack of convenient means of comparison, must result in extreme indefiniteness of mental conception and almost entire absence of exactness. The experience of Captain Parry,[47] who found that the Eskimos made mistakes before they reached 7, and of Humboldt,[48] who says that a Chayma might be made to say that his age was either 18 or 60, has been duplicated by all investigators who have had actual experience among savage races. Nor, on the other hand, is the development of a numeral system an infallible index of mental power, or of any real approach toward civilization. A continued use of the trading and bargaining faculties must and does result in a familiarity with numbers sufficient to enable savages to perform unexpected feats in reckoning. Among some of the West African tribes this has actually been found to be the case; and among the Yorubas of Abeokuta[49] the extraordinary saying, "You may seem very clever, but you can't tell nine times nine," shows how surprisingly this faculty has been developed, considering the general condition of savagery in which the tribe lived. There can be no doubt that, in general, the growth of the number sense keeps pace with the growth of the intelligence in other respects. But when it is remembered that the Tonga Islanders have numerals up to 100,000, and the Tembus, the Fingoes, the Pondos, and a dozen other South African tribes go as high as 1,000,000; and that Leigh Hunt never could learn the multiplication table, one must confess that this law occasionally presents to our consideration remarkable exceptions.

While considering the extent of the savage's arithmetical knowledge, of his ability to count and to grasp the meaning of number, it may not be amiss to ask ourselves the question, what is the extent of the development of our own number sense? To what limit can we absorb the idea of number, with a complete appreciation of the idea of the number of units involved in any written or spoken quantity? Our perfect system of numeration enables us to express without difficulty any desired number, no matter how great or how small it be. But how much of actually clear comprehension does the number thus expressed convey to the mind? We say that one place is 100 miles from another; that A paid B 1000 dollars for a certain piece of property; that a given city contains 10,000 inhabitants; that 100,000 bushels of wheat were shipped from Duluth or Odessa on such a day; that 1,000,000 feet of lumber were destroyed by the fire of yesterday,—and as we pass from the smallest to the largest of the numbers thus instanced, and from the largest on to those still larger, we repeat the question just asked; and we repeat it with a new sense of our own mental limitation. The number 100 unquestionably stands for a distinct conception. Perhaps the same may be said for 1000, though this could not be postulated with equal certainty. But what of 10,000? If that number of persons were gathered together into a single hall or amphitheatre, could an estimate be made by the average onlooker which would approximate with any degree of accuracy the size of the assembly? Or if an observer were stationed at a certain point, and 10,000 persons were to pass him in single file without his counting them as they passed, what sort of an estimate would he make of their number? The truth seems to be that our mental conception of number is much more limited than is commonly thought, and that we unconsciously adopt some new unit as a standard of comparison when we wish to render intelligible to our minds any number of considerable magnitude. For example, we say that A has a fortune of $1,000,000. The impression is at once conveyed of a considerable degree of wealth, but it is rather from the fact that that fortune represents an annual income of $40,000 than, from the actual magnitude of the fortune itself. The number 1,000,000 is, in itself, so greatly in excess of anything that enters into our daily experience that we have but a vague conception of it, except as something very great. We are not, after all, so very much better off than the child who, with his arms about his mother's neck, informs her with perfect gravity and sincerity that he "loves her a million bushels." His idea is merely of some very great amount, and our own is often but little clearer when we use the expressions which are so easily represented by a few digits. Among the uneducated portions of civilized communities the limit of clear comprehension of number is not only relatively, but absolutely, very low. Travellers in Russia have informed the writer that the peasants of that country have no distinct idea of a number consisting of but a few hundred even. There is no reason to doubt this testimony. The entire life of a peasant might be passed without his ever having occasion to use a number as great as 500, and as a result he might have respecting that number an idea less distinct than a trained mathematician would have of the distance from the earth to the sun. De Quincey[50] incidentally mentions this characteristic in narrating a conversation which occurred while he was at Carnarvon, a little town in Wales. "It was on this occasion," he says, "that I learned how vague are the ideas of number in unpractised minds. 'What number of people do you think,' I said to an elderly person, 'will be assembled this day at Carnarvon?' 'What number?' rejoined the person addressed; 'what number? Well, really, now, I should reckon—perhaps a matter of four million.' Four millions of extra people in little Carnarvon, that could barely find accommodation (I should calculate) for an extra four hundred!" So the Eskimo and the South American Indian are, after all, not so very far behind the "elderly person" of Carnarvon, in the distinct perception of a number which familiarity renders to us absurdly small.



