Dec 03

While it would be nice if fortune went more hand-in-hand with fame, fame sometimes brings one a nice surprise. I often get inquiries from people looking into languages and writing systems, and sometimes those queries are really very interesting. Last night, I received a very nice request from a charming person from West Virginia whose initials are V.E.L., who was born in 1927ː

Good evening to you, sir. This may sound very stupid to you but I’m willing to take that chance to ask you a question; I’m 80 years old and, as a young kid, I remember my Mother telling me and my siblings that she could count to 20 in Cherokee. We, of course, memorized that stuff and still have most of it stored in the old noggin. It went like this; teen, tain, tether, fether, fimps, matha, latha, catha, doublo, beaudix, teendix, taindix, tetherdix, fetherdix, bumpus, teenbump, tainbump, tetherbump, fetherbump, jenkus. (1 to 20)

It turns out that the numbers one to ten in Cherokee really don’t have anything to do with the list which V.E.L. gave.

1 sa’wu
2 ta’li’
3 tsoː’i’
4 nvgi’
5 hiːsgi’
6 su’dali’
7 galoquoː’gi’
8 tsuneːla’
9 so’neːla’
10 sgo’hi’

So it’s not Cherokee.

Is there any possibility that there was any merit at all in this, or was she simply kidding with us? I have been under the impression that dix was possibly French for 10 and that, coupled with teen for 11, makes a little bit of sense to me. The spelling is just my idea of how the words sounded and I am not a linguist at all. If you can find time to respond, it will greatly appreciated.

I think there’s a good chance it’s Welsh. At least some of it is. It’s five and the shift after fifteen that clinch it for me.

W.Va. IPA Welsh IPA
1 teen tiːn un iːn
2 tain tɑɪn dau dɑɪ
3 tether ˈtɛðər tri triː
4 fether ˈfɛðər pedwar ˈpɛdwɑr
5 fimps fɪmps pemp pɛmp
6 matha ˈmɑθə chwech xwɛx
7 latha ˈlɑθə saith sɑɪθ
8 catha ˈkɑθə wyth wɪθ
9 doublo ˈduːblo naw nɑʊ
10 beaudix ˈboːdɪks deg deg
11 teendix ˈtiːndɪks un ar ddeg iːn ɑr ðeg
12 taindix ˈtɑɪndɪks deuddeg deɪðeg
13 tetherdix ˈtɛðərdɪks tri ar ddeg triː ɑr ðeg
14 fetherdix ˈfɛðərdɪks pedwar ar ddeg ˈpɛdwɑr ɑr ðeg
15 bumpus ˈbʌmpəs pymtheg ˈpɪmθeg
16 teenbump ˈtiːnbʌmp un ar bymtheg iːn ɑr ˈbɪmθeg
17 tainbump ˈtɑɪnbʌmp dau ar bymtheg dɑɪ ɑr ˈbɪmθeg
18 tetherbump ˈtɛðərbʌmp deunaw ˈdeɪnɑʊ
19 fetherbump ˈfɛðərbʌmp pedwar ar bymtheg ˈpɛdwɑr ɑr ˈbɪmθeg
20 jenkus ˈdʒɛŋkəs ugain ˈigɑɪn

7 Responses to “Counting preservation in West Virginia”

  1. Andrew West says:

    Very interesting! Sounds to me as if these are a form of the Cumbria Sheep Counting Numbers which some people optimistically believe are a relic of the Brythonic Celtic language spoken in Northern England and southern Lowland Scotland a thousand years ago, and which others, more cautiously, think are corruptions of Welsh numbers introduced into the region by Welsh shepherds.

    It would be interesting to know where your correspondent’s mother’s family originally came from.

  2. Michael Everson says:

    Thanks to both of you. I hadn’t heard of the Cumbrian numbers before.

  3. Michael Everson says:

    My informant says that his mother’s name is Ellison. From the 1881 UK census: http://www.nationaltrustnames.org.uk/Map.aspx?name=ELLISON&year=1881&altyear=1998&country=GB&type=name

  4. My Name is Iosifina says:

    Wow, someone else knows how to count with teen, tain,….My grandmother from eastern Kentucky taught me how, and I’m the only grandchild to still have it memorized. Just curious to see if anyone else knew this jingle, I googled it, and your blog appeared.
    –Iosifina

  5. Harry Campbell says:

    The way it "jingles" is immediately recognisable as a one of those shepherd's counting systems (which are not just Cumbrian, see the fuller coverage at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yan_Tan_Tethera). Permit me a little correction on the Welsh: it's pump [pɪmp] not pemp. In your transcriptions, wyth is [uiθ] not [wɪθ] and pymtheg (etc) should [ˈpəmθeg] not [ˈpɪmθeg].

  6. Harry Campbell says:

    It's fascinating to think of these counting systems travelling as far as places like West Virginia, and still being remembered to this day (if only as a curiosity).

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