Counting in Twenties: Western Europe Got Its Vigesimal Counting System Directly From West Africa

Most European languages have a decimal counting system (counting in tens); however a small number of European languages have a vigesimal counting system (counting in twenties).

The main language groups in Europe which retain the vigesimal counting system are Basque and the Brythonic Celtic languages (Welsh, Cornish, Breton); while some remnants of the system are also found in French and Danish.

The vigesimal system is much more typical of non-European languages.

Semitic languages of western Asia, eg. Arabic have a decimal counting system.  This system has entered northern Africa with the spread of Islam; however the older vigesimal system remains in some Berber languages of north Africa.

The vigesimal counting system is a common feature of many Niger Congo languages of western tropical Africa.

It has been previously suggested that there are a number of morphological similarities shared between certain Niger-Congo languages (Atlantic and Mande groups]; Berber languages in north Africa; the Basque language in south-western Europe; and Celtic languages in the British Isles.

Given the absence of the vigesimal counting system in eastern Europe but its presence in western Europe; and its absence in western Asia but presence in parts of northern and western Africa, maybe these regions share a common origin of the vigesimal system (ie. people crossed the Mediterranean Sea or sailed around the Atlantic coasts of Africa and Europe in prehistoric times).

Leaving aside genetic and archaeological evidence for prehistoric contacts between Africa and Europe (which is outside the scope of this blog), what linguistic evidence do we have for a common origin of the vigesimal counting system in Africa and Europe?

I believe that I have found evidence for this, and this evidence is unlikely to be a coincidence.

Please see below:-

The Word “Twenty” in Different Languages:-

  • Bambara [Mali, W Africa]: “mùɡan

  • Jula [Burkina Faso & Côte d’Ivoire, W Africa]: “mugan

  • Kakabe [Guinea, W Africa]: “múɡan

  • Kuranko [Sierra Leone & Guinea, W Africa]: “mogan

  • Yalunka [Guinea, W Africa]: “mɔ̀kɔ̀ŋɛ́

  • Jowulu (Jo) [Mali, W Africa]: “kɔ̃ne


  • **Yoruba [Nigeria, W Africa]: “ogún“**

  •  **Welsh [Wales, UK]: “ugain“**

  • North Riding Sheep-Scoring Numbers [Yorkshire, NE England]: “guna-gun

  •  Cornish [Cornwall, SW England]: ugens

  • Breton [Brittany, NW France]: “ugent



  • Gaulish [extinct – France etc.]: “uoconti

  • Tiv [Nigeria, W Africa]: “ikundu


  • **Latin [Latium, West Central Italy]: “viginti“**

  • **Kanuri [Niger/Nigeria, W Africa]:”fíyìndì“**



  • Maasina Fulfulde [Mali & Ghana, W Africa]: “no:gay

  • Western Niger Fulfulde [Niger, W Africa]: “noogaj

  • Pular [Guinea, Senegal, & Mali, W Africa]: “noogaj

  •  **Edo [Nigeria, W Africa]: “ùɡié“**

  •  **Basque [Basque Country, N Spain & SW France]:hogei“**

  • **Iberian [extinct – Mediterranean coast of Spain & SW France]: “*orkei“**


In my opinion the shared origin of the vigesimal counting system between western Africa and western Europe can’t be denied, and is reflected in very similar words for “twenty” shared between languages in these regions which couldn’t easily be explained by chance alone.  My theory is that vigesimal counting systems and the very similar words for “twenty” might have spread from northern/western Africa into  southern/western Europe with pastoralism [sheep/goat/cattle-rearing] during the Holocene epoch around 6,000 – 8,000 years ago.  Further research is required.


Did Many Ancient European River Names Get Their Name From the Dinka Word For “River”? [Part 3]

Dinka is a Western Nilotic language from the Nilo Saharan language family, comprising five similar dialects and spoken by about 2-3 million Dinka people in southern Sudan.

From the Dinka-English dictionary [source: ]:-


  • wär / wɛɛ̈r ̈ SWr n. any body of water: river, lake or pond, water well. loc: wïïr.