In the comparison of languages and the search for primitive root forms, no class of expressions has been subjected to closer scrutiny than the little cluster of words, found in each language, which constitutes a part of the daily vocabulary of almost every human being—the words with which we begin our counting. It is assumed, and with good reason, that these are among the earlier words to appear in any language; and in the mutations of human speech, they are found to suffer less than almost any other portion of a language. Kinship between tongues remote from each other has in many instances been detected by the similarity found to exist among the every-day words of each; and among these words one may look with a good degree of certainty for the 1, 2, 3, etc., of the number scale. So fruitful has been this line of research, that the attempt has been made, even, to establish a common origin for all the races of mankind by means of a comparison of numeral words.[51] But in this instance, as in so many others that will readily occur to the mind, the result has been that the theory has finally taken possession of the author and reduced him to complete subjugation, instead of remaining his servant and submitting to the legitimate results of patient and careful investigation. Linguistic research is so full of snares and pitfalls that the student must needs employ the greatest degree of discrimination before asserting kinship of race because of resemblances in vocabulary; or even relationship between words in the same language because of some chance likeness of form that may exist between them. Probably no one would argue that the English and the Babusesse of Central Africa were of the same primitive stock simply because in the language of the latter five atano means 5, and ten kumi means 10.[52] But, on the other hand, many will argue that, because the German zehn means 10, and zehen means toes, the ancestors of the Germans counted on their toes; and that with them, 10 was the complete count of the toes. It may be so. We certainly have no evidence with which to disprove this; but, before accepting it as a fact, or even as a reasonable hypothesis, we may be pardoned for demanding some evidence aside from the mere resemblance in the form of the words. If, in the study of numeral words, form is to constitute our chief guide, we must expect now and then to be confronted with facts which are not easily reconciled with any pet theory.

The scope of the present work will admit of no more than a hasty examination of numeral forms, in which only actual and well ascertained meanings will be considered. But here we are at the outset confronted with a class of words whose original meanings appear to be entirely lost. They are what may be termed the numerals proper—the native, uncompounded words used to signify number. Such words are the one, two, three, etc., of English; the eins, zwei, drei, etc., of German; words which must at some time, in some prehistoric language, have had definite meanings entirely apart from those which they now convey to our minds. In savage languages it is sometimes possible to detect these meanings, and thus to obtain possession of the clue that leads to the development, in the barbarian's rude mind, of a count scale—a number system. But in languages like those of modern Europe, the pedigree claimed by numerals is so long that, in the successive changes through which they have passed, all trace of their origin seems to have been lost.

The actual number of such words is, however, surprisingly small in any language. In English we count by simple words only to 10. From this point onward all our numerals except "hundred" and "thousand" are compounds and combinations of the names of smaller numbers. The words we employ to designate the higher orders of units, as million, billion, trillion, etc., are appropriated bodily from the Italian; and the native words pair, tale, brace, dozen, gross, and score, can hardly be classed as numerals in the strict sense of the word. German possesses exactly the same number of native words in its numeral scale as English; and the same may be said of the Teutonic languages generally, as well as of the Celtic, the Latin, the Slavonic, and the Basque. This is, in fact, the universal method observed in the formation of any numeral scale, though the actual number of simple words may vary. The Chiquito language has but one numeral of any kind whatever; English contains twelve simple terms; Sanskrit has twenty-seven, while Japanese possesses twenty-four, and the Chinese a number almost equally great. Very many languages, as might be expected, contain special numeral expressions, such as the German dutzend and the French dizaine; but these, like the English dozen and score, are not to be regarded as numerals proper.

