Answer Key: Numbers

Eloise Kadlecek, Collin Kawan-Hemler, and Shoshana Promer

This sample answer key corresponds to the Numbers chapter. Keep in mind, in most cases, there may be more than one way to answer a question.

Exercise 2.1

(a) Transcribe (i.e. write out) what you see in Figure 2.
(b) Compare your transcription with a classmate’s.

VNo. Tǒbi.vel.chäga. 1

Dos. Tǒpa.l.cato. 2

Tres. Chǒna.l.cäyo. 3

Quatro. Täpa.l.tǎa. 4


Exercise 2.2

Look at lines three and four on your own now.  Are there any printing conventions that remain unclear?

Possible answers may include periods between the words, accent marks, or ornate lettering.


Exercise 4.1

Your turn!  Each of the following numbers is already split into parts for you. Figure out the composition of each number, then explain how they mean what they mean.

16. chino-bi-tobi

Fifteen-and-one = 15+1 = 16


17. chino-bi-topa

Fifteen-and-two = 15+2 = 17

or chino-bi-cato

Fifteen-and-two(set B) = 15+2 = 17

or ce-chona qui-zaha calle

Another three will walk to twenty = 3 more until 20 = 20-3 = 17


18. chino-bi-chona

Fifteen-and-three = 15+3 = 18

or ce-topa calle

Another two until twenty= 20-2 = 18

or ce-topa qui-zaha calle

Another two will walk to twenty= 2 more until 20= 20-2= 18


19. chino-bi-tapa

Fifteen-and-four = 15+4= 19

or ce-tobi calle

Another one until twenty = 20-1 = 19

or ce-tobi qui-zaha calle

Another one will walk to twenty = 1 more until 20 = 20-1 = 19


20. calle



21. calle-bi-tobi

Twenty-and-one = 20+1= 21


22. calle-bi-topa

Twenty-and-two = 20+2= 22

or calle-bi-cato

Twenty-and-two(set B)= 20+2= 22


23. calle-bi-chona

Twenty-and-three= 20+3= 23

or calle-bi-cayo

Twenty-and-three(set B)= 20+3= 23


24. calle-bi-tapa

Twenty-and-four= 20+4= 24


25. calle-bi-cayo

Twenty-and-five= 20+5= 25


26. calle-bi-xopa

Twenty-and-six = 20+6= 26


27. calle-bi-cache

Twenty-and-seven= 20+7= 27


28. calle-bi-xono

Twenty-and-eight= 20+8= 28


29. calle-bi-ga

Twenty-and-nine= 20+9= 29


30. calle-bi-chij

Twenty-and-ten= 20+10= 30


Exercise 4.2

What do you notice about the way that these numbers are built up?  In what ways is it similar to English and other languages you know?  In what ways is it different?

Zapotec seems to use 15 and 20 as anchor numbers (base 15 or 20). English and Spanish use 10 as an anchor number (base 10), counting how many after multiples of ten each number is. All of these languages seem to use multiples of 5 as their bases, most likely due to the number of fingers we have, but the difference is which multiple of 5 is used. Answers will vary.


Exercise 4.3

Ready for a challenge?  In the numbers below you’ll notice that there are no hyphens that divide the words into their meaningful parts.  This time, figure out what the parts are and analyze them as you did in Exercise 4.1. (While we stop here at 24,000, the Zapotec number system could be used to count higher, of course! There is no reason it couldn’t continue to count infinitely high.)

31. callebichijbitobi


twenty-and-ten-and-one (20+10+1= 31)


32. callebichijbitopa


twenty-and-ten-and-two (20+10+2= 32)


33. callebichijbichona


twenty-and-ten-and-three (20+10+3= 33)


35. callebichino


Twenty-and-fifteen ((20+15= 35)


