Tangut numerals

From HandWiki
Short description: Tangut character-based numeral system for the extinct Tangut language

Stephen Wootton Bushell's decipherment of 37 Tangut characters, including the basic numbers (but note that his decipherment of Template:Tangut ('first, former') as 'nine' is incorrect)

Tangut numerals are words and characters used to denote numbers in the Tangut language during the Western Xia regime (1038–1227) and during the subsequent Yuan dynasty (1271–1368).

Tangut numerals are written in the same format as Chinese numerals. There is an ordinary set of digits that is used for writing numbers within Tangut text (for example, chapter numbers and dates) in manuscripts and printed books, as well as for engraving on monumental inscriptions on stone. There are also two additional sets of number characters used for special purposes. Page numbers in printed books dating from the Western Xia period and the Yuan dynasty are often written using Chinese numerals.

The latest surviving example of Tangut numerals occur on the Tangut dharani pillars which were erected in Baoding on the 10th month of the 15th year of the Hongzhi era of the Ming dynasty, which corresponds to 1502.[1]

Cardinal numbers

The characters used to write ordinary cardinal numbers are listed below. There are two different words for "ten": Template:Tangut *gha is the normal word, but Template:Tangut *sha is sometimes used, especially for the number of days in dates, e.g. Template:Tangut (gha lhi sha ny) "10th day of the 10th month".

Cardinal numbers
Number Character Reading
1 Template:Tangut *lew
2 Template:Tangut *ny / njɨ̱
3 Template:Tangut *so / sọ
4 Template:Tangut *lyr / ljɨr
5 Template:Tangut *ngwy / ŋwǝ
6 Template:Tangut *chhiw / tśhjiw
7 Template:Tangut *sha / śjạ
8 Template:Tangut *ar / ˑjar
9 Template:Tangut *gy / gjɨ
10 Template:Tangut *gha / ɣạ
10 Template:Tangut *sha
100 Template:Tangut *ir / ˑjir
1,000 Template:Tangut *tu / tụ
10,000 Template:Tangut *khy / khjɨ
100,000,000 Template:Tangut *rir / rjir

Multiple-digit numbers are constructed using a similar method to that for Chinese and Japanese numerals.

Examples of complex numbers
Number Structure Transliteration Characters
14 [10] [4] gha lyr
60 [6] [10] chhiw gha
105 [1] [100] [5] lew ir ngwy
518 [5] [100] [10] [8] ngwy ir gha ar
2,362 [2] [1,000] [3] [100] [6] [10] [2] ny tu so ir chhiw gha ny

Ordinal numbers

Ordinal numbers are formed by adding the suffix Template:Tangut *tsew to the cardinal number, for example Template:Tangut (so tsew) "third" and Template:Tangut (ny gha tsew) "twentieth". The word Template:Tangut (phu tsew) may be used for "first", although Template:Tangut (lew tsew) is also found.


Silver bowl inscribed with "3½ taels"

The character Template:Tangut *khwy is used for one half. For more complex fractions, the formula "n [parts] out of d parts" is used, where n is the numerator and d is the denominator, and the denominator is specified first. This corresponds to the structure for fractions in Chinese, for example Tangut Template:Tangut (so pha kha lew) "one third" corresponds to Chinese 三分之一 (sān fēn zhī yī) "one third".

Examples of fractions
Number Structure Transliteration Characters
taels [3] [tael] [½] so lu khwy
two-thirds [3] [parts] [among which] [2] [parts] so pha kha ny pha
1/1000 [1000] [parts] [among which] [1] tu pha kha lew

Special numbers

In addition to the normal set of cardinal numbers, there is an additional set of characters used for the numbers 2 through 7 in some circumstances. These numbers are only used in a few certain words, as well as in special month names that are used in a Tangut ode entitled Poem on Pleasure of Every Month.[2] Ksenia Kepping considers this and other odes in the same collection (dated 1185) to be written in a special ritual language, using vocabulary which is not normally used in the common Tangut language.[3]

There is also a special set of filiation characters for the numbers 2 through 8 which are used exclusively to indicate the relative seniority of sons, where the number is followed by the word Template:Tangut *ew "son". The numbers from 2 to 7 are phonetically identical (2, 4, 6, 7) or phonetically very close (3, 5) to the corresponding ritual numbers used in the Poem on Pleasure of Every Month, but the character for 8 is phonetically identical to the normal character for 8.

Unlike the ordinary Tangut numbers, which are closely cognate to the numbers used in other Tibeto-Burman languages such as Tibetan and Nuosu, the ritual and filiation numbers do not appear to be related to numbers in any other language. Moreover, the characters for 4 and 7 are homophones in both the ritual and filiation series, which is implausible for a spoken language.

Ritual and filiation numbers
Number Ritual character Reading Filiation character Reading
2 Template:Tangut *lo Template:Tangut *lo
3 Template:Tangut *rer Template:Tangut *len
4 Template:Tangut *ngwyr Template:Tangut *ngwyr
5 Template:Tangut *chyr Template:Tangut *tsyr
6 Template:Tangut *vi Template:Tangut *vi
7 Template:Tangut *ngwyr Template:Tangut *ngwyr
8 Template:Tangut *ar

The ritual numbers are used in the following words, which are all related to Buddhism or astrology:

  • Template:Tangut (zhu lo) "two fish" (i.e. pisces)
  • Template:Tangut (rer u) "three storehouses" (i.e. the tripiṭaka)
  • Template:Tangut (ngwyr ka) "four stringed-instrument" (i.e. the pipa)
  • Template:Tangut (chyr nir ngyr) "Five Platforms Mountain" (i.e. the Western Xia equivalent of the sacred Mount Wutai, which was located in the Helan Mountains)
  • Template:Tangut (ngwyr ngewr) "seven sounds" (i.e. seven claps of thunder or bursts of music)


Tangut numbers are used to denote the year, month and day in date expressions.

A number followed by the character Template:Tangut *kew "year" indicates the year of the specified era, for example Template:Tangut (tshwu wu gha chhiw kew) means the 16th year of the Qianyou era (i.e. 1185).

Lunar months are designated as a number followed by Template:Tangut *lhi "moon, month", except that there are special words for the first and last month. An intercalary month is indicated by putting the character Template:Tangut *lhu in front of the month name, for example Template:Tangut (lhu rer lhi) "intercalary 12th month). There are also special month names used in the ritual language of the Poem on Pleasure of Every Month.

Tangut month names
Month Common name Reading Ritual name Reading Meaning
1st chon lhi kew siw ka o "new year month"
2nd ny lhi ryr lo ka o "second month"
3rd so lhi rer gu ka o "third month"
4th lyr lhi kwe ngwyr ka o "fourth month"
5th ngwy lhi chyr lu ka o "fifth month"
6th chhiw lhi zhiw vi ka o "sixth month"
7th sha lhi ngwyr ka ka o "seventh month"
8th ar lhi ny lyr ka o "two four month"
9th gy lhi lyr ngwy ka o "four five month"
10th gha lhi ny ngwy ka o "two five month"
11th gha lew lhi ngwy chhiw ka o "five six month"
12th rer lhi dy kewr ka o "cold month"

A number followed by the character Template:Tangut *ny "day" indicates the day of the month, for example Template:Tangut (sha lhi sha gy ny) "19th day of the 7th month".

See also


  1. Shi & Bai 1977, pp. 146–147
  2. Nishida 1986, pp. 1–116
  3. Kepping 1996, pp. 26–28