Kaktovik Inupiaq numerals

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Inuit languages, like other Eskimo–Aleut languages (and Celtic and Mayan languages as well), use a vigesimal counting system. Inuit counting has sub-bases at 5, 10, and 15. Arabic numerals, consisting of 10 distinct digits (0-9) are not adequate to represent a base-20 system. Students from Kaktovik, Alaska, came up with the Kaktovik Inupiaq numerals,[1] which has since gained wide use among Alaskan Iñupiat, and has been considered in other countries where dialects of the Inuit language are spoken.[2]

The numeral system has helped to revive counting in Inuit languages, which had been falling into disuse among Inuit speakers due to the prevalence of the base-10 system in schools.

The picture below shows the numerals 1–19 and then 0. Twenty is written with a one and a zero, forty with a two and a zero, and four hundred with a one and two zeros.


The corresponding spoken forms are:

0 1 2 3 4
atausiq malġuk piŋasut sisamat
5 6 7 8 9
tallimat itchaksrat tallimat malġuk tallimat piŋasut quliŋuġutaiḷaq
10 11 12 13 14
qulit qulit atausiq qulit malġuk qulit piŋasut akimiaġutaiḷaq
15 16 17 18 19
akimiaq akimiaq atausiq akimiaq malġuk akimiaq piŋasut iñuiññaŋŋutaiḷaq

(19 is formed by subtraction from iñuiññaq 20, just as 9 is formed by subtraction from 10. See Inupiat language.)

In Greenlandic Inuit language:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Ataaseq Marluk Pingasut Sisamat Tallimat Arfinillit Arfineq-marluk Arfineq-pingasut
9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Qulaaluat, Qulingiluat,
Qulit Isikkanillit,

(Dependent on the region in Greenland. Numbers differ, as do accents)[citation needed]


  1. ^ Bartley, Wm. Clark (January–February 1997). "Making the Old Way Count" (PDF). Sharing Our Pathways. 2 (1): 12–13. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  2. ^ Regarding Kaktovik Numerals. Resolution 89-09. Inuit Circumpolar Council. 1998. http://www.inuitcircumpolar.com/resolutions7.html

Further reading[edit]

  • Bartley, Wm. Clark, "Iñupiatun Kisitchiñiq / The Iñupiaq Counting System". Appendix 11 (p.831-841) in MacLean, Edna, editor, "Iñupiatun Uqaluit Taniktun Sivuniŋit / Iñupiaq to English Dictionary". Fairbanks: Alaska Native Language Center, College of Liberal Arts, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, 2014.
  • Engblom-Bradley, Claudette, "Seeing Mathematics with Indian Eyes," p. 237-245 in Williams, Maria Sháa Tláa, editor, "The Alaska Native Reader: History, Culture, Politics". Duke University Press, Durham, 2009.
  • Kalish, Mia; Claudette Engblom-Bradley; Garii, Barbara, "Creating Communities of Mathematical Practice: Increasing the Viability of the Mathematics Classroom" in proceedings of the 11th International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME), Monterrey, Mexico, July 6 - 13, 2008. http://dg.icme11.org/document/get/440