The formation of numeral words shows at a glance the general method in which any number scale has been built up. The primitive savage counts on his fingers until he has reached the end of one, or more probably of both, hands. Then, if he wishes to proceed farther, some mark is made, a pebble is laid aside, a knot tied, or some similar device employed to signify that all the counters at his disposal have been used. Then the count begins anew, and to avoid multiplication of words, as well as to assist the memory, the terms already used are again resorted to; and the name by which the first halting-place was designated is repeated with each new numeral. Hence the thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, etc., which are contractions of the fuller expressions three-and-ten, four-and-ten, five-and-ten, etc. The specific method of combination may not always be the same, as witness the eighteen, or eight-ten, in English, and dix-huit, or ten-eight, in French; forty-five, or four-tens-five, in English, and fuenf und vierzig, or five and four tens in German. But the general method is the same the world over, presenting us with nothing but local variations, which are, relatively speaking, entirely unimportant. With this fact in mind, we can cease to wonder at the small number of simple numerals in any language. It might, indeed, be queried, why do any languages, English and German, for example, have unusual compounds for 11 and 12? It would seem as though the regular method of compounding should begin with 10 and 1, instead of 10 and 3, in any language using a system with 10 as a base. An examination of several hundred numeral scales shows that the Teutonic languages are somewhat exceptional in this respect. The words eleven and twelve are undoubtedly combinations, but not in the same direct sense as thirteen, twenty-five, etc. The same may be said of the French onze, douze, treize, quatorze, quinze, and seize, which are obvious compounds, but not formed in the same manner as the numerals above that point. Almost all civilized languages, however, except the Teutonic, and practically all uncivilized languages, begin their direct numeral combinations as soon as they have passed their number base, whatever that may be. To give an illustration, selected quite at random from among the barbarous tribes of Africa, the Ki-Swahili numeral scale runs as follows:[53]

1. moyyi, 2. mbiri, 3. tato, 4. ena, 5. tano, 6. seta, 7. saba, 8. nani, 9. kenda, 10. kumi, 11. kumi na moyyi, 12. kumi na mbiri, 13. kumi na tato, etc.

The words for 11, 12, and 13, are seen at a glance to signify ten-and-one, ten-and-two, ten-and-three, and the count proceeds, as might be inferred, in a similar manner as far as the number system extends. Our English combinations are a little closer than these, and the combinations found in certain other languages are, in turn, closer than those of the English; as witness the once, 11, doce, 12, trece, 13, etc., of Spanish. But the process is essentially the same, and the law may be accepted as practically invariable, that all numerals greater than the base of a system are expressed by compound words, except such as are necessary to establish some new order of unit, as hundred or thousand.

In the scale just given, it will be noticed that the larger number precedes the smaller, giving 10 + 1, 10 + 2, etc., instead of 1 + 10, 2 + 10, etc. This seems entirely natural, and hardly calls for any comment whatever. But we have only to consider the formation of our English "teens" to see that our own method is, at its inception, just the reverse of this. Thirteen, 14, and the remaining numerals up to 19 are formed by prefixing the smaller number to the base; and it is only when we pass 20 that we return to the more direct and obvious method of giving precedence to the larger. In German and other Teutonic languages the inverse method is continued still further. Here 25 is fuenf und zwanzig, 5 and 20; 92 is zwei und neunzig, 2 and 90, and so on to 99. Above 100 the order is made direct, as in English. Of course, this mode of formation between 20 and 100 is permissible in English, where "five and twenty" is just as correct a form as twenty-five. But it is archaic, and would soon pass out of the language altogether, were it not for the influence of some of the older writings which have had a strong influence in preserving for us many of older and more essentially Saxon forms of expression.

Both the methods described above are found in all parts of the world, but what I have called the direct is far more common than the other. In general, where the smaller number precedes the larger it signifies multiplication instead of addition. Thus, when we say "thirty," i.e. three-ten, we mean 3 x 10; just as "three hundred" means 3 x 100. When the larger precedes the smaller, we must usually understand addition. But to both these rules there are very many exceptions. Among higher numbers the inverse order is very rarely used; though even here an occasional exception is found. The Taensa Indians, for example, place the smaller numbers before the larger, no matter how far their scale may extend. To say 1881 they make a complete inversion of our own order, beginning with 1 and ending with 1000. Their full numeral for this is yeha av wabki mar-u-wab mar-u-haki, which means, literally, 1 + 80 + 100 x 8 + 100 x 10.[54] Such exceptions are, however, quite rare.

One other method of combination, that of subtraction, remains to be considered. Every student of Latin will recall at once the duodeviginti, 2 from 20, and undeviginti, 1 from 20, which in that language are the regular forms of expression for 18 and 19. At first they seem decidedly odd; but familiarity soon accustoms one to them, and they cease entirely to attract any special attention. This principle of subtraction, which, in the formation of numeral words, is quite foreign to the genius of English, is still of such common occurrence in other languages that the Latin examples just given cease to be solitary instances.

