The new-style numbers used by the Borong tribe, of that little bump, the Huon Peninsula, on the ‘rear end’ of Papua New Guinea, were in the very process of ‘pidginising’ a new set of numbers, still under the influence of English colonialists, when these numbers were recorded in 1984:
|1 motongo||wan kembing||One finger ?|
|2 woic||tu kembing||Two finger?|
|3 karong||tiri kembing||3 finger|
|4 nemumgac||fo lolo||‘4’ – 2 2|
|5 boro mong||Hand one||fa ingambe||My hand?|
|6 boromong ano motongo||Hand one + one||sapsap||Now this one?|
|7 boromong ano woic||Hand one + two||tepelonga||Longer?|
|8||hetewe||8 e wa|
|9||hene roka||9 e wa|
|10 borowoic||Hand two||he ten ing||This 10|
But the numbers beyond 10, which went: 11 henareka, 12 henembing, 13 nemungawong, 14 henaru, still followed their traditional system.
This example shows all the symptoms of pidginisation, when a language keeps its own grammar, structure, and idiosyncracies (more or less) but adopts someone else’s words.
Much the same must have occurred to those Melanesians along the coasts and islands of New Guinea (and much of the rest of Island South East Asia) when the Austronesian languages first became dominant.
Numbers have been almost standardised now, with the national language of PNG, Tok Pisin, numbers:
wan, tu, tri, foa, faiv, sikis, seven, et, nain, ten, with 11 = wanpela ten wan
The Tok Ples (Talk Place – native tribal) number systems are being fast forgotten. Perhaps in less than a couple of generations, the majority of the 800+ languages spoken until recently in New Guinea, may have disappeared.
Alternatively, they will survive, and Tok Pisin will just be a superficial lingua franca, as Latin once was, and many of the unique customs and languages of New Guinea will survive,after all.