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Nenets numbers (was Re: Phonemic vocalic length in PU/PFU (was Re: Questions about Hungarian))

From:Tamás Racskó <tracsko@...>
Date:Wednesday, May 19, 2004, 10:59
On 18 May Alex Fink <a4pq1injbok_0@F...> wrote:

> I've read (for instance in the 12 March entry at > that Nenets once had a base 9 > system. Have you heard amything about this?
I didn't hear anything. However, I think even if it's true, it should be a secondary development. In the list of Samoyedic numbers at <>, we can find Nenets s'idend'et for '8', this is clearly "2 times 4" (s'id'a '2' + t'et '4'). The same is true for the other members of Northern group. This could mean that there was a previous base 4 system. Moreover, Samoyedic numbers '10' are possibly cognate of Finno- Ugric numbers '5'. This can be interpreted as an evidence of an early base 5 system. Etc. We can find a lot of number systems if we want. I see the point in somewhere else. Nenets used no great absolute numerals before they met with Russians. They used "measuring nouns" instead, nouns like English dozen, bundle etc. E.g. they gave five "bundles" of fur for a gun when they traded with the Russian prioneers. It's possible that a "bundle" consisted 9 pieces of fur, thus they began to develop a base 9 system in this stage. But IMHO this was also due to the Russian influence, it was temporary and it was soon replaced by the base 10 system. This "measuring nouns" can be proved in the other Uralic languages, too. E.g. Hungarian kéve 'sheaf (of grain that can be clasped in hands during reaping)' > kalangya (or: kereszt) '30 sheaves' > kepe '60 sheaves': reaped grain was counted in kalangya's and kepe's instead of tens or hundreads of sheaves. Moreover, some authors think that the anterior constituent of Ugric numbers '8' (Hungarian nyol.c, Vogul n'ol.low, Ostyak n'1l.@G) originally meant 'a bundle of squirrel fur or dried fish containing 8 pieces'. In addition to the above, there was an earlier period when Hungarian kalangya meant 24 sheaves (and not 30 ones). This change is similar to the shift of the Nenets counting base, but neither Hungarian nor Nenets example doesn't mean the change of the base of the number system in mathematical sense. The cultures lacking the concept of money (including self-supporting feudal communities) don't use exact numbers, they apply rather relative measurements valid for the actual barter (comparison).