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Most people know that the numbers we use today originally came from India. But very few people wonder how the words that we use for these numbers came to be. Are they just random? No.

In this thread, I will argue why it is so. I will develop a theory for how these words arose.
Historical linguistics about the evolution of languages mostly skips the development of words for numbers. But there is nothing obvious about numbers, or how we call them. Obviously, it is difficult to convince a whole population to use random words for numbers they don't need.
In fact, there are many tribal societies which don't have words for numbers greater than 4 or 5. Beyond that, they just say "many". Similarly, most animals show in cognitive studies that they cannot count numbers greater than 5. So how did humans evolve these words for numbers?
The Piraha in the Amazon forest have words only for "one", "two" and "many". Numerically speaking, they lead a rather simple life. But they have immense knowledge about the Amazon rainforest and are culturally sophisticated in many other ways. So why did we even need numbers?
Historical linguistics assumes the numbers popped out somehow. So I am trying to explain something which nobody (AFAIK) previously thought worth explaining. In that sense, this is a bit similar to Darwin's theory of evolution. Its competitor (creationism) is not a theory at all.
Let us start with the number 1. What would be a unique and unanimous choice of a word for this? I suspect the answer is "being alone". In fact, the word "alone" in English reveals this etymology (all+one). The German "allein" is similar "alle+ein".
Now, I will show a comparison with Dravidian languages, which seriously questions why they should be grouped separately from Indo-European languages at all. See the word for 1 in these languages.

But this is not all. The word for "alone" is similar. "onṭari" ఒంటరి in Telugu.
Now you might naturally complain, come on, this is just a fluke. But please hold on until the end of this thread. 😁
Allow me to skip all these numbers and go straight to the number 10. (Don't worry, I will come back).

What would be a good choice for the number 10?

We don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to get this. Naturally, all humans share the same number of fingers. But it is not that easy.
We need to disambiguate whether we are talking about the fingers on our hands (10 in number), or the fingers on our toes (equally 10 in number), but not that we are talking about both of them. The word "digit" comes from "dactyl" (to point, in Greek). That is the root of "Deca".
The word for "ten" in all Indo European languages derives from the word for "pointing". In Sanskrit, the word for "direction" is "dik" दिक् or दिशा "diśā". From here, comes the word for 10 daśa दश. The "pointing" must be done by fingers on the hand (unless you are Jackie Chan).
Now let us look at the word for 10 in Dravidian languages. "padu" or "padi" పది. This comes from the other choice, from the feet. The word for foot is pāda पाद in Sanskrit (similar words in European languages). The word for walking in Telugu is "pada" పద.
What might be the obvious choice for the number 5? The number of fingers on just one hand. But how to specify it unambiguously?

We need to close the fingers into a "fist". "Pañcha" पञ्च in Sanskrit comes from that. The similarity can be seen in Persian panjā, English punch etc.
The English word for 5 "five" (German "funf") derive from a similar root as Latin "pugnus" (fist).

Now we see a peculiar problem with the words for numbers. The original word that was used in that meaning goes down in popularity, due to potential for confusion with the number.
But this similarity might be preserved in other languages which had different synonymous for that number. I suspect this is the reason for the divergence of the words for numbers between Dravidian and Indo European. At some point, the languages split and evolved separately.
I suspect the word for 5 in Dravidian languages "anji" or "anju" similarly derives from an ancient word for a "fist". A similar word in Sanskrit today is "anjali" (offering with the fingers clasped together, but from both the hands). The original word is now probably lost.
Now let's discuss a cardinal number. The word "first" is strikingly different from the word "one". Why?

This is because the word "first" doesn't follow the meaning of "alone" anymore. There are multiple objects and this is the "important" one (Latin "primi" Sanskrit "pramukha").
Now I would like to bring the attention to the central heart of my theory. This is the magic area of the numbers 6,7,8,9.. which, as I discussed before, are not used by many tribal societies. How did they come about ? The answer is in Indian climate and astronomical observations.
Before I discuss the etymological roots of these numbers from Sanskrit, I have to give a small explanation about Sanskrit grammar, which may not be obvious to foreigners (or Indians who never studied Sanskrit).

