This is a brief introduction into learning Nahuatl numbers. Without getting too involved in academic explanations at the moment, my first suggestion is to just practice and memorize the names of the Nahuatl numbers. Mastering the numbers 1-20 are the essential foundation for counting into higher quantities. As you become familiar with the Nahuatl number names you start to notice how elements of certain name numbers are utilized by other numbers. Remember that different Nahua communities have variations in how they write and pronounce Nahuatl. In other literature you may find different spellings or pronunciations of the words but you will see that they are not far off from what is presented here.
Please keep in mind that the words for the numbers, like all Nahuatl or Indigenous words, have symbolic and deeper association than simply being a name for a number. For example:
The number 5, Macuilli, and the number 10, Matlactli, both the have the word “Ma.” Ma is associated with the hand (five fingers). In Nahuatl speak, Ma is roughly translated as “have” or “be”, in the sense of invoking a command or wish, as in: Ma Cualli Yohualli (Have a good night) or Ma Xipactinemi (be well. ) So if ma is a reference to the hand how does it mean have/be? I’m glad you asked. It really denotes a spiritual hand gesture (mudra) that is meant to evoke whatever comes after. Imagine Baby Yoda wishing you a good day in this fashion:
Another example is the number 20, Cempohualli. Cempohualli does not merely mean twenty. More accurately it means: “A complete count.” It is from this peak of 20 that numbers are counted. For further illustration, Ome Cempohualli would be “two complete counts” (aka 40), Yei Cempohualli would be “3 complete counts” (aka 60), and so on.
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