I know the previous post in this series was a few months ago, so let me catch you up a little bit. Nahuatl is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Mexico, being the language of the Aztecs of old. However, it can be somewhat deceiving to refer to it as a language—there are actually a number of different dialects spoken across the country, and all are different from Classical Nahuatl, the lingua franca of the Aztec Empire. The dialect I am presenting in this basic tutorial is the Western Huasteca dialect, spoken in the states of Hidalgo and San Luis Potosí.
The previous post was about the alphabet and phonetic system of the language, which is really very simple compared to some languages. If you need to go back and review, feel free to do so, then come back here and let’s learn some numbers.
One through ten are the most used numbers, and are as follows:
Got that? Now before we move on to the larger numbers, let me tell you something interesting about the Nahuatl way of counting. In English, we use a base-10 system: that is, we count to ten, and then we start a second set of ten (ending in twenty), then a third, and so on, presumably because we have ten fingers. In computer science, the binary system is base-2, and the hexadecimal system is base-16 (some 16-fingered aliens must have come up with that one). Well, the Aztecs were rather ingenious, and their system is base-20, presumably because they used their toes for counting too.
So you see the list of numbers above is only halfway done—let’s finish it off:
|majtlaktli wan se
|majtlaktli wan ome
|majtlaktli wan eyi
|majtlaktli wan nawi
|kaxtoli wan se
|kaxtoli wan ome
|kaxtoli wan eyi
|kaxtoli wan nawi
You may notice a recurrence of the word wan. This word means “and,” and is a very useful word to know. You may also notice that there is a special word for fifteen, and 16-19 are built off of that. I don’t know why it’s that way, but many things about language are inexplicable. From here on out things are pretty straightforward. Take a look at the next set of twenty:
|sempoali wan se
|sempoali wan ome
|sempoali wan eyi
|sempoali wan nawi
|sempoali wan makuili
|sempoali wan chikuase
|sempoali wan chikome
|sempoali wan chikueyi
|sempoali wan chiknawi
|sempoali wan majtlaktli
|sempoali wan majtlaktli wan se
|sempoali wan majtlaktli wan ome
|sempoali wan majtlaktli wan eyi
|sempoali wan majtlaktli wan nawi
|sempoali wan kaxtoli
|sempoali wan kaxtoli wan se
|sempoali wan kaxtoli wan ome
|sempoali wan kaxtoli wan eyi
|sempoali wan kaxtoli wan nawi
So you see, in the Nahuatl speaker’s mind, there is no thirty, just one and a half twenties! Of course, since most Nahuatl speakers nowadays speak Spanish as well, I believe these larger numbers have fallen out of use in favour of their Spanish counterparts (sempoali wan majtlaktli wan ome is quite a mouthful when you could just say treinta y dos).
Now to finish it off, here are the names of the other sets of twenty:
I will let you figure out how to say 70 and 90. Hope you enjoyed this post! Next time: colours.