The origin of numerals of this class is to be found in the idea of reference, not necessarily to the last, but to the nearest, halting-point in the scale. Many tribes seem to regard 9 as "almost 10," and to give it a name which conveys this thought. In the Mississaga, one of the numerous Algonquin languages, we have, for example, the word cangaswi, "incomplete 10," for 9.[55] In the Kwakiutl of British Columbia, 8 as well as 9 is formed in this way; these two numbers being matlguanatl, 10 - 2, and nanema, 10 - 1, respectively.[56] In many of the languages of British Columbia we find a similar formation for 8 and 9, or for 9 alone. The same formation occurs in Malay, resulting in the numerals delapan, 10 - 2, and sambilan 10 - 1.[57] In Green Island, one of the New Ireland group, these become simply andra-lua, "less 2," and andra-si, "less 1."[58] In the Admiralty Islands this formation is carried back one step further, and not only gives us shua-luea, "less 2," and shu-ri, "less 1," but also makes 7 appear as sua-tolu, "less 3."[59] Surprising as this numeral is, it is more than matched by the Ainu scale, which carries subtraction back still another step, and calls 6, 10 - 4. The four numerals from 6 to 9 in this scale are respectively, iwa, 10 - 4, arawa, 10 - 3, tupe-san, 10 - 2, and sinepe-san, 10 - 1.[60] Numerous examples of this kind of formation will be found in later chapters of this work; but they will usually be found to occur in one or both of the numerals, 8 and 9. Occasionally they appear among the higher numbers; as in the Maya languages, where, for example, 99 years is "one single year lacking from five score years,"[61] and in the Arikara dialects, where 98 and 99 are "5 men minus" and "5 men 1 not."[62] The Welsh, Danish, and other languages less easily accessible than these to the general student, also furnish interesting examples of a similar character.

More rarely yet are instances met with of languages which make use of subtraction almost as freely as addition, in the composition of numerals. Within the past few years such an instance has been noticed in the case of the Bellacoola language of British Columbia. In their numeral scale 15, "one foot," is followed by 16, "one man less 4"; 17, "one man less 3"; 18, "one man less 2"; 19, "one man less 1"; and 20, one man. Twenty-five is "one man and one hand"; 26, "one man and two hands less 4"; 36, "two men less 4"; and so on. This method of formation prevails throughout the entire numeral scale.[63]

One of the best known and most interesting examples of subtraction as a well-defined principle of formation is found in the Maya scale. Up to 40 no special peculiarity appears; but as the count progresses beyond that point we find a succession of numerals which one is almost tempted to call 60 - 19, 60 - 18, 60 - 17, etc. Literally translated the meanings seem to be 1 to 60, 2 to 60, 3 to 60, etc. The point of reference is 60, and the thought underlying the words may probably be expressed by the paraphrases, "1 on the third score, 2 on the third score, 3 on the third score," etc. Similarly, 61 is 1 on the fourth score, 81 is one on the fifth score, 381 is 1 on the nineteenth score, and so on to 400. At 441 the same formation reappears; and it continues to characterize the system in a regular and consistent manner, no matter how far it is extended.[64]

The Yoruba language of Africa is another example of most lavish use of subtraction; but it here results in a system much less consistent and natural than that just considered. Here we find not only 5, 10, and 20 subtracted from the next higher unit, but also 40, and even 100. For example, 360 is 400 - 40; 460 is 500 - 40; 500 is 600 - 100; 1300 is 1400 - 100, etc. One of the Yoruba units is 200; and all the odd hundreds up to 2000, the next higher unit, are formed by subtracting 100 from the next higher multiple of 200. The system is quite complex, and very artificial; and seems to have been developed by intercourse with traders.[65]

It has already been stated that the primitive meanings of our own simple numerals have been lost. This is also true of the languages of nearly all other civilized peoples, and of numerous savage races as well. We are at liberty to suppose, and we do suppose, that in very many cases these words once expressed meanings closely connected with the names of the fingers, or with the fingers themselves, or both. Now and then a case is met with in which the numeral word frankly avows its meaning—as in the Botocudo language, where 1 is expressed by podzik, finger, and 2 by kripo, double finger;[66] and in the Eskimo dialect of Hudson's Bay, where eerkitkoka means both 10 and little finger.[67] Such cases are, however, somewhat exceptional.

