Link to enlarge K6042 (Las Bocas - Ceramic Vessel) THE FOUNDATION RESEARCH DEPARTMENT

A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language
by David & Alejandra Bolles


71.  The abstract numbers hun (one), ca (two), ox (three), can (four) and the interrogative hay (how many?) do not exist by themselves. They are always accompanied by a number classifier which indicates what variety of object is being talked about. The number classifier is suffixed to the number. The most common number classifiers are:

-ppel inanimate objects
-tul animate objects
-ten times an action is done


Q:  Hayppel cħeen yan ti a cahal?   "How many wells are there in your town?"
A:  Chen humppel.   "Only one."

Q:  Haytul palaloob yan tech?   "How many children do you have?"
A:  Yan cantul caachi.   "There used to be four."

Q:  Hayten binech Ho?   "How many times have you gone to Mérida?"
A:  Oxten.   "Three times."

Other number classifiers still is use are:

-codz rolls of flat things
-cop rolls of long things (string, wire, etc.)
-cuch loads on the back
-cul trees, bushes
-dzac surface area of 20 by 20 meters
-dzapa stacks of flat things
-dzit sticks or long objects such as candles
-kan distances of 20 meters
-kax things tied in bundles
-lot pairs
-lub leagues
-mal times
-mut strainers full (about 1 liter)
-pak blows
-piz measures (of time, volume, distance)
-ppit bits
-ticħ strands
-tuy pinches
-tzuc pieces of soft things
-uadz journeys
-xet pieces, usually of hard, flat things
-zap arm lengths (about 1 meter)

There are some number classifiers which seem to be used only with the number hun (one):

hunpay different (the derivation of -pay is inexplicable)
hun zutuc in a moment

As was noted in Section 7 the numbers in the Mayan language at this present time do not extend above can (four). For the numbers above can, or for some speakers above ox (three), the Spanish equivalents are used. Usually when a Spanish number is used the Spanish equivalent of the Mayan number classifier is used with it.

Occasionally Mayan numbers above can are used in rituals today, especially bolon (nine) and oxlahun (thirteen). As far as can be determined however, almost no one associates a numerical quantity with these numbers but rather a magical quality. The magical quality seems to be in keeping with the qualities associated with these numbers even at the time when the quantities which these numbers represented were understood.


72.  The colonial sources which were written by Mayan scribes are quite clear on how the Maya of the period used their number system. The system was vigesimal. The names for the various place holders acted like number classifiers. Some of these are:

units of 20
three twenties, or 60
units of 400
four four hundreds, or 1600
units of 8000
one 8000, or 8000

Between the colonial sources and the various grammars on the Mayan language there is general agreement for those numbers through twenty:

hun buluc
ca lahca
ox oxlahun
can canlahun
ho holahun
uac uaclahun
uuc uuclahun
uaxac uaxaclahun
bolon bolonlahun
lahun hunkal

According to the colonial sources at the number hunkal (20) the sequence begins again with the word catac (and) being the conjunctive which ties the number together:

hunkal catac hun
hunkal catac ca
hunkal catac ox


hunkal catac uaxacppel haab:    "one score and eight years (28 years)"

cankal haab catac uaclahunpizi:    "four score years and sixteen measures (of years) (96 years)"

holahunkal haab catac cankal haab caixtac canppel haab:    "fifteen score years and four score years and also four years (384 years)"

There seems however to be quite a bit of confusion about how the number system functioned in the earlier grammar books, starting with Beltran, for the numbers above twenty. It is difficult to determine what the source of this confusion is. It seems though that what the grammar books have to say about the number system has little relevance to how the number system was employed by the Maya themselves.

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