LINGUIST List 7.378

Tue Mar 12 1996

Sum: Number-names

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  •, Number-names

    Message 1: Number-names

    Date: Mon, 11 Mar 1996 16:42:11 EST
    From: <>
    Subject: Number-names
    In LINGUIST 7-153 I asked the following question:

    I am trying to pin down the meanings and sources of several fictional names; they may very well mean 'fifty-six' or 'five six'. The names are: Panc Ashash, Limaono, Englok.

    I recognize "panc(a)" as Hindi or Sanskrit for 'five', but I'm unsure of "(a)shash". On the other two names I have no clue, but several other names in the same source mean 'fifty-six' or 'five six'.


    Thanks to the readers of the LINGUIST list, I found out what I wanted to know. Bernard Comrie provided the fullest information:

    The items are translations of the sequence 'five six' into the following languages: 1. Panc Ashash, actually panyca shash (ny = n-tilde, sh - s with subscript dot)--Sanskrit. 2. Limaono, actually lima ono--Fijian. * 3. Englok, actually ng (syllabic velar nasal, with low rising tone) luk (with low level tone)--Cantonese. **

    [end of quotation; the following notes are mine -- MAM]

    * As numerous correspondents (including Comrie in a later message) pointed out, "lima ono" = 'five six' in many Austronesian languages, including also Samoan, Nukuoro, East Futunan, and Tikopian.

    ** Several correspondents and an informant made me aware that Cantonese 'five' can have a bilabial, rather than a velar, nasal.


    The names come from a classic science fiction story by Cordwainer Smith, "The Dead Lady of Clown Town". In the words of the title character, the Lady Panc Ashash, "All the important people here have names ending in the numbers five and six." (Quotation approximate, from memory.)

    [Many of Smith's stories speak of the number-names borne by many characters, but he seldom if ever translates them, or the many non-numerical names, for the reader. The game of identifying and deciphering them can provide much pleasure to those of us who are twisted that way. Smith delighted in the use of multiple real languages; I've counted at least a dozen in his works.]

    This year I was one of the quizmasters for the Trivia Bowl at Boskone 33, an annual New England science-fiction fan convention, held in recent years in Framingham, Mass. over Presidents' Weekend (this year, Feb. 16-18). I assembled a number of questions dealing with names in sf and fantasy literature, and this was among them. The story includes several other number-names that I recognized or was able to identify before calling on the LINGUIST readership for help:

    Goroke Japanese 'five six' (phonological transcription: /go roku/) Femtiosex Swedish 'fifty-six' Fisi English, truncated: "fi(ve) si(x)" or "fi(fty-)si(x)"

    As it turned out, there were many more questions than there was time to ask them, and I never got to the group that included this one. But your efforts are not wasted; I'll be there again next year!

    My thanks to all respondents, alphabetically by email address:

    Bhaskar __: Bernard Comrie: Chris Miller: Anton Sherwood: Deborah D. Kela Ruuskanen: Alice Faber: Geoff Smith: __: j.guytrl.OZ.AU Mark Hale (?): Hal Schiffman: Jeroen Wiedenhof: Keith Goeringer: Lynne Hewitt: Lee Hartman: Malcolm Ross: Norvin Richards: norvinMIT.EDU Philip Shaw: Tim Pulju: Philip W. Davis: Paul Woods: Shelly Harrison: Meg Gam: __: Yaron Matras:

    Mark A. Mandel Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200 320 Nevada St. : Newton, Mass. 02160, USA :

    This document was created in large part by voice with DragonDictate for Windows.