The similarities that speak to historical
relationships among different tribes is never more apparent than in
their counting numbers. Below are links to voice recordings of the
numbers one to ten in each of six tribal languages.
As a listening assistance, for each language I have written each number
as I hear it using a basis of American English. In parentheses are the
official spellings of the word as used by Thailand-based tribal groups.
I have not included official spellings for the Karen numbers as the
Karens of our area use a Burmese-like script which seems impractical to
include for this demonstration.
It should also be noted that the "official" scripts for most of the
tribes are not only seldomly used by Thailand-based tribal groups, but
are often based on a different dialect of the language altogether.
Below is a list of the dialects presented here with the dialect of the
official script in parentheses:
- Sgaw Karen
- Green Hmong (White Hmong)
- Mien (The speaker here descends from the same
group of Miens found now in the United States)
- Red Lahu (Black Lahu, very similar to Red Lahu
with some minor differences)
- Lisu (Script influenced by Chinese Pinyin, with
some unfortunate outcomes when read as English words)
- U Lo Akha (Lo Mi Akha, similar to U Lo but
without neutralization of some sounds)
I have made my best attempt to romanize these
words so that a casual viewer could feel like he/she is pronouncing
them correctly, but some words defy the phonetics of American English.
Among those are Lahu two (said without opening one's mouth), Hmong
seven, Akha four, and, for some reason, the number nine in most
languages. I have used a colon to identify a stopped or constricted
vowel sound but I have not made any indication of tones (which all of
these languages have) because, well, most Western listeners cannot
distinguish tones anyway. Tonal information is encoded in all of the
official spellings, usually in the silent final letter, though there is
no relationship between the various systems employed. Finally, I have
intentionally been somewhat inconsistent in romanizing the "ee" vowel,
which I usually write as "i" to make it consistent with the official
spellings, but sometimes write as "ee" when it seems appropriate.
Click on each picture to hear the counting for that language.
See if picking out the related languages is any simpler listening to
their numbers than it is listening to the language spoken