Skip to main content

¡Xijyeko nawatl! – Numbers

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:

1 se
2 ome
3 eyi
4 nawi
5 makuili
6 chikuase
7 chikome
8 chikueyi
9 chiknawi
10 majtlaktli

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:

11 majtlaktli wan se
12 majtlaktli wan ome
13 majtlaktli wan eyi
14 majtlaktli wan nawi
15 kaxtoli
16 kaxtoli wan se
17 kaxtoli wan ome
18 kaxtoli wan eyi
19 kaxtoli wan nawi
20 sempoali

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:

21 sempoali wan se
22 sempoali wan ome
23 sempoali wan eyi
24 sempoali wan nawi
25 sempoali wan makuili
26 sempoali wan chikuase
27 sempoali wan chikome
28 sempoali wan chikueyi
29 sempoali wan chiknawi
30 sempoali wan majtlaktli
31 sempoali wan majtlaktli wan se
32 sempoali wan majtlaktli wan ome
33 sempoali wan majtlaktli wan eyi
34 sempoali wan majtlaktli wan nawi
35 sempoali wan kaxtoli
36 sempoali wan kaxtoli wan se
37 sempoali wan kaxtoli wan ome
38 sempoali wan kaxtoli wan eyi
39 sempoali wan kaxtoli wan nawi
40 ompoali

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:

60 expoali
80 napoali
100 makuilpoali

I will let you figure out how to say 70 and 90. Hope you enjoyed this post! Next time: colours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *