Endangerment and Revitalization of Indigenous Numeral Systems of South Asia

Author: Kumari Mamta (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Speaker: Kumari Mamta
Topic: Language revitalization
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Numerals are intriguing in itself as a linguistic category: They are lexical elements which are grammatically effective and employ a generative system while deriving higher values; they also interact with grammatical systems of quantification. Numeral systems are particularly noteworthy for their considerable cross linguistic variation; languages may range from having no precise numeral terms at all to having systems whose limits are practically infinite. As Anderson (2005: 26) points out, numerals are thus a “liminal” linguistic category that is subject to cultural elaboration.

This paper tries to show the present scenario of endangerment of numeral system (with many examples) and need of their revitalization in the languages of south Asia. It will also present the efforts needed to increase numerals vitality. The rich morphosyntactic structures of numerals are vanishing rapidly of languages like Khasi, Bodo, Kurukh, Santali, Mundari, Tangkhul, Thangal, Khasi etc. Many interesting features are there in the numerals whose retention is very much important in order to prevent the language and culture loss. Numeration is very much related to the culture of the particular linguistic area. This paper will present the scenario of Numeral systems of dominant language cultures have pushed other indigenous numeral systems to the verge of extinction. The language systems of the world are evolving and adapting itself towards a decimal counting system now. This effect can not only be seen on any particular kind of numerals but the numeral system as a whole along with quantification. The field of study on the revitalization of any particular language is growing rapidly but there is no or very less number of studies or researches are there on particularly revitalizing the numeral and quantification system which plays a very important role in any particular language.

The numeral systems of many languages are now endangered even if the languages are not. Many languages are losing their numeral systems rapidly as they are mostly not in use or are heavily influenced by the dominant neighboring language. Many languages are shifting their number systems into the predominantly decimal base or else into the dominant language spoken in the region. Younger generations do not want to use the traditional numeral system (case of Kurukh, parallely two types of numeral systems are in use today), they use the dominant variety. So as a linguist, it is crucial to preserve the numeral system of such languages which are losing their individuality due to the prestige and prevalence of prominent language on the rise. As a result many uncommon systems are quickly vanishing along with the incredible mathematical complex structures they hold.


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Bowern, Claire. 2010. Correlates of language change in Hunter-gatherer and other “small” languages. Language and Linguistics Compass 4, 665-679.
Chan, E. 2013. Numeral systems of world’s languages. http://lingweb.eva.mpg.de/numeral/(accessed 17 June 2013).
Keywords: Morphosyntax, numerals, endangerment, vitality, revitalization