Hawaiian numbers

W. D. Alexander, writing sometime between 1864 and 1908 in his Introduction to Hawaiian Grammar, sez:

The cardinal numbers are as follows:
1. kahi
2. lua
3. kolu
4. ha
5. lima
6. ono
7. hiku
8. walu
9. iwa
10. umi
11. umikumamakahi
12. umikumamalua
20. iwakalua
21. iwakaluakumamakahi
30. kanakolu
40. kanaha
400. lau
4,000. manu
40,000. kini
400,000. lehu
[The following have been introduced by the American missionaries]:
50. kanalima
60. kanaono
70. kanahiku
80. kanawalu
90. kanaiwa
100. haneri
1,000. tausani
1,000,000. miliona. &c.
Formerly 100 would have been expressed thus, "elua kanaha me ka iwakalua."

... which you can probably see means "two forties and twenty." Anyway, I was tickled by the sudden jump from one/two-syllable words for the numbers 1-10 to the seven-syllable umikumamakahi for 11 (apparently written 'umi kumamākahi these days, except with a proper 'okina)... although then I realized that all but one of the English numbers 1-10 had one syllable, and we suddenly jump to a word three times as long too.

So I looked up kumamā in the New Pocket Hawaiian Dictionary to see if it has any meaning other than "times ten plus", and found that it is "rarely used in conversation; Biblical." Its modern replacement is kūmā, but no derivation is listed. ( can mean "stand" or "stop", and kumu can mean "base", though, and ma means beside and can be lengthened in some cases... but that's just total guesstymology. Time to download and spotlight-search this, I suppose...)

P.S. This is just adorable.

Popularity factor: 12


What I always wanted to know was, why did you have to speak a whole sentence just to get out a single word in Hawaiian? iwakaluakumamakahi seems awfully excessive just to say "twenty one."

Maybe it's a rarely-spoken number or something.

Mark S.:

Hawaiian's like Japanese in that it doesn't have all that many different syllable sounds. It's thus not unusual for some words to get relatively long. (Obligatory romanization-related comments follow.) But Hawaiian's relative paucity of syllable sounds hasn't forced people to write it with Chinese characters, of course; the Roman alphabet serves just fine. Similarly, the Japanese language's relative paucity of syllable sounds doesn't *force* the use kanji. And Mandarin has many more times the number of syllables of Hawaiian or Japanese, especially if tones are taken into account, so it most certainly could get by with romanization. The dreaded "homonym problem" is a myth. / end preachifying


Ah, but on the other hand, if not for hanzi, learning Chinese (on my own) would be such a daunting task that I would never even have attempted it.

Of course, on a third hand borrowed especially for the occasion, if not for pinyin, learning Chinese (on my own) would be such a daunting task that I would never have attempted it.

So, in summary, 一国两制 is working out pretty well for me.


あの、I think you've got an extra 'ma' syllable in there. According to "Beginning Hawaiian" by A.P.Hopkins, 11 is 'umikûmâkahi and 21 is iwakâluakûmâkahi. If you add some hyphens you'll see that the numbers are logically formed: 'umi-kûmâ-kahi, 10 plus 1 iwakâlua-kûmâ-kahi, 20 plus 1.

Also, the numbers from 1-9 are usually given with a preceding 'e ('ekahi, 'elua, 'ekolu, ...), so the increase in syllables isn't quite as great.

Disclaimer: IANAH (I Am Not A Hawaiian)

- Language Geek


I should have made that clearer -- kumama is an older (now "Biblical") form that Alexander was apparently most familiar with either because when he was alive it was "older", or because he was so into the Bible (so many of his examples are from there). He doesn't even mention kuma, so maybe back then it hadn't been formed yet or was still non-standard.

So, yeah, the numbers are logically formed -- that's why my question is, what's kuma/kumama? If it just means "plus", does it appear elsewhere with similar uses? And... apparently not. At least not in an easily recognizable form.

The 'e thing I will cop to, yeah. In real language the syllable difference is a little less. Although! There is allegedly a gap between the 'e and the number, so I call technicality.



(I am using the proper ʻ for the ʻokina, even though it's not going to display correctly even for me, as No-sword's css specifies Verdana. But it should show up OK for Firefox users, and that's enough to make me stick with the correct representation.)

From Elbert and Pukui's Hawaiian Grammar (1979)

«... The etymologies of kūmā- and iwakālua are not known. (Kūmā- is probably old: in Rennellese tumaʻa is glossed 'more than'; thus 'eleven' is angahugu tumaʻa tahi.) In the Bible and in very formal speech kūmā- is replaced by kumamā

Since Alexander doesn't give vowel lengths, and presents the borrowed higher numbers in a much less naturalised form, here are E&P's numbers:

«...Digits below ten are preceded by a general classifer ʻe- (or rarely ʻa-):

ʻe-kahi 1ʻe-lua 2ʻe-kolu 3ʻe-hā 4ʻe-lima 5ʻe-ono 6ʻe-hiku 7ʻe-walu 8ʻe-iwa 9


Numbers above nine have no classifying prefixes. They are:

ʻumi 10ʻumi kūmā-kahi 11ʻumi kūmā-lua 12iwakālua 20iwakālua kūmā-kahi 21kana-kolu 30kana-hā 40kana-lima 50kana-ono 60kana-hiku 70kana-walu 80kana-iwa 90hanele hundredkaukani thousandmiliona million»

Actually, there's some further interesting stuff in this chapter, maybe I'll post it later.