The Sanskrit suffix "ta" त denotes "that which has the property of".
If you think about it, the suffix "ta" त is brilliant for creating words for numbers. After all, numbers are abstractions of concepts. So why not use the grammatical rule for deriving words that are abstractions of properties. Pāṇini's grammar discusses rules for this suffix त.
The Sanskrit words for 6 Shaṭ षट्, 7 Sapta सप्त and 8 Ashṭa अष्ट can all be derived through the suffix "ta" त, when added to the etymological root of "sas", "sap" and "as" respectively. We have many words in Sanskrit related to these roots to guess at their possible meaning.
The word for 6 Shaṭ or Shashṭa "sixth" is derived from "sas", which refers to the act of sowing. A related word in Sanskrit is "Sasya" सस्य. You can see the similarity also in English "sow", originally from the root "savan" !

Indians would know precisely what this is.
This is the annual monsoon season when rivers flood the plains, and make it excellent time for sowing the crops. The Indian calendar is calibrated for 12 months (references already in the Rig Veda verse "Ekam Chakram" refering to the cycle of "Ṛta"). Sowing is at the 6th month !
"Ṛta" derives from the etymological root for "flowing", from which "Āryam" (irrigation) is also derived. In the monsoonal climate of India, irrigation of the fields and sowing of the crops happen hand in hand.
The word for the number 6 "Āru"ఆరు in Dravidian languages derives from "Āryam". The word for "sowing" నారు is close. Naturally, both the south and north of India are nourished by the same monsoons. This important month for sowing crops is the unambiguous choice for the number 6.
I want to reveal a stunning similarity in the words for the numbers 6 and 7 between Indo-European languages and Semitic languages, as well as the ancient Egyptian language !

In Arabic, "setta" and "saba" ("ba" and "pa" are equivalent in Arabic).
In Egyptian, "sjsw" and "sfhw".
As the largest population centre, India traded with other ancient civilizations and influenced their culture. So much so that the successors of Mesopotamians changed their words for numbers to the Indian way !

In Sumerian, 6 "as" and 7 "umin" (5+2).…
Now let us discuss the number "7". It is the most important number, because it refers to the actual method for maintaining a calendar, and calculating the time for sowing the crops. These are the 7 heavenly bodies in the sky, whose motion needs to be tracked. They are the "Sapa".
The suffix "pa" in Sanskrit is an elaboration of the sowing "sas". This suffix refers to a ruler "pālaka". For example, a king is "Nṛpa" the ruler of "Nṛ" or "Nara" (men).

The 7 heavenly bodies are the rulers that define the calendar. They are the "Sapta Graha" in Sanskrit.
The number 7 is sacred in Hindu culture and tradition, because of this very reason. The word for number 7 "sapta" is indelibly linked to the word for a week "Saptāha" (or 7 days). In Persian, it is "hafta".

I suspect the word "aha" (day) followed the Egyptian version of numbers.
The seven planets are sacred in European pagan and Christian tradition too. In Indian cosmology, these 7 are later elaborated to include 2 virtual points to denote the upcoming eclipses: "Rāhu" and "Kētu". Together, they form "Nava Graha" or 9 planets to model the calendar.
In Dravidian languages, the word for the number 7 is correspondingly related to that for the number 6. It is "Eṛlu". Dravidian grammar is not as precisely explored as Sanskrit's Pāṇinian system.

In Telugu, the word "Elu" ఏలు means "to rule". "Ēlika" is a synonym for "Pālaka".
I want to connect my older thread on astronomical exchanges between world cultures, at this opportune word “Sapta Mātrika” (the seven mothers) for the Pleiades constellation.

