Counting by Tens: Specific Counting in Southeast Solomonic Languages

Deborah HILL, Paul Unger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Southeast Solomonic (SES) languages have retained the Proto-Oceanic decimal
system for general counting, and also show evidence of a supplementary
specific counting system, based on the number ten. These languages have
lexemes that refer, for example, to ‘ten pigs’ or ‘ten coconuts’ (numerically
specific nouns), as well as lexemes that refer to ‘pig’ and ‘coconut’. This
paper describes the linguistic and cultural context of this counting system. It
describes the syntactic behavior of numerically specific nouns and the cultural
context in which they were used. This specific counting system is not
widely used today, and in any individual language there may be only a small
number of numerically specific nouns. However, by looking at the languages
as a group, with shared cultural and trading practices, the specific counting
system and its uses can be better understood. In the specific counting systems
of the SES, speakers count edible and nonedible objects of value and
exchange by tens to calculate and remember large numbers during times of
feasting and exchange.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-143
Number of pages21
JournalOceanic Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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