Writing numbers

lampiao

Senior Member
Portugal/Portuguese
Hi ppl,

I do not speak arabic, but as I was wondering around this forum a question popped up in my mind:
- I know that arabic and hebrew are written from the right to the left side;
- Also, the numbers commonly used in the western world (I don't know about far east) are of arabic origin;

Isn't it confusing reading words from right to left and reading numbers from left to right?
Or do you put them in a different order?
And finally, were the numbers originally ordered from right to left like characters in words?

thanks
 
  • cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    lampiao said:
    Isn't it confusing reading words from right to left and reading numbers from left to right?
    Or do you put them in a different order?
    And finally, were the numbers originally ordered from right to left like characters in words?
    Hi Lampiao,
    I don't speak Hebrew, so I'll only say what I know about Arabic :
    We write numbers in the same order as in English, French... It's not confusing reading them from left to right, maybe because we're simply used to that :) or because we read them as an entity and not really a figure by figure, so we don't really read them FROM left TO right but just as bloc.
    And to my knowledge, numbers were always ordered the way they are now.
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    Just to add what westerners call arabic numerals are used in countries from Tunisia west and from Libya east the numbers are called Hindi numbers. brought west through Spain and transformed.
     

    amikama

    a mi modo
    עברית
    cherine said:
    We write numbers in the same order as in English, French... It's not confusing reading them from left to right, maybe because we're simply used to that :) or because we read them as an entity and not really a figure by figure, so we don't really read them FROM left TO right but just as bloc.
    Just the same as in Hebrew :)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    What confuses those of us who write from left to right is that we're used to reading numbers this way:

    1985 = 1000 + 900 + 80 + 5

    I suppose that in Arabic and Hebrew you read (in your minds, at least):

    1985 = 5 + 80 + 900 + 1000
     

    amikama

    a mi modo
    עברית
    No. I read it as you read it (from thousands to units). And no, it does not confuse me :)

    Just to demonstrate visually how I read Hebrew with numbers:
    נולדתי בשנת 1976 בכפר קטן
    <===
    ===> <====
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Interesting! I wonder whether the Indian language in which Arabic numerals were first invented was written from right to left, or from left to right...
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    Devanagari script derived from Gupta script is written from left to right as are the numbers (adad al hindi/ arqam al hindiyya in Arabic) numbers used by eastern Arabs 0-9 and original:
    ٠١٢٣٤٥٦٧٨٩
    ० १ २ ३ ४ ५ ६ ७ ८ ९
     

    Jhorer Brishti

    Senior Member
    United States/Bangladesh English/Bengali
    In bengali the numbers are written from left to right as well. In the Brahmi script(at which time "arabic" numerals were created in India) from which all of these derive the numbers are written from left to right. I don't know much about the Brahmi script except that the first three numerals are lines.ie: 1 line represents the number one(eka), 2 lines(the number 2), 3 lines(3). The rest of the numerals look very similar to bengali ones which look very similar to what's used in the west. One striking contrast is that the bengali number char(four) is written as an 8(a bit more loopy and cursive). This must have been corrupted along the way(from the middle east to europe) to mean double its original value. The number that looks like a 9 corresponds to "shaat"(seven). The two is almost the same as the 2 in english and dash(dosh,ten) is constructed by combining the number for (ek,e is pronounced like a in fat)1 and the number for 0(shunnya) which is how "arabic" numerals are also constructed.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thank you for your reply.

    Jhorer Brishti said:
    One striking contrast is that the bengali number char(four) is written as an 8(a bit more loopy and cursive). This must have been corrupted along the way(from the middle east to europe) to mean double its original value.
    I would tend to attribute the change to different calligraphic styles, rather than to a corruption of meaning. I understand that many different variations of those numerals have been employed throughout history, from India to the Mediterranean.

    Jhorer Brishti said:
    The number that looks like a 9 corresponds to "shaat"(seven).
    There's not much difference between a 7 and a 9, really. Just a little sleight of the wrist. ;)
     

    draregsiavreg

    New Member
    French
    Hello,

    I don't know Arabic, exept a few words, but I have always been puzzled by one fact.

    In Arabic, words and sentences are written from right to left but numbers are written from left to right. It does not look logical and rational to me. More, it seems to me completely irrational and illogical. If you are to write a very long number between two words, let's say for example, 237,345,675,498,234,456.09876, you may have some difficulty to choose where you put the beginnig of your number, or you have to begin to write it backwards, beginning by it's end.

    As there is no mathematical need, in a language, to write in a way or another -it's only a convention-, it looks being a mystery to me. And I had never had any info or explanation about it.

    So if somebody can give me an explanation (and gives it, of course ! ;)), from where that comes, maybe since when it occured, I will be very pleased and grateful to have it; and why it can be considered logical too.

    Is it also the case in some other languages, where the writing of the words are in the opposite way of the writing of the numbers ? Does anybody know about it ?

    Thanks.

    PS : my mother tong is French and I may have made a few mistakes in English. Don't hesitate to correct them, so I can improve a little.

