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.


Celtic words for ‘wife’/’woman’; & ‘husband’/’man’ appear to be closely related to the same terms in several African languages

Take a look and see what you think:-


  • Fula – “ɓeyngu”

  • Yoruba – “obinrin

  • Proto-Celtic – “*benā

  • Old Irish – “ben

  • Irish – “bean

  • Manx – “ben

  • Scottish Gaelic – “bean

  • Welsh – “benyw

  • Cornishbenyn



  • Fula – “kore

  • Toro Tegu (Dogon language) – “yà-gùrɔ̌-n” [“Young woman”]

  • Ben Tey (Dogon language) – “yà-gùrɔ̂-m” & “gùrɔ̂:” [“Young woman”]

  • Bankan Tey (Dogon language) – “yàgùrâ-m” & “yàgùrâ:” [“Young woman”]

  • Nanga (Dogon language) – “yà-gùrɔ́” [“Young woman”]

  • Kinyarwanda – “Umugore

  • Kirundi – “Umu-gore

  • Kenyang – “Ngoreh” / “Ngore

  • Kanuri – “Kur kúri

  • Breton – “gwreg

  • Cornish – “gwreg

  • Welsh – “gwraig



  • Fula – “gorko” / “goriyo

  • Wolof – “góor

  • Serer – “ko:r

  • Songhai -“kurɲæ

  • Kanuri – “Kwâ” / “Kwâŋâ


  • Breton – “gour” / “gwaz

  • Old Breton – “gur

  • Cornish – “gour” / “gwas

  • Welsh – “gŵr

  • Middle Welsh – “gwr


What is a ‘Coracle’? And where did the name come from?



coracle ‎(plural coracles)

(nautical) A small, circular or oblong boat made of wickerwork and made watertight with hides or pitch, propelled and steered with a single paddle and light enough to be carried on a man’s back.

The coracle is a small, lightweight boat of the sort traditionally used in Wales but also
in parts of Western and South West England, Ireland (particularly the River Boyne), and Scotland (particularly the River Spey);[..] The word “coracle” comes from the Welsh cwrwgl, cognate with Irish and Scottish Gaelic currach, and is recorded in English as early as the sixteenth century. Other historical English spellings include corougle, corracle, curricle and coricle.

The name ‘coracle‘ in modern-day English probably derives from Welsh ‘corwgl‘, which in turn is derived from ‘corwg‘.  ‘Corwg‘ [cognate with Gaelic ‘curachan‘], is likely also the source of Middle English ‘currock‘.

The Welsh and Irish words themselves ultimately originated from Proto-Celtic *kur uko .

This reconstructed word takes us back in time to an unknown European location, perhaps as early as 800BCE.   But can we find any similar words or roots in existence which might provide a clue as to the word’s earlier origins [assuming that the word didn’t appear completely out of the blue in Wales/Ireland]?

An explanation given for the origin of ‘coracle‘ is that the name comes from the Latin word ‘corium‘, meaning “skin, hide, leather”; also related to ‘cortex’ [“bark”]; and ‘scortum’ [“skin, hide”], from a postulated Proto-Indo European root *(s)ker- [“to cut”].  Cognates include Sanskrit ‘krtih’ [“hide”]; Old Church Slavonic ‘scora’ [“skin”]; Russian ‘skora’ [“hide”]; ‘kora’ [“bark”]; Old English ‘sceran’ [“to cut, shear”].

However, a bit of investigation revealed that there were strikingly similar (or related) words for ‘canoe’ or ‘boat’ in some African languages:-

  • Twi – “Korow” & “ɔkorow” [“canoe”]

  • Yoruba – “kọ” [“canoe”; “boat”]

  • Yoruba – “kọ̀keré” [“boat”]

  • Edo – “Oko” [“canoe”]

  • Bambara – “kurun” [“canoe, small boat”]

  • Yeyi – “Mokoro” [“dugout canoe”]

  • Mandinka – “kuluŋo

  • Central Kanuri – “kòlékòlé

  • Songhai – “KoleKole

  • Hausa – “Kwale Kwale

  • Wolof – “Gaal


No doubt there are numerous other examples.

Having found these, I was struck by the resemblance between those examples of African words for boat or canoe which possess ‘kor‘ or ‘kur‘ roots, and the Proto-Celtic word for boat, *kuruko .

But then something else caught my attention:-

  • Slovenian – “čoln” [“boat”]

  • Czech – “člun” [“boat”]

  • Slovak – “čln” [“boat”]

  • Russian – “čoln” [“boat, canoe, dugout (usually hollowed out of a single log)”]

  • Polish – “czółno” [“dugout, a boat made from a hollowed tree trunk”]

The Slavic examples above are also reminiscent of the African words for boat/canoe/dugout which possess the kol / kul root, *especially* “kuluŋo” from Mandinka.

And then a brief look at a variety of African words for ‘bark’, ‘skin’, ‘cut’, ‘leather’, ‘tree’, and ‘weaver’ revealed similar words also:-

  • The verb ‘gor’ in Wolof means “to cut down” [for example, a tree];

  • The words for “skin/hide” are ‘kuuru’ in Songhai and ‘Kulu’ in Mandinka

In my view this is a genuine connection between some very old European and African boat terminology, and should be investigated further.  It is worth bearing in mind that thousands of years ago, the Sahara desert was a lush green environment which supported human populations, and Lake Chad was many times larger than it is today.  The world’s oldest dugout canoes found to date have been in Africa (Chad Basin, northern Nigeria) and Europe (the Netherlands), at 8000 years old and 10000 years old, respectively.  Is it possible that humans entered Europe from Africa in prehistory and brought their words for boat with them?