Counting in Greenlandic - 1 to 20
Now the numbers in Greenlandic may seem a bit mysterious. In common with the other Inuit, Greenlanders historically used to count in a base-20 (vigesimal) system. In more recent times, native numbers higher than 12 have been replaced by Danish numbers, but I was inspired by a query from @learngreenlandic to set out the explanations for how the numbers came to be.
As you can perhaps guess from the picture, the base-20 system is based on counting fingers and toes! And to a certain extent this is reflected in the meaning of the numbers. Based on a few sources*, I’ve set out some explanations below:
1 ataaseq - from Proto-Eskimo (PE) ata- be attached or persisting + (possibly) -useq manner of doing something, giving something like “that which persists/remains [… if you take away the rest?]”
2 marluk - from PE malʀuɣ (note metathesis of the original middle consonants in Greenlandic) which is believed to be related to PE maliɣ- follow. Note the ending -k is a remnant in Greenlandic of the dual number, which existed until a few hundred years ago Greenlandic, and which still exists in some other Inuit dialects, and Yupik and Aleut. So the meaning is perhaps “[the pair] following”.
3 pingasut – the derivation is unclear here. Fortescue (1994) suggests that it might be related to the demonstrative pronoun PE piŋ- up-slope. With the final -t the meaning is clearly plural. Perhaps it can be interpreted as “the ones going up [to the middle of the hand]” i.e. the first three fingers = 3.
4 sisamat – derives from PE citamat and like the numbers above is represented across Inuit and Yupik dialects, but the meaning is unclear here. This one refers to (the fingers up to) the index finger, and so Fortescue (1994) suggests a possible connection with PE citǝ(ɣ)- be hard. For the -ma- component see tallimat below although this is not mentioned in any of the sources. So on this basis it might be “those being up to the hard one”
5 tallimat - this one is more transparently related to PE taɬiʀ arm (Greenlandic taleq), with the addition of PE -li- make and -ma- possibly from PE -(u)maʀ- continually, with a plural -t. So perhaps the meaning is “those making up the arm”, i.e. all five fingers.
6 arfinillit – Fortescue (1984) suggests this is related to PE aʀvaɣ edge of hand (Greenlandic arfak/arfaq), with the addition of -li- make, -nǝʀ- the act of doing [verb] (Greenlandic -neq) and -lǝɣ one provided with, with the addition of -t plural as with the above. So perhaps meaning “those which are provided [when one has reached] the edge of the [second] hand [after counting the first hand]”, i.e. five from the first hand and the first one on the edge of the second. On the other hand, Dorais (2010) suggests a link with PE aʀviʀ- cross over, presumably with the idea of crossing over from one hand to the other. I’ll let you be the judge.
7 arfineq-marluk – this is one that might seem a bit confusing for the learner, because it appears to be “six + two” but means seven! However arfineq is not the same as arfinillit and on the basis of the above it could mean “[having reached] the edge [plus] a pair of followers”
8 arfineq-pingasut – same logic as above “[having reached] the edge [plus] the (three) fingers [up to the middle finger]”
9 qulingiluat (and also qulaaluat (northen Kalaallisut) and arfineq-sisamat southern Kalaallisut). Fortescue (1994) suggests the first two forms are from the formidable PE qulǝŋŋuʀutǝŋit- formed from PE qulǝ(t) ten (see below) + ŋŋurbecome + utǝ + do with/for + ŋit- lack, so roughly meaning“lacking in becoming ten”. Bjørnum (2003) however suggests that qulingiluat (and qulaaluat) are derived more simply from quli(t) + iluat based on iluat their inside i.e. “those inside ten”.
10 qulit – this one is transparently based on the PE root qulǝ- the upper part, in other words “[all of] the ones in the upper part [of the body]”, i.e. all ten fingers.
11 aqqanillit – Fortescue suggests this is from aqqar- descend which appears to be derived from PE atʀaʀ- go down which is itself derived from PE at(ǝ)- down. So by analogy with arfinillit above, we would have “those which are provided when one has descended”, i.e. the first toe together with ten fingers already counted. There is also an alternative form isikkaneq (northern Kalaallisut) which according to Bjørnum (2003) is derived from isigaqfoot and -ni on which geminates to isikkani on the foot with (presumably) an epenthetic -q to close the word; Fortescue (1984) also lists isikkanillit as another form. The following numbers can also be formed with isikkaneq- as the first part instead of aqqaneq-.
12 aqqaneq-marluk – by analogy with arfineq-marluk, this would mean something like “descent [plus] a pair of followers”
13 aqqaneq-pingasut – same logic. As noted above, for numbers 13 and above Danish forms are used, so these forms are essentially of historical interest.
14 aqqaneq-sisamat – same logic
15 aqqaneq-tallimat – same logic
16 arfersanillit – this is clearly a related form to arfinillit/arfineq above. It is not entirely clear how the underlying arfersaneq is built up in comparison to arfineq (and this is not explained in any sources I have seen), but I guess that it probably denotes another edge being reached, i.e. “[those provided when having reached] the edge of the [second] foot [after having counted the first foot (and all the fingers)]” by analogy with the forms for 6 and above.
17 arfersaneq-marluk - same logic as above
18 arfersaneq-pingasut – same logic
19 arfersaneq-sisamat – same logic
20 inuk naallugu – from inuk person which is the object of naallugu [while] completing it (contemporative form, singular third person object of naavaa he/she completes it). So meaning “completing the person”. Which is a nice way to end the lesson!
I hope you enjoyed the tour of the fingers and toes! There’s a little divergence between the sources, so I’ve chosen the explanations that seemed to make most sense to me. Also in Dorais (2010) there are also a few interesting examples from different Inuit dialects which show that the approaches to counting above 10 diverge quite a bit, suggesting that the Inuit and Yupik dialect only share proto-forms from 1 to 10, and other forms developed separately to some degree after that.
Happy to take questions or corrections as ever!
Fortescue, Jacobson & Kaplan (1994), Comparative Eskimo Dictionary with Aleut Cognates
Bjørnum (2003), Grønlandsk Grammatik
Fortescue (1984), West Greenlandic
Dorais (2010), The Language of the Inuit