    Moderator note:
    This new thread is now merged to the older one to keep the discussion in one place.
     
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    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    So if somebody can give me an explanation (and gives it, of course ! ;)), from where that comes, maybe since when it occured, I will be very pleased and grateful to have it; and why it can be considered logical too.
    I'd say that it's because the Arabic numerals were borrowed from India, where they write from left to right.
     

    clevermizo

    Senior Member
    English (USA), Spanish
    Thanks, Outsider, maybe, but still a little hungry !
    Language is systematic, however it is neither rational nor logical. All languages in the world have various things that might be called inefficiencies. For example, there is not necessarily a need to spell words historically rather than phonetically, as in French or in English. There is not necessarily a need to write words in complicated blocks made up of several other pieces, thousands of which map onto single morphemes, as in Chinese.

    Really, when you are a native speaker of a language, you just learn to read and write your language as it is. If you consider something to be illogical, then let it be so, and as we say in English, suck it up. Language organically develops, and like biological evolution, mutations that are not deleterious to the system do not disappear. Once a language is standardized, those variations become fixed in the system until some change (like language reform).

    Even I as a non-native have no problem writing Arabic with numbers. It may take a millisecond longer, but really it's not bad. Secondly, for simple multiples of ten, you actually say "five-and-twenty" in Arabic, rather than "twenty-five", and so it doesn't interrupt the flow of reading, which would then still proceed from right-to-left.

    If you want to know "why it is logical", well I doubt it can be rationalized so easily. Outsider's comment sounds plausible to me. There are probably a number of historical reasons for this phenomenon.
     
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    pcongre

    Senior Member
    European Spanish, Catalan
    I heard from my Arabic teacher that the order of how the numbers used to be read in Arabic was from right to left, i.e. 1984 = four and eighty and nine-hundred and thousand, but "early on in history" (don't know what he meant by that) they changed that order in spoken Arabic, while nevertheless keeping the written form intact.
    Maybe someone with more knowledge can confirm this.
    Cheers! =)
     

    Wadi Hanifa

    Senior Member
    Arabic
    I think that's basically true. In school we were taught that the "original" method was to read 325, for example, as "five and twenty and three hundred." In fact, I think that in religious contexts (such as Friday sermons), it is still read that way, perhaps to make the sermon sound more "Classical."

    Of course, in practice in the modern world, it makes more sense to start with the "bigger" number (i.e. twenty-five, not five and twenty), because that will give you a quicker and more accurate idea of the scale of the number. In other words, in 325, the "300" is more important than the "5". That's why in modern Arabic the order has changed.
     

    draregsiavreg

    New Member
    French
    Thanks to all of you. I think you gave me the answer.

    My question was not at all a criticism. But the fact that, when I asked this question to arabic native tongue people, I've neither got any answer. That was amazing ! OK ! there was no answer because it's natural for them. But nobody told me I was wrong thinking they were writing left to write. That's why I was so puzzled.

    And, as I am a little biased :( as not knowing Arabic, I was surprised to see numbers written the same way. But I don't know either how they say a number...

    Of course, clevermizo an pcongre, if they say a number begining by the units, then the tenths, then the hudredths, the thousandths, and so on... , it is very logical to write it as "the biased I" saw, "left to right", because, in fact, they do write it "right to left".

    That is -or was, or still in a few cases (25)- the truth I suppose, isn't it ?

    If so, everything then is completely logical, my mind is in order -whatevever way it is ;) - and I will sleep very well tonight... :) :) :)

    Anyway, it could be interesting to know when "early on in history" the change pcongre talked about took place, and why. Wadi Hanifa told us the begining of an explanation that looks realistic.

    Interesting hearing from you, chaps ! :thumbsup:

    A question for clevermizo about "suck it up" : does it mean "swallow it as is, don't try to look for an explanation, as there is -or might be- none" ?
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    <...> for simple multiples of ten, you actually say "five-and-twenty" in Arabic, rather than "twenty-five" <...>
    If you want to know "why it is logical", well I doubt it can be rationalized so easily...
    Then it must be easy for Germans to learn how to count in Arabic, because they also say "five and twenty".
    And they read from left to right.
    Did you say "logical"? :)
    Sorry about the off-topic. Just a comment from a non-German beginner :).
     

    draregsiavreg

    New Member
    French
    Ok, thanks to you all, and very good remark, Nanon : 25, "fünf und zwanzig" but 201, "zwei hunderdt und eins" in German.

    But, by the way, how actually are the numbers written in Arabic when using digits, right to left or left to right ?

    Yes, Clevermizo, is there logic in a language ? Probably some, but not that much. :rolleyes: :)
     

    pcongre

    Senior Member
    European Spanish, Catalan
    Moreover (/what's more), it seems to me it seems completely irrational and illogical.

    But the fact that, when I asked this question to arabic native tongue people (native Arabic speakers is better I think), I've neither never gotten any answer.