  • wɛɛ̈r̈ NEd SWr SEb Sg: wär. n. rivers, lakes.


  • Hausa (West Chadic): ‘wuriya‘ [‘rushing stream’];

  • Miya (West Chadic): ‘wər‘ [‘lake’];


Now look at the European river names included in the map below, which is taken from Hans Krahe’s Unsere ältesten Flussnamen [“Our oldest river names”] (1964), and see the resemblance of these European river names to the Dinka words for ‘river’ :-

In addition to the thirty-six European rivers shown in the map above, there are a few rivers in England and Wales with similar names which were omitted from Krahe’s map.  These include: River Wear; River Were; River Ver; River Wyre; River Vyrnwy; etc.  The Old English word ‘wer’, meaning a fish trap or weir [from which the word ‘weir’ comes]; and also the Welsh word ‘wern’ meaning a swamp or quagmire might also be related. And Latin ‘ver’ meaning ‘spring’ maybe.

This is another example of ancient European river names sounding very similar to an African word for river which is definitely worthy of further research.

Ancient European River Names – Do their Names Derive From African Languages? (Part 2)

Above: River Saar, Germany


In my previous post I looked at the similarities between the names of various European rivers (whose names are believed to be thousands of years old), and their close resemblance to words for ‘river’ in a number of African languages.

In today’s post I continue this theme.

Here are several other similar-sounding river names from across Europe with ancient origins:-

  • Soar (England)

  • Soar, formerly known as Saravus (Belgium)

  • Serre, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Cère, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Séran, formerly known as Sera (France)

  • Saurunz, formerly known as Serantia (Alsace, France)

  • Schremm, formerly known as Serma (Germany)

  • Sorgwm [Welsh for “Sor Valley“], (Wales)

  • Zorn, formerly known as Sorna (Alsace, France)

  • Saire, formerly known as Sara (Normandy, France)

  • Saar(e) (Brandenburg, Germany)

  • Sar, formerly known as Saros (Spain)

  • Serio, formerly known as Sarius (Lombardy, Italy)

  • Sarià (Lithuania)

  • Saar, formerly known as Saravus (Germany)

  • Sernf, formerly known as Sarnivos? (Switzerland)

Linguists have postulated a Proto-Indo European root *ser-, “to flow”, as a common origin for these names.

As usual, the linguists didn’t care to have a look further south in Africa for languages with potentially related words.

  • sɛ́rɛ́word for “river” in Northern Maa [north Kenya – eastern Nilotic languages];

  • Suriword for “river” in Dazaga [north Chad – Saharan languages];

  • Suri – word for “river” in Tedaga [north Chad – Saharan languages];

Both of the above resemble the word ‘isuri’ [“to pour, spill, flow”] from the Basque language of south-western Europe.

  • Soura River (NW Africa – links Atlas Mountains to the lakes in the Ahnet-Movydir basin);

  • Asuwaword for “stream” in Twi [Ghana – Kwa languages, Tano subgroup of Niger-Congo languages];

    UPDATED 4/12/16

However, the closest resemblance of all [especially in light of the word ‘isuri’ meaning ‘to flow’ etc. in the Basque language of south-western Europe] can be seen in the Ijoid languages of Nigeria, and words meaning “to flow” in various languages of that group, several of which are IDENTICAL to the Basque word:-

“FLOW” (V.I.)
NK           sérí
Ịbanị       sírí
Kalaba    sérí
KI             sérí
NE           seri
AK           iheri
BU           isérí
OY           iseri
EO           isórí
AP           isórí
ID            sori
OG           sori
FU            sori
AR            sori
OB            seri
OE            sʊɔ, serí 
ME           sʊɔ, serí 
KU            sérí
KB            serií
WT           serí
IK             súɔ, sérí súɔ
EK            serí
KO            sérí sʊɔ́ 
GB            sérí sʊɔ́ 
OR            sʊɔ́ ɓéni