Since this thread is still going strong, I'm going to mention that I found Pukui and Elbert's COMPLETE Hawaiian dictionary (of which the "New Pocket..." is a subset) online:


There's an awful lot of interesting stuff there at ulukau.org, actually, which I plan to post more on once I can fake being able to read some of it.

On topic, they say:

"kuma.mā-Same as kūmā- (rare in conversation, Biblical). The origin is uncertain. Ellis (1827:479) suggests that the old term may have been kumu ma, beginning and; perhaps kumu assilated to kuma before mā. ʻUmi kumamākahi, eleven (Biblical)."


Oh, excellent. Same picture on the cover as their grammar, I see. That'll be very useful if I ever try reading through it again - they refer to the dictionary quite a lot.


«Ancient names for large numbers are lau, mano, kini, and lehu, and the reduplicated derivatives manomano, kinikini, and lehulehu. They are used poetically as nouns indicative of great numbers:


Elsewhere these quantities are somewhat fancifully translated 400, 4,000, 40,000 and 400,000. It is doubtful that actual counts of this magnitude were ever made...

The addiction to high numbers is shown also in the Kumulipo genealogical chant (Beckwith 1951) describing the goddess Haumea, who had the mysterious power of living to old age, being reborn, and mating with a descendant. This went on for some ten generations. To indicate that vast number of progeny the poet says (p.232):

ʻO Hau-mea kino pāhaʻohaʻo, ʻo Hau-mea kino pāpāwaluʻO Hau-mea kino pāpālehu, ʻO Hau-mea kino pāpāmanoI manomano i ka lehulehu o nā kino

'Hau-mea of mysterious forms, Hau mea of eightfold formsHou-mea of four-hundred-thousand-fold forms, Hau-mea of four-thousand-fold formsFour thousand, four hundred thousand, on and on the forms'

Of even greater magnitude is nalowale, usually translated 'lost' but sometimes considered a number equal to ten lehu, which is four million. It is inconceivable that people counted that many. Andrews points out in his Dictionary that nalowale merely signifies that the counter can go no farther.

In Hawaiian, four and multiples of four are sacred or formulistic numbers and the basis of the traditional counting system. A unit of four is kāuna, a term that perhaps arose, according to Alexander (1968:13), "from the custom of counting fish, coconuts, taro etc., by taking a couple in each hand, or by tying them in bundles of four." 'Twelve', in the old counting was ʻekolu kāuna 'three fours', 'eighty' was ʻelua kanahā 'two forties'. (As illustrated earlier in this section, kāuna may follow the plural marker mau.)

Walu 'eight' is sacred when used as a suffix: kūwaluwalu 'many', makawalu 'numerous', olowalu 'simultaneously', puwalu 'in unison, cooperative'. A mythical character slain by the big demigod, Kamapuaʻa, has eight foreheads (ʻewalu lae, FS 211); does this really mean 'many foreheads' or 'eight foreheads'?

Rarely used terms for forty are ʻiako, as in counting tapas and canoes, and kaʻau in counting fish (Alexander 1968:14). Hoʻokahi aʻu kaʻau iʻa. 'I have forty fish.'»

Given that this post is now at the bottom of the page, I suppose it's going to disappear into obscurity now. Your blog could use better internal navigation, Matt.


Yeah, but until Blogger introduces tags, I guess we're stuck with the ephemeral way. (I'm really in the "let them Google 'cake site:no-sword.jp'" camp anyway.)

Thanks for the quote, though, that is interesting. I also thought it very unlikely that Hawaiians were going around counting to four hundred thousand (with a _two-syllable word_) before they'd even bothered to extend their "-ty"-alike prefix beyond 40.

Re the "eight" thing, (you probably know that) there were some similar tendencies in old Japan too. There's even an example right there in the national anthem!


At least I managed to find it in the archives this time. Last time I wanted to access a recently disappeared post, the only way I could find it was through Google. Are not even "next/previous post" links possible? (What would be most useful for keeping posts alive once they're off the front page would be a "recently commented on" list, like at Languagehat. But I imagine that would be a lot of work, and it would interfere with your existing layout.)

I didn't know that about the eights in Japanese, but you're right, there it is in the word...

Hnh, I didn't know there was an actual boulder.


I think there are many, in fact!

Blogger's support for all this stuff is pretty minimal. IIRC there is a way to list X recent posts in the sidebar, so I suppose I could create a "previous post" link, but from memory when you republish (new template, for example) they all default to the MOST recent post, so even posts from two years ago point to today.

I would personally love a "recent comments" list (probably just throw it down towards the bottom of the sidebar) but not enough to leave good ol' lazy person's friend Blogger.

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