In a few noteworthy instances, the words composing the numeral scale of a language have been carefully investigated and their original meanings accurately determined. The simple structure of many of the rude languages of the world should render this possible in a multitude of cases; but investigators are too often content with the mere numerals themselves, and make no inquiry respecting their meanings. But the following exposition of the Zuni scale, given by Lieutenant Gushing[68] leaves nothing to be desired:

1. toepinte = taken to start with. 2. kwilli = put down together with. 3. ha'ī = the equally dividing finger. 4. awite = all the fingers all but done with. 5. oepte = the notched off.

This finishes the list of original simple numerals, the Zuni stopping, or "notching off," when he finishes the fingers of one hand. Compounding now begins.

6. topalik'ya = another brought to add to the done with. 7. kwillilik'ya = two brought to and held up with the rest. 8. hailik'ye = three brought to and held up with the rest. 9. tenalik'ya = all but all are held up with the rest. 10. aestem'thila = all the fingers. 11. aestem'thla topayae'thl'tona = all the fingers and another over above held.

The process of formation indicated in 11 is used in the succeeding numerals up to 19.

20. kwillik'yenaestem'thlan = two times all the fingers. 100. aessiaestem'thlak'ya = the fingers all the fingers. 1000. aessiaestem'thlanak'yenaestem'thla = the fingers all the fingers times all the fingers.

The only numerals calling for any special note are those for 11 and 9. For 9 we should naturally expect a word corresponding in structure and meaning to the words for 7 and 8. But instead of the "four brought to and held up with the rest," for which we naturally look, the Zuni, to show that he has used all of his fingers but one, says "all but all are held up with the rest." To express 11 he cannot use a similar form of composition, since he has already used it in constructing his word for 6, so he says "all the fingers and another over above held."

The one remarkable point to be noted about the Zuni scale is, after all, the formation of the words for 1 and 2. While the savage almost always counts on his fingers, it does not seem at all certain that these words would necessarily be of finger formation. The savage can always distinguish between one object and two objects, and it is hardly reasonable to believe that any external aid is needed to arrive at a distinct perception of this difference. The numerals for 1 and 2 would be the earliest to be formed in any language, and in most, if not all, cases they would be formed long before the need would be felt for terms to describe any higher number. If this theory be correct, we should expect to find finger names for numerals beginning not lower than 3, and oftener with 5 than with any other number. The highest authority has ventured the assertion that all numeral words have their origin in the names of the fingers;[69] substantially the same conclusion was reached by Professor Pott, of Halle, whose work on numeral nomenclature led him deeply into the study of the origin of these words. But we have abundant evidence at hand to show that, universal as finger counting has been, finger origin for numeral words has by no means been universal. That it is more frequently met with than any other origin is unquestionably true; but in many instances, which will be more fully considered in the following chapter, we find strictly non-digital derivations, especially in the case of the lowest members of the scale. But in nearly all languages the origin of the words for 1, 2, 3, and 4 are so entirely unknown that speculation respecting them is almost useless.

An excellent illustration of the ordinary method of formation which obtains among number scales is furnished by the Eskimos of Point Barrow,[70] who have pure numeral words up to 5, and then begin a systematic course of word formation from the names of their fingers. If the names of the first five numerals are of finger origin, they have so completely lost their original form, or else the names of the fingers themselves have so changed, that no resemblance is now to be detected between them. This scale is so interesting that it is given with considerable fulness, as follows:

1. atauzik. 2. madro. 3. pinasun. 4. sisaman. 5. tudlemut. 6. atautyimin akbinigin [tudlimu(t)] = 5 and 1 on the next. 7. madronin akbinigin = twice on the next. 8. pinasunin akbinigin = three times on the next. 9. kodlinotaila = that which has not its 10. 10. kodlin = the upper part—i.e. the fingers. 14. akimiaxotaityuna = I have not 15. 15. akimia. [This seems to be a real numeral word.] 20. inyuina = a man come to an end. 25. inyuina tudlimunin akbinidigin = a man come to an end and 5 on the next. 30. inyuina kodlinin akbinidigin = a man come to an end and 10 on the next. 35. inyuina akimiamin aipalin = a man come to an end accompanied by 1 fifteen times. 40. madro inyuina = 2 men come to an end.

