SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Endangered Numeral Systems of the World's Languages

THIS EVENT IS ARCHIVED

Date: 3 October 2018Time: 3:30 PM

Finishes: 3 October 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Faber Building, 23/24 Russell Square Room: FG01

Type of Event: Seminar

Speaker: Eugene S. L. Chan 陈西林 (Hong Kong and Jena, Germany)

Abstract:

The world’s languages use a variety of numeral systems: duodecimal, decimal (complete or incomplete), quinary, quaternary or binary systems, mixed systems, body-part tally systems and others. Certain South American indigenous languages only distinguish between one and many. These fascinating phenomena, like a kaleidoscope, reflect the diversity and different development steps of human counting concepts.

   During rapid globalization, the act of counting in a minority language is left to older members of the community, while the younger generations tend to express numerals in the dominant language(s), with the result that the traditional numeral systems of most small languages are being rapidly lost. Even the numeral systems of large languages can be endangered, e.g. Japanese and Thai numerals have been largely replaced by Chinese ones (Comrie 2005). Numerals interact with the rest of grammar and may have unique morphosyntactic rules. Nevertheless, numerals are often neglected or completely ignored in many grammars. Research on numeral systems is not only a very interesting topic but also an academically valuable reference resource for those involved in disciplines such as Linguistics, Anthropology, Ethnology, History, and Philosophy of Mathematics.

In this talk I shall also introduce my on-going project to document the numeral systems of the world’s languages and their genetic classification, phonological systems, and counting concepts. In the last thirty years I have recorded and analyzed the numeral systems of the world's languages, and so far have successfully collected data on the basic numeral systems of 4,380 languages. Most of the data were kindly provided by linguists, anthropologists, and other scholars working in their respective fields. The majority of the data are recorded in standard IPA symbols or phonemic transcriptions. All are available on the Numeral Systems of the World's Languages website.

As the traditional numeral systems of small languages are being rapidly replaced by those of dominant languages, it is an urgent task to document these important linguistic data before they are completely forgotten. However, more complete data for the remaining 2500 or so languages are not yet available, so we need further generous support from fellow linguists.

About the speaker:

Eugene S. L. Chan 陈西林 is an independent anthropological linguist based in Hong Kong and a Cooperative Researcher with the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany, where he works on a collaborative project on the documentation of the numeral systems of the world’s languages, formerly hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

Over the past 30 years, Eugene created a network of correspondents consisting of about 3,000 linguists, anthropologists and other scholars from over 160 countries, who have kindly provided data on the basic numeral systems, thus creating a database of 4,380 languages entitled Numeral Systems of the World's Languages. The majority of the data are recorded in standard IPA symbols.

E-mail addresses: euslchan@yahoo.com or eugenechans@hkbn.net