The word for 8 "Ashṭa" comes from counting. It seems a bit odd for us now, but ancient people found it easier to calculate with base-2 or multiples. It is easy to keep track of small numbers with relatively simple technology: folding paper, or cutting a block of clay with lines.
I said paper, but it can also be cloth or other material. You fold it once, 2. You fold it again, 4. Two more times on the diagonal sides, and we get 8. This is a natural division of space into 8 directions. The Sanskrit root "As" relates to atmosphere (Āsman in Perso-Hindi).
The "Ashṭa-Dik" are typically how the 8 cardinal directions are referred to in Indian culture. The space is presided by the "Ashṭa-Vasus" or 8 Vasus. These references extend also to philosophy. The lotus has 8 petals, I discussed this in my old essay.…
In Dravidian languages, I suspect the word for 8 derives similarly. The words "ettu" or "ettu-mīdi" / "enimidi" ఎనిమిది refer to the atmosphere (the up above). It is divided into 8 directions. This is obvious in Indian culture, but probably not as unambiguous in other cultures.
Before we go to 9, I want to say that the Dravidian method of using the toes to refer to ten "padi" పది is also repeated in Germanic languages. In German, the word "Zehn" probably derives from "zehen" (toe). The English word "ten" derives from the same.
The number 9 is remarkable because in most of the Indo-European languages the word means "new". In French, the words coincide"neuf". Same in Sanskrit "nava" नव.

What is this new thing about 9? Well after you fold 4 times (you get 8), you need a new cloth, or a new block of clay.
At some point, this rather simple method of counting was abandoned, as mathematics got sophisticated. Thanks to the invention of counting with zeroes, also from India. But the old words stick. 😃 So we have the eternal novelty of the number 9.
The word for the number 9 in Dravidian languages is very interesting, and punctures the myth of separate identity of Dravidian languages even further !

The word is "onbadu" ఒంబదు, which is "on+padu", coming from the words for 1 and 10. It is literally 1 subtracted from 10.
Now this way of referring to the numbers ending in 9: 19, 29, 39, 49 .. is universal in all Indian languages. For example, in Hindi, 19 is unnīs (on+bīs/twenty), 29 is "untīs" (on+tīs/thirty). This same idea is applied in Dravidian languages, but only for the number 9.
I didn't explain the numbers 2,3,4. Honestly, I don't have a strong clue about how the words for these numbers derive, as these are really simple numbers.

However, I have a theory. The word 4 is related to folding (like for 8). We can also see that in the Brahmi sign for 4.
In Telugu, the word for 4 "Nālugu" నాలుగు is related to the word "nalugu" నలుగు (squeezed in a corner). This word is later extended to similar meanings, like people getting together in a village for discussing things "naluguru" నలుగురు (literally 4 people, but can be any number).
I don't know what could be the Sanskrit equivalent for such words are, but the European languages also use the number 4 to refer to people hanging out. "Quartier" in French is a town-quarter. "Viertel" in German. Do they all come from some root word for "folding"? I don't know.
In my opinion, the word 3 ("traya" त्रयः in Sanskrit) comes from tying things together. In Telugu, the word is "mooḍu" మూడు, which looks similar to "muḍi" ముడి (a knot). It is natural to tie 3 things together. So a "trinity" (trayi) is a popular tool in philosophy and religion.
I don't want to comment on the word for 2, because I have no idea here 😃. It is not at all obvious to me what could be an unambiguous choice. There were probably multiple alternatives (heaven and earth, day and night, left and right etc.) and some word got popular over time.
I want to conclude this thread with the word for 100. It is obviously a good number, and a big number in those ancient days. I think it denoted fortune and good luck. In Sanskrit, the word "śam" शम refers to auspiciousness. I think the word "śata" refers to this property.
I conclude this thread with the Mantra
"Śam nō Mitraḥ Śam Varunaḥ"

May Mitra and Varuṇa lead us to auspiciousness (and lots of 100s). 😃

(End of thread).
Connecting this thread to my previous comments about the common language family encompassing both Indo-European and Dravidian languages.

I didn’t discuss the number 2, as it is extremely unclear. But here is some speculation.
To be honest, I am equally unsure of the names for the numbers 2, 3 and 4. But there is a peculiar coincidence of the Brāhmi symbols for these numbers (at the top of this thread) with the Chinese calligraphic always symbol. 2 is denoted like =. 3 with an extra parallel line.
I previously said 3 might come from the sense of “tying”. But it could also be “middle”. The Dravidian మూడు “mūdu” related to Sanskrit “Madhya” मध्य? The earth “dhara” धरा might be a proxy for middle, between the sky and netherworld? Producing “traya” त्रय?

Equally possible. 😀
*Chinese caligraphical symbols.
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