General Question

PrancingUrchin's avatar

Do most languages and/or cultures use the same numeric symbols that the English language uses?

Asked by PrancingUrchin (1939points) July 28th, 2008 from iPhone

May be a naive question but I was wondering.

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

22 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

No. Without googling, (which is what you should be doing,” I can think of Hebrew, Greek, Cyrillic, Farsi, Arabic, Sanscrit, Hindi, for starters.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Gail, you always beat me to it, and know a more complete answer, to boot!
I was going to say Hebrew and Arabic. Also Japanese and Chinese, although I am told that many younger generation Chinese are familiar with the numeral system English uses, and sometimes use it casually.

gailcalled's avatar

I had forgotten Chinese and Japanese. Could we add Vietnamese, Korean, also?

If I had time, I would check Malasian, Tagalog, Urdu, Pashti, but let’s let @Prancing do the work/

LKidKyle1985's avatar

hmmm correct me if I am wrong, But for any kind of math problems don’t most of those countries use numeric symbols because they are easier. I mean even here we have Roman Numerals that we use instead for a lot of Non-math related items. But I think to answer Prancings question, if other cultures use them, I think that yes they do use them probably almost as often as we do. But they do have different systems for numbers as well, just like we have Roman numerals.
But like I said, I am kind of shooting from the hip on this one.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

The question I thought s/he was asking was, “do most other languages use the same 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 representation that we do?”
The question asked if they have “the same numeric symbols”, not if they had any kind of numeric symbols.

Prancing will have to tell us exactly what was meant.

AstroChuck's avatar

I don’t know what eveyone is talking about. The numeric symbols that we use are Arabic. And it’s pretty much used universally.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

lol, yeah actually I was thinking that they were Arabic as well, but didn’t know for sure so didn’t want to say. And just like in america or other european countries, we only use roman numerals for special things and the arabic system for everything else.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

AstroChuck, you’re right, my mistake. I read up on the topic, and it turns out that “Arabic numerals” are not actually Arabic, but from Indian origin. We call them “Arabic” because the Arabs brought them to Europe where “our” first contact with them was. The symbols they use to represent numbers in Arabic are derived from the same source as ours, but they actually look a little different. The ones used in conjuction with the English language are called the Western Arabic Numerals, and the ones used with the modern Arabic language are called the Eastern Arabic Numerals, technically. (This is what I gleaned from some internet sources one of which being a well-cited wikipedia article. So it’s possible that something contained here is not exactly correct. Please don’t hesitate to let me know.)

PrancingUrchin's avatar

I apologize for the ambiguity of my question, but yes, I was referring to the Arabic numerals that we use. I know that there are others, i.e. Roman numerals, I was wondering if the Arabic numerals were used by others.

nina's avatar

I know for sure that Cyrillic is using arabic numerals. As far as Hebrew is concerned, looks like in secular business use it is using Arabic numerals also.

whiteowl's avatar

People! You are funny!
You could try to ask if other countries have electricity!
Arabic numeric system is used everywhere! May be some tribes which do not have much contact with the rest of world.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Actually, whiteowl, I just got a response from my college linguistics teacher, and that assertion is incorrect.

Here is the complete letter:

Hi Kendall!

The number characters we use in the west are commonly called Arabic numerals but
the more accurate name used in the history of science is Hindu-Arabic numerals.
Europeans got them from Arabic mathematicians who in turn got them from Hindu
mathematicians.

The shapes of the numeral characters diverged somewhat from their original shapes,
as characters often do over time.

The characters used today in Arabic speaking countries have the same historical origin as
ours.
But those modern Arabic characters
are descended from a slightly different version of the original Hindu-Arabic numeral
character set: namely
the “Eastern Arabic numerals” used by Arabs further east than the north African ones
from which
medieval Europeans adopted numeral characters. (The Roman ones used before in
the west were such an unwieldy technology!)

The eastern characters have changed their shape
less over time than the ones the Europeans adopted. So modern numerals used by Arabs
look a lot more like the original Hindu-Arabic numerals than our numeral characters do.

There’s a good article in Wikipedia under “Arabic numerals”. I see there is a section
of “Evolution of Symbols” that has a table showing the correspondences between the various
historically-related numeral character systems that came out of the original Hindu ones.
Have a look!

These gradual changes in character shapes are similar to the way the single middle eastern
alphabetic character set—that apparently arose just once in history—
developed into all the different modern descendent alphabets, including
our Roman alphabet, the Greek alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet, and many other alphabets.
(But not
non-alphabetic systems like Chinese characters, Korean characters etc.) The evolution
of our alphabet is an interesting story too. The story I gave you guys about Greek kappa
being historically the same letter as Roman c was just the tip of the iceberg.

all best from Germany,
Suzanne Kemmer

whiteowl's avatar

La_chica_gomela,
:)) it is very interesting that you did this huge job to prove me that i am wrong, but would you please explain me in normal words what this nice German lady meant????
Thank you :)

La_chica_gomela's avatar

I didn’t write her just “to prove you wrong” I had already written her before you answered. I thought it was an interesting question, and I knew she would know the answer.

Basically she’s saying that the letters English speakers use, and the ones used by Arabic speakers (and speakers of several other middle eastern languages, and all Indian languages) are derived from the same symbols, but they do look different.

(Just as the greek letters “alpha” and “beta” are derived from the same Indo European symbols as “A” and “B” but they look very different. )

She also said that the wikipedia article titled “Arabic numerals” had correct information (right now).

Hope that clears up some of the confusion.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

PrancingUrchin,
Here is another link for you: http://www.longpassages.org/images/Arabic_numbers_with_english_numbers.jpg
It’s a chart showing the difference between “Western Arabic” numerals, and “Eastern Arabic” numerals. As you can see, other than perhaps the number 9, they are almost completely unrecognizable.

PrancingUrchin's avatar

@La Chica Gomela,
Thanks for the great info. I thought that this may have been a no-brainer, but I’m glad that someone else finds this interesting too.

pathfinder's avatar

The same numeric symbols are using in moustly of part in europe.This is like with number six.In french,german,dutch,english,czech,polish,italy, languages this number starts by s.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

what do you mean “languages this number starts by s.” ?
i think that might be a typo…
or do you mean that the actual word six, like S – I – X is the same or similar in all those different languages?
i think prancing urchin was talking about the symbols “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,” etc, but thanks for the info, pathfinder!

gailcalled's avatar

@Path; Interesting. Thanks from me, also.

Sept, sechs, zes, six, sest ,szesc, sei. Seis is 6 in both Spanish and Portuguese.

In Greek it is epsilon, Xi, iota. (Diacritical marks too complicated to include.)
In Hungarian – hat.
In Romanian – sasa

La_chica_gomela's avatar

Same or similar ways of saying “six” and other numbers is an indication of these languages being descended from the same great great grandparent language Proto-Indo-European

Gail, is it acceptable to use two dashes in one word? I feel like it’s not, but linguists always seem to represent this word this way…

Another fascinating issue, (to me anyway) but a slightly different one from the numeric symbols we were discussing before, as they were borrowed from the Indian system through Arabic, while the words were never borrowed from a different culture, but inherited parent to child.

gailcalled's avatar

Your S-I-X was clear and made the point. That’s good enough for me.

SeventhSense's avatar

^^wordsmiths contemplating numbers ^^

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