Richard Parker, who runs the enjoyable new blog Notes From a Small Island from Siargao Island in the Philippines, sent me an e-mail saying “I started a few months ago on what I expected to be a simple study of Austronesian numbers, to see if I could find out anything that could reveal a little bit new about the prehistory of that intrepid group of language-speakers, who managed to spread from Madagascar to Easter Island, Hawaii to New Zealand… It has grown from a minor diversion into an unmanageable monstrosity (my original spreadsheet now has 1443 separate entry rows, and 130 analysing columns), ie that’s 1443 number systems, in 1443 languages, Austronesian, ‘Papuan’ and anything else I could think of that might be remotely connected… In the hope that someone else may have some bright ideas on how to process this mass of information, and be able to help me get through my current attack of ‘researcher’s block’, I’ve posted it, in its present unfinished state, warts and all, online at
Warning: The file size is 2.7Mb, so it may take a while to download.”
I don’t have Excel on my computer, so I can’t actually see the spreadsheet, but it sounds like an interesting project, and I thought I’d throw it up here for you all to see. You can read more about his numbers project here and here, and he’s planning more posts on the subject. (Oh, and he knows about zompist’s Numbers from 1 to 10 in Over 5000 Languages—that’s what got him started.)


  1. for those who want to view the spreadsheet without excel, there are at least 2 easy ways to do so. if you have a google account, download the file and then upload it to google documents ( if that doesn’t suit you, get a free program that opens .xls files (e.g.

  2. He should talk to Bob Blust at the University of Hawai‘i. Bob is a historical linguist specializing in Austronesian.

  3. Blust and his colleagues have created a great online tool, the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database. Not just number terms, of course — you can see “one” in 578 languages, but you can also see “intestines” in 461 languages.

  4. “Intestines” is basic vocabulary?

  5. David Marjanović says:

    “Intestines” is basic vocabulary?

    “Gut(s)” might be. Or not — compare German Darm.

  6. Sounds like Richard could use an automated cognate searching program.
    One is under development at Sydney Uni by a friend of mine who is comparing wordlists of thousands of entries from different languages. It’s being designed especially for far-Northern Australian languages, but if it works, and things are looking good, then there’s no reason not to extend it for any given use.
    Although, it still requires the ‘human’ to do things like normalise orthography, write phonological rules, like lenition and vowel change, and sift through the perhaps hundreds of ‘possible matches’. But it beats the hell out of eyeballing a spreadsheet.

  7. I get file not found.

  8. I too am unable to locate the file.

  9. Jangari, would your colleagues find my mate Jamie’s IPA Zounds any use?

  10. Sorry, just realized that I erred in my description of the ABVD. There are only 493 languages in the database, but some items have more than one entry for a given language — hence “one” has 578 entries.

  11. Mark Townsend says:

    I am a Bahá’í and find that any subject undertaken is made more relevant and more eloguent when Bahá’u’lláh is a participant.

  12. Richard Parker says:

    Thanks to LanguageHat for the very kind boost to my project, and my sincere apologies for getting the worksheet URL wrong.
    It should have been:
    Very sorry

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