In this scale we find the finger origin appearing so clearly and so repeatedly that one feels some degree of surprise at finding 5 expressed by a pure numeral instead of by some word meaning hand or fingers of one hand. In this respect the Eskimo dialects are somewhat exceptional among scales built up of digital words. The system of the Greenland Eskimos, though differing slightly from that of their Point Barrow cousins, shows the same peculiarity. The first ten numerals of this scale are:[71]

1. atausek. 2. mardluk. 3. pingasut. 4. sisamat. 5. tatdlimat. 6. arfinek-atausek = to the other hand 1. 7. arfinek-mardluk = to the other hand 2. 8. arfinek-pingasut = to the other hand 3. 9. arfinek-sisamat = to the other hand 4. 10. kulit.

The same process is now repeated, only the feet instead of the hands are used; and the completion of the second 10 is marked by the word innuk, man. It may be that the Eskimo word for 5 is, originally, a digital word, but if so, the fact has not yet been detected. From the analogy furnished by other languages we are justified in suspecting that this may be the case; for whenever a number system contains digital words, we expect them to begin with five, as, for example, in the Arawak scale,[72] which runs:

1. abba. 2. biama. 3. kabbuhin. 4. bibiti. 5. abbatekkabe = 1 hand. 6. abbatiman = 1 of the other. 7. biamattiman = 2 of the other. 8. kabbuhintiman = 3 of the other. 9. bibitiman = 4 of the other. 10. biamantekabbe = 2 hands. 11. abba kutihibena = 1 from the feet. 20. abba lukku = hands feet.

The four sets of numerals just given may be regarded as typifying one of the most common forms of primitive counting; and the words they contain serve as illustrations of the means which go to make up the number scales of savage races. Frequently the finger and toe origin of numerals is perfectly apparent, as in the Arawak system just given, which exhibits the simplest and clearest possible method of formation. Another even more interesting system is that of the Montagnais of northern Canada.[73] Here, as in the Zuni scale, the words are digital from the outset.

1. inl'are = the end is bent. 2. nak'e = another is bent. 3. t'are = the middle is bent. 4. dinri = there are no more except this. 5. se-sunla-re = the row on the hand. 6. elkke-t'are = 3 from each side. 7.{ t'a-ye-oyertan = there are still 3 of them. { inl'as dinri = on one side there are 4 of them. 8. elkke-dinri = 4 on each side. 9. inl'a-ye-oyert'an = there is still 1 more. 10. onernan = finished on each side. 11. onernan inl'are ttcharidhel = 1 complete and 1. 12. onernan nak'e ttcharidhel = 1 complete and 2, etc.

The formation of 6, 7, and 8 of this scale is somewhat different from that ordinarily found. To express 6, the Montagnais separates the thumb and forefinger from the three remaining fingers of the left hand, and bringing the thumb of the right hand close to them, says: "3 from each side." For 7 he either subtracts from 10, saying: "there are still 3 of them," or he brings the thumb and forefinger of the right hand up to the thumb of the left, and says: "on one side there are 4 of them." He calls 8 by the same name as many of the other Canadian tribes, that is, two 4's; and to show the proper number of fingers, he closes the thumb and little finger of the right hand, and then puts the three remaining fingers beside the thumb of the left hand. This method is, in some of these particulars, different from any other I have ever examined.

It often happens that the composition of numeral words is less easily understood, and the original meanings more difficult to recover, than in the examples already given. But in searching for number systems which show in the formation of their words the influence of finger counting, it is not unusual to find those in which the derivation from native words signifying finger, hand, toe, foot, and man, is just as frankly obvious as in the case of the Zuni, the Arawak, the Eskimo, or the Montagnais scale. Among the Tamanacs,[74] one of the numerous Indian tribes of the Orinoco, the numerals are as strictly digital as in any of the systems already examined. The general structure of the Tamanac scale is shown by the following numerals:

5. amgnaitone = 1 hand complete. 6. itacono amgna pona tevinitpe = 1 on the other hand. 10. amgna aceponare = all of the 2 hands. 11. puitta pona tevinitpe = 1 on the foot. 16. itacono puitta pona tevinitpe = 1 on the other foot. 20. tevin itoto = 1 man. 21. itacono itoto jamgnar bona tevinitpe = 1 on the hands of another man.

