How do I find a foreign word for a number that starts with a given sound?

I'm writing an article about what English might look like if its numerals were in hexadecimal (base sixteen). For this, I need basic number words for ten through fifteen that start with the letters A through F, as those are the most commonly accepted digits for ten through fifteen in written hexadecimal notation. I was inspired by the article How to pronounce hexadecimal, but some parts of that system appear unnatural, especially the completely irregular relationship between words for sixteens and ones.

I found a couple in the "translations" section of Wiktionary entries, which I can justify as old loan words:

  • Ten: ash. This is reduced from the Amharic, Arabic, and Hebrew words for ten.
  • Thirteen: dreight (rhymes with eight). This is reduced from German dreizehn.

I found others elsewhere:

  • Twelve: carn. This is reduced from a carton of twelve eggs.
  • Fifteen: fleven. This comes from an episode of HBO's Silicon Valley, where it was a bluff. (See related question on Mathematics.) But in this article, it would be reanalyzed as a rhyme with seven that means eight plus seven in much the same way that many languages' words for six through nine are related to their words for one through four, which are half a base less.

But for eleven and fourteen, I'm drawing a blank. So I'm looking for examples of a natural language that has a word for eleven that starts with a /b/-like sound, and a natural language that has a word for fourteen that starts with an /e/-like sound, from which I can borrow a word to reduce.

  • And are you planning on saying 0x10 as ten? But that's not what ten means. A is ten, and 0x10 is sixteen. You'd actually need a completely new system for all of the numbers above ten unless you're going to be ambiguous. Apr 24, 2015 at 18:53
  • @sumelic I have such a system through 0xFFFF (steen, twensy, thirsy). I just felt it out of scope of the present question, which is about number words in other natural languages. Apr 24, 2015 at 19:52
  • Those make sense. Apr 24, 2015 at 20:03
  • 4
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this site isn't a site for you to brainstorm your conlang.
    – curiousdannii
    Apr 25, 2015 at 1:12
  • I agree with curiousdannii. Although questions about conlangs are apparently permitted in this site (hence the questions about Esperanto), extended discussions of conlang design are not permitted. Hence my vote to close. May 8, 2015 at 2:25

2 Answers 2


The easier part first: Using Janko Gorenc's collection of numbers, I was able to find that the Indonesian and Malay word for 14 is empatbelas or empat belas (empat on its own means 4), and the Maltese word for 14 is erbatax, which are both confirmed by Wiktionary.

Finding the word for eleven was much more difficult. I've found this page which claims that the language Huli of Papua New Guinea, which has a quindecimal number system, has the word bearia for eleven. Another page from the same site gives buluchib as the word for eleven in the Maya language Tzotzil, which has a vigesimal number system. There are citations linked from the site, but I can't access them directly.

I also found another language where the phrase for 11 starts with b, but that's because the word for ten starts with b, and eleven is expressed as "ten on one". It's Arawak, where ten is biandakhabo and eleven is biandakhabo diazo abaro. This doesn't seem in the spirit of what you wanted, and the word is a little long to take to use in English.

  • Mmmm. No. The Malay word for '4', spelled empat, is actually pronounced /əm'pat/. The initial unstressed vowel (called pĕpĕt in Malay) is spelled "ĕ" -- sometimes -- but it's the most common vowel in Malay, just as it is in English (where it doesn't have a coherent spelling at all). So the word for '14' in Malay doesn't actually start with /e/. Sorry about that, but it's kind of a silly question anyway.
    – jlawler
    Apr 24, 2015 at 23:36
  • @jlawler: Thanks for the info about how the word is pronounced. I assumed the question was about only about the spelling, not the phonology, since it's for a correspondence with the letters A to F. There's precedent with other numerals in English having spelling not matching their phonology: the word "one" starts with the letter <o>, even though it starts with the phoneme /w/. Apr 25, 2015 at 0:04
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    @jlawler In other words, the first vowel of empat is pronounced somewhat like that of eleven, right? Apr 25, 2015 at 0:54
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    English 'eleven', yes. The first vowel is /ə/, just like Malay 'empat'.
    – jlawler
    Apr 25, 2015 at 3:08
  • @jlawler. My Malay/Indonesian informants say [əmpat] with even stress, or a slight stress on the first syllable. They tell me that [əm'pat] is definitely wrong.
    – fdb
    May 5, 2015 at 20:04

Nganasan '11' is [bʲiʔ ŋuʔoi], also in Caddo it's [bínáyʔah háyú wístsʼiʔ]. In Okordia (Okodia), '14' is [eji nii fɪn(ɪ)]. If you want numerals, look here.

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