40. toua



41. touabitobi

toua-bi-tobi= Forty-and-one= 40+1= 41


50. touabichij

Toua-bi-chi= forty-and-ten= 40+10= 50


51. touabichijbitobi

toua-bi-chij-bi-tobi= forty-and-ten-and-one= 40+10+1= 51


60. cayona



100. cayoa

One hundred


120. xopalalle

xopa-lalle= six-twenty= 6×20= 120


130. xopalallebichij

xopa-lalle-bi-chij= six-twenty-and-ten= 6×20+10= 130


140. cachelalle

cache-lalle= seven-twenty- 7×20= 140


200. chija



400. tobiela

tobi-ela= one-four hundred= 1×400= 400


500. tobiela cayoa
Tobi-ela cayoa= four hundred one hundred= 400+100= 500


600. tobiela chija

Four hundred two hundred= 400+200= 600


800. topaela

topa-ela= two-four hundred- 2×400= 800


1000. catoela chija

cato-ela chija= two(set B)-four hundred two-hundred= 2×400+200= 1000


1600. tapaela

tapa-ela= four-four hundred= 4×400= 1600


2000. cayoela

cayo-ela= five-four hundred= 5×400= 2000


4000. chijela

chij-ela= ten-four hundred= 10*400= 4000


8000. chagaçoti or tobiçoti

chaga-çoti= one(set B)-eight thousand= 1×8000=8000

tobi-çoti= one(set A)-eight thousand= 1×8000=8000


24000. chonaçoti

chona-çoti= three-eight thousand= 3×8000=24000


Exercise 4.4

Explain how the phrase tapa ella chela cayona bixopa means ‘1666’. Some words may be spelled slightly differently than you saw above!

(This number appears in the first couple lines of a bill of sale written in San Miguel Etla in 1666. You can see the images here:

Tapa ella chela cayona bixopa

4       400           60         and 6

tapa ella chela cayona bi-xopa=

four-four hundred sixty-and-six= 4×400+60+6= 1666


Exercise 4.5

Ready for a challenge?  Based on the pattern you figured out in Exercises 4.1, 4.3, and 4.4, how do you think you would say the following numbers in Colonial Valley Zapotec?


cayonabichijbitapa= 60+10+4= 74






cechona quizaha cayoa= 3 will walk to 100= 100-3= 97



Cayoa callebitapa



Cayoa callebichijbixopa



tobielabitopa= 400+2= 402


Exercise 5.1

Can you figure out the bases used to count in Zapotec? Hint: there are three bases! One used for 10-14, another for 15-19, and another for 20 and above!

10-14: base 10

15-19: base 15

20+: base 20


Exercise 5.2

Do some research on the Mesoamerican representation of numbers using bars and dots. Does this system reflect the structure of the number system and the bases as you analyzed in Exercise 5.1?  If so, how?

The Mayan number system used dots and bars. It is base 20, similar to some numbers in the Zapotec number system. These dots and bars (5 dots equals one bar) are combined in ways similar to the Zapotec numerical system,  where they add numbers to the bases to make a larger number. So you could have a number like 425, and the bars would be stacked on top of each other, the top being the 400s place (so one dot) the middle being the 20s place (one dot) and the bottom being the 1s place, so a bar (equaling 5).


Exercise 6.1

What similarities and differences do you notice between numbers written in the colonial period and how they sound today?

Although similarities can be seen, in today’s spoken version, vowels at the end are almost always omitted, and ‘bi’, which in the Colonial written version was used as ‘and’ is not used in the modern version. The numbers seemed to have changed by losing the vowels at the end and having a more drawn out sound in the middle. Also instead of calle (or starting with a c) these numbers start with a g, so this can show us the spelling and pronunciation of the word for 20 has changed. Answers may vary.


Exercise 6.2 How does it work in your language?

What are the numbers like in your language? What similarities and differences do you notice between the numbers in your language and the numbers in Colonial Valley Zapotec?

Answers may vary based on language. Possible answers may talk about bases and how numbers are constructed.

In English, higher numbers are made up of parts similar to Colonial Valley Zapotec. However, the English number system is based on multiples of 10, while this version of Zapotec uses 20 as the base number.


Exercise 6.3

Search the internet for more examples of Zapotec counting. Compare them to the numbers in Tlacochahuaya Zapotec.

In Isthmus Zapotec, the names of the numbers themselves are very similar to Colonial Valley Zapotec, with some variation. Additionally, 20 is used as a base number, with forty being two times twenty, sixty being three times 20, and so on. This is the same as Colonial Valley Zapotec. There are differences between the spelling between the variants: c could be used in place of g, because they are minimal pairs (two sounds that differ by only one feature).


Here are numbers in Isthmus Zapotec

1 – tobi

2 – chupa

3 – chonna

4 – tapa

5 – gaayu’

6 – xhoopa’

7 – gadxe

8 – xhono

9 – ga’

10 – chii



Caseidyneën Saën - Learning Together Copyright © by Eloise Kadlecek, Collin Kawan-Hemler, and Shoshana Promer. All Rights Reserved.

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