In the Guarani[75] language of Paraguay the same method is found, with a different form of expression for 20. Here the numerals in question are

5. asepopetei = one hand. 10. asepomokoi = two hands. 20. asepo asepi abe = hands and feet.

Another slight variation is furnished by the Kiriri language,[76] which is also one of the numerous South American Indian forms of speech, where we find the words to be

5. mi biche misa = one hand. 10. mikriba misa sai = both hands. 20. mikriba misa idecho ibi sai = both hands together with the feet.

Illustrations of this kind might be multiplied almost indefinitely; and it is well to note that they may be drawn from all parts of the world. South America is peculiarly rich in native numeral words of this kind; and, as the examples above cited show, it is the field to which one instinctively turns when this subject is under discussion. The Zamuco numerals are, among others, exceedingly interesting, giving us still a new variation in method. They are[77]

1. tsomara. 2. gar. 3. gadiok. 4. gahagani. 5. tsuena yimana-ite = ended 1 hand. 6. tsomara-hi = 1 on the other. 7. gari-hi = 2 on the other. 8. gadiog-ihi = 3 on the other. 9. gahagani-hi = 4 on the other. 10. tsuena yimana-die = ended both hands. 11. tsomara yiri-tie = 1 on the foot. 12. gar yiritie = 2 on the foot. 20. tsuena yiri-die = ended both feet.

As is here indicated, the form of progression from 5 to 10, which we should expect to be "hand-1," or "hand-and-1," or some kindred expression, signifying that one hand had been completed, is simply "1 on the other." Again, the expressions for 11, 12, etc., are merely "1 on the foot," "2 on the foot," etc., while 20 is "both feet ended."

An equally interesting scale is furnished by the language of the Maipures[78] of the Orinoco, who count

1. papita. 2. avanume. 3. apekiva. 4. apekipaki. 5. papitaerri capiti = 1 only hand. 6. papita yana pauria capiti purena = 1 of the other hand we take. 10. apanumerri capiti = 2 hands. 11. papita yana kiti purena = 1 of the toes we take. 20. papita camonee = 1 man. 40. avanume camonee = 2 men. 60. apekiva camonee = 3 men, etc.

In all the examples thus far given, 20 is expressed either by the equivalent of "man" or by some formula introducing the word "feet." Both these modes of expressing what our own ancestors termed a "score," are so common that one hesitates to say which is of the more frequent use. The following scale, from one of the Betoya dialects[79] of South America, is quite remarkable among digital scales, making no use of either "man" or "foot," but reckoning solely by fives, or hands, as the numerals indicate.

1. tey. 2. cayapa. 3. toazumba. 4. cajezea = 2 with plural termination. 5. teente = hand. 6. teyentetey = hand + 1. 7. teyente cayapa = hand + 2. 8. teyente toazumba = hand + 3. 9. teyente caesea = hand + 4. 10. caya ente, or caya huena = 2 hands. 11. caya ente-tey = 2 hands + 1. 15. toazumba-ente = 3 hands. 16. toazumba-ente-tey = 3 hands + 1. 20. caesea ente = 4 hands.

In the last chapter mention was made of the scanty numeral systems of the Australian tribes, but a single scale was alluded to as reaching the comparatively high limit of 20. This system is that belonging to the Pikumbuls,[80] and the count runs thus:

1. mal. 2. bular. 3. guliba. 4. bularbular = 2-2. 5. mulanbu. 6. malmulanbu mummi = 1 and 5 added on. 7. bularmulanbu mummi = 2 and 5 added on. 8. gulibamulanbu mummi = 3 and 5 added on. 9. bularbularmulanbu mummi = 4 and 5 added on. 10. bularin murra = belonging to the 2 hands. 11. maldinna mummi = 1 of the toes added on (to the 10 fingers). 12. bular dinna mummi = 2 of the toes added on. 13. guliba dinna mummi = 3 of the toes added on. 14. bular bular dinna mummi = 4 of the toes added on. 15. mulanba dinna = 5 of the toes added on. 16. mal dinna mulanbu = 1 and 5 toes. 17. bular dinna mulanbu = 2 and 5 toes. 18. guliba dinna mulanbu = 3 and 5 toes. 19. bular bular dinna mulanbu = 4 and 5 toes. 20. bularin dinna = belonging to the 2 feet.

