Chinese Names for Integers

  • Rémi AnicotteEmail author


Abstract Chinese names for integers have always used the digits [1] through [9] and a series of decimal pivots starting with [10], [102], [103] and [104]. Changes occurred in the way the compounds [digit] [pivot] were concatenated, with the conjunction yòu until the third century BCE, then with the term líng, which emerged around the twelfth century CE. The behavior of the morpheme [1] with pivots also evolved. Finally, in Contemporary Chinese, there is a choice between two morphemes for the digit 2 yielding legitimate alternative numerals; and there is the possibility to form elliptic number names which are not meant to be incorporated before classifiers. Some changes in the features of Chinese linguistic numeration were likely the result of language planning; they nevertheless hint at a tension between a tendency to maintain the morphosyntax of number names within the framework of the syntax of quantification versus simplification and shorter numerals.


Number names Numerals Linguistic numeration Quantification Measure words Classifiers Language planning 





measure word







3OBJ: 3SG:

third person singular pronoun


the character A is a rendition of the original character encountered in the Chinese corpus, the character B in parenthesis is a modern form for what A is understood to mean

[n] (with a number n written in a given language Arabic digits):

the mono-morphemic expression of the number n in a given language



For their invaluable help in selecting relevant corpus and/or interpreting available data, I thank Karine Chemla (SPHERE), Redouane Djamouri (CRLAO), Christoph Harbsmeier (University of Oslo), Laurent Sagart (CRLAO), Sylviane Schwer (Paris 13 University), Xu Dan (INaLCO, IUF) and Zhang Xiancheng (Southwest University, Chongqing). Conclusions and shortcomings are mine.


  1. Brainerd, Barron. 1968. On the syntax of certain classes of numerical expressions. In Grammars for number names, ed. Hugo Brandt Corstius, 9–40. Dordrecht: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brainerd, Barron, and Fred C.C Peng. 1968. A syntactic comparison of Chinese and Japanese numerical expressions. ed. Hugo Brandt Corstius, 53–81. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  3. Chemla, Karine, and Guo Shuchun. 2004. Les Neuf chapitres: Le classique mathématique de la Chine ancienne et ses commentaires, Édition critique bilingue chinois-français. Paris: Dunod.Google Scholar
  4. Goldstein, Melvyn C., C. Melvyn, Gelek Rinpoche, and Lobsang Phuntsog. 1991. Essentials of modern literary Tibetan. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. Haugen, Einar. 1983. The implementation of corpus planning: Theory and practice. In Progress in language planning. International perspectives, ed. Juan Cobarrubias and Joshua A. Fishman, 269–290. The Hague: Mouton Publishers.Google Scholar
  6. Miller, Kevin F., Catherine M. Smith, Jianjun Zhu, and Houcan Zhang. 1995. Preschool origins of cross-national differences in mathematical competence: The role of number-naming systems. Psychological Science 6(1): 56–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Miller, Kevin F., Melissa Kelly, and Xiaobin Zhou. 2005. Learning mathematics in China and the United States: Cross-cultural insights into the nature and course of preschool mathematical development. In Handbook of mathematical cognition, ed. Jamie I.D. Campbell, 163–178. New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  8. Peng, Hao 彭浩. 2001. Zhāngjiāshān Hàn jiǎn Suàn shù shū zhùshì 張家山漢簡《算數書》註釋 [Commented edition of the Suàn shù shū, A Book on bamboo strips excavated from a Han dynasty tombs at Zhāngjiāshān]. Beijing: Kēxué chūbǎnshè 科學出版社 [Science Press].Google Scholar
  9. Wu, Wenjun 吳文俊, ed. 2000. Qīng zhōng qī dào qīng mò 清中期到清末 [The Qing dynasty, from the 18th century to the end]. In Zhōngguó shùxué shǐ dà xì 中國數學史大系 [Complete Series on the History of Chinese Mathematics], vol. 8. Beijing: Běijīng shīfàn dàxué chūbǎnshè 北京師範大學出版社 [Beijing Normal University Publishing Group].Google Scholar
  10. Xu, Dan 徐丹. 2010. Cóng yǔyán lèixíng kàn Hànyǔ fùshù xíngshì de fāzhǎn 從語言類型看漢語複數形式的發展 [The Development of plural in Chinese: A Typological perspective]. In Liàng yǔ fùshù de yánjiū – Zhōngguó jìngnèi yǔyán de kuà shíkōng kǎochá 量與複數的研究-中國境內語言的跨時空考察 [Research on quantification and plurality – Cross-linguistic and historical survey of the languages of China], Xu Dan ed., 90–112. Beijing: Shāngwù Yìnshūguǎn 商務印刷館 [The Commercial Press].Google Scholar
  11. Xu, Pinfang 徐品方, and Zhang Hong 張紅. 2006. Shùxué fúhào shǐ 數學符號史 [History of mathematical symbols]. Beijing: Kēxué chūbǎnshè 科學出版社 [Science Press].Google Scholar
  12. Zhou, Shengya 周生亞. 1984. “Èr, liǎng, shuāng, zài” yòngfǎ bǐjiào “二、兩、雙、再”用法比較 [Contrastive uses of “èr, liǎng, shuāng, zài”]. Zhōngguó Yǔwén 中國語文 [Chinese Language] 6: 445–451.Google Scholar

Corpora and Dictionaries

  1. CCL (Center for Chinese Linguistics) [Běijīng Dàxué Zhōngguó Yǔyán Yánjiū Zhōngxīn 北京大學中國語言研究中心]. 2009. Online corpus: Beijing University, Beijing. Accessed July 2013.
  2. CHANT (CHinese ANcient Texts) [Hàndá Wénkù 漢達文庫]. 2005. Online resource: Hong-Kong Chinese University, Hong-Kong.
  3. Gallica. Online resource: Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  4. International Dunhuang Project. Online resource: British Library.
  5. Wénwù Túxiàng Yánjiūshì Zīliàokù 文物圖像研究室資料庫. Online resource: Institute of History and Philology of the Academia Sinica 2009.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CRLAOLycée français de PékinBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations