RE: Arabic numbers

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Wed Mar 14 2007 - 18:12:02 CST

  • Next message: Gilbert Sneed: "Re : Arabic numbers"

    > De : [] De la
    > part de Behnam
    > Envoyé : jeudi 15 mars 2007 00:00
    > À : James Tu
    > Cc :
    > Objet : Re: Arabic numbers
    > I'm afraid I don't have all the answers but few clarifications.
    > What you call 'Arabic Numbers' (as opposed to Roman numeral) refers
    > to 10 digits numeral system which was invented in Arab civilization.
    > Until modern time, it was never displayed as 123...
    > In Arabic language it is displayed as you typed it and it is not
    > indic. Indic numeral have different shape for some numbers as ٤ ٥ ٦
    > which are shaped as ۴ ۵ ۶
    > As far as I know, those who use these numbers call 1234..., numbers
    > in English!
    > But they are used in some regions (English numbers)
    > The reaction to forcing kids to use English numbers may vary from
    > tolerated to outrage!
    > Behnam

    The reality is even more complex than that! In fact distinct digits have first appeared in India, but after evolution of other old writing systems that have travelled several times in the region between Western Asia and South Asia. Then Arabs have created a zero (sifer) that has come back to India, and several numeric systems have been used at the same time. One of them came back to Arabs, and then to Europe where they have also slightly evoluted (notably in Spain where they were the most widely used).

    The conversion from Roman numbers to those "Arabic" numbers in fact invented in India, modified in Arabia, then back in India and to the rest of the world under various forms, was very late in Europe that was very reluctant to adopting a zero digit (in fact, even in old semitic cultures, there were resistances too, and even today, there remains some cultures originated from India that don't have a widely adopted zero digit).

    It is the zero digit that was the most important creation, because this created the simpler positional notation.

    But now today, if you go in North Africa, for example Algeria, the Arabo-European digits are named "Arabic" digits (like we most often do), and the Indo-Arabic digits are named... the "Roman digits" (sic!), which is wrong historically, but gives an idea of the many confusions in this area.

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