As has already been stated, there is good ground for believing that this system was originally as limited as those obtained from other Australian tribes, and that its extension from 4, or perhaps from 5 onward, is of comparatively recent date.

A somewhat peculiar numeral nomenclature is found in the language of the Klamath Indians of Oregon. The first ten words in the Klamath scale are:[81]

1. nash, or nas. 2. lap = hand. 3. ndan. 4. vunep = hand up. 5. tunep = hand away. 6. nadshkshapta = 1 I have bent over. 7. lapkshapta = 2 I have bent over. 8. ndankshapta = 3 I have bent over. 9. nadshskeksh = 1 left over. 10. taunep = hand hand?

In describing this system Mr. Gatschet says: "If the origin of the Klamath numerals is thus correctly traced, their inventors must have counted only the four long fingers without the thumb, and 5 was counted while saying hand away! hand off! The 'four,' or hand high! hand up! intimates that the hand was held up high after counting its four digits; and some term expressing this gesture was, in the case of nine, substituted by 'one left over' ... which means to say, 'only one is left until all the fingers are counted.'" It will be observed that the Klamath introduces not only the ordinary finger manipulation, but a gesture of the entire hand as well. It is a common thing to find something of the kind to indicate the completion of 5 or 10, and in one or two instances it has already been alluded to. Sometimes one or both of the closed fists are held up; sometimes the open hand, with all the fingers extended, is used; and sometimes an entirely independent gesture is introduced. These are, in general, of no special importance; but one custom in vogue among some of the prairie tribes of Indians, to which my attention was called by Dr. J. Owen Dorsey,[82] should be mentioned. It is a gesture which signifies multiplication, and is performed by throwing the hand to the left. Thus, after counting 5, a wave of the hand to the left means 50. As multiplication is rather unusual among savage tribes, this is noteworthy, and would seem to indicate on the part of the Indian a higher degree of intelligence than is ordinarily possessed by uncivilized races.

In the numeral scale as we possess it in English, we find it necessary to retain the name of the last unit of each kind used, in order to describe definitely any numeral employed. Thus, fifteen, one hundred forty-two, six thousand seven hundred twenty-seven, give in full detail the numbers they are intended to describe. In primitive scales this is not always considered necessary; thus, the Zamucos express their teens without using their word for 10 at all. They say simply, 1 on the foot, 2 on the foot, etc. Corresponding abbreviations are often met; so often, indeed, that no further mention of them is needed. They mark one extreme, the extreme of brevity, found in the savage method of building up hand, foot, and finger names for numerals; while the Zuni scale marks the extreme of prolixity in the formation of such words. A somewhat ruder composition than any yet noticed is shown in the numerals of the Vilelo scale,[83] which are:

1. agit, or yaagit. 2. uke. 3. nipetuei. 4. yepkatalet. 5. isig-nisle-yaagit = hand fingers 1. 6. isig-teet-yaagit = hand with 1. 7. isig-teet-uke = hand with 2. 8. isig-teet-nipetuei = hand with 3. 9. isig-teet-yepkatalet = hand with 4. 10. isig-uke-nisle = second hand fingers (lit. hand-two-fingers). 11. isig-uke-nisle-teet-yaagit = second hand fingers with 1. 20. isig-ape-nisle-lauel = hand foot fingers all.

In the examples thus far given, it will be noticed that the actual names of individual fingers do not appear. In general, such words as thumb, forefinger, little finger, are not found, but rather the hand-1, 1 on the next, or 1 over and above, which we have already seen, are the type forms for which we are to look. Individual finger names do occur, however, as in the scale of the Hudson's Bay Eskimos,[84] where the three following words are used both as numerals and as finger names:

8. kittukleemoot = middle finger. 9. mikkeelukkamoot = fourth finger. 10. eerkitkoka = little finger.

Words of similar origin are found in the original Jiviro scale,[85] where the native numerals are:

1. ala. 2. catu. 3. cala. 4. encatu. 5. alacoetegladu = 1 hand. 6. intimutu = thumb (of second hand). 7. tannituna = index finger. 8. tannituna cabiasu = the finger next the index finger. 9. bitin oetegla cabiasu = hand next to complete. 10. catoegladu = 2 hands.

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