    And, as I am a little biased as for not knowing Arabic

    That is -or was, or still is in a few cases (25)- the truth I suppose, isn't it?

    But, by the way, how actually are the numbers actually written in Arabic when using digits, right to left or left to right ?
    [Off-Topic: I took the liberty of correcting you even though I'm not a native English speaker, feel free to do the same, even with my attempts at correcting you =)]

    On-Topic: Our Arabic teacher told us that they were to be written from left to right. That is also the case if you type something into the computer: when you type in a digit, the program begins to write from left to right until you're done with the numbers. Don't know about the origins of this either.
    Hope that helped anyway, salut drareg! =)
     

    draregsiavreg

    New Member
    French
    Our Arabic teacher told us that they were to be written from left to right. That is also the case if you type something into the computer: when you type in a digit, the program begins to write from left to right until you're done with the numbers. Don't know about the origins of this either.
    I guess it is what looks odd to me, reversing the movement of the hand when writing a text with numbers in digits inside it, and also not doing so when written in words, but it has been so for centuries, and the reason why this occured may have been forgotten through ages.

    Moreover ;) , I wonder if there are other languages where such things occurs, writing some part of a text the opposite way of the normal way. I suppose it is the case.

    But, and "yawyna", thanks a lot for everything, pcongre !


    Off topic :

    And useful to be corrected when not being a "native English speaker" ! ;) I do appreciate you have taken time to do it. :thumbsup: :)

    Oooops for "have neither got" ! Shame on me. :thumbsdown: :(
     
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    Hexlein

    Senior Member
    German
    Then it must be easy for Germans to learn how to count in Arabic, because they also say "five and twenty".
    And they read from left to right.
    Did you say "logical"? :)
    Sorry about the off-topic. Just a comment from a non-German beginner :).

    Hehehe :), Nanon, and it's more logical to say "quatre-vent-dix-huit" (four-twenty-ten-eight) instead of "achtundneunzig" (eightandtwenty)??
    ;)
    But, you're right, the german way to count is amazing.

    Ok, thanks to you all, and very good remark, Nanon : 25, "fünf und zwanzig" but 201, "zwei hunderdt und eins" in German.
    Une petite correction: fünfundzwanzig, zweihunderteins.

    Sorry for the off-topics.
     

    draregsiavreg

    New Member
    French
    Off topics are always useful and requested ! I have never been learning German. Just a one month stay in a family near Hamburg... 47 years ago, and, from time to time, a short stay here and there ! Always good to learn something.

    Danke sehr, Hexlein. :)


    By the way, Hexlein, it is quatre-vingt-dix-huit, not "vent".

    A little more off topic :

    That comes from old times were French - and others, among them the Mayas- counted in the base twenty (fingers and toes), instead of the base ten. But in every number in French, we spell as written, from left to right.

    A very interesting explanation from LMorland, found here. […]
     
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    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Off topics are always useful and requested !
    Faux!

    Off-topics divert from the main topic of the thread. And they're against the forum rules

    If you guys are interested in the comparison between all these languages, I'd be happy to move the thread to the All Languages forum (just let me know by PM). But as the topic of the thread, as worded by the thread starter, is only about the Arabic system, let's focus on that.

    Thanks!
     

    draregsiavreg

    New Member
    French
    Cherine, as "off topics", I was mainly meaning that I do appreciate a correction of my mistakes in English, as I am not a native English speaker. And correcting a mistake is never -except a very few cases- in the topic.

    You do say I am not in the correct part, because off topic. For example, would you say that, if somebody wants to correct me if I make two mistakes in a single sentence, those mistakes have to be answered each one in a different part of the forum, one in the English vocabulary part and the other in the English grammar part, but not at all -as violating the laws- contraryly to what clevermizo did for instance by quoting and correcting in an answer ?

    My post is about a question of the problem of the spelling and the writing of numbers (left to right in digits as opposite to right to left, in Arabic) which looked a bit illogical to me.

    So it's that appearance of "illogical" in Arabic that is the topic, and so, it is completely in the topic to compare other languages, in this post and not in another one.

    Maybe my title is not clear enough, but I think the question is clear. Moreover I do not know that much about languages where you right from right to left, but as I went in Arabic speaking countries, I noticed that in that language and it puzzled me there. And it still puzzles me here. And I have no idea of the existence of such a thing in any other language.

    I just supposed that I would get better answers in that "Arabic" section of the forum, because more people here know about Arabic in which I noticed the problem I am trying to solve. I am French and I posted in English as I thought -but I may be wrong- that I would get more answers.

    But if you say I am not correct thinking this and that I am violating the rules of the forum, what can I reply ?

    I logged in yesterday and it is my first question. If you want to scractch my question because you think it is not at the right place, what can I say ?

    I do know that my question is about Arabic, but are you saying that when the discussion leads to something a little more general, and interesting, the discussion has to be stopped ?

    And that it is absolutely forbidden to speak of other languages, knowing the fact that if I had had no comparison with other languages, my question would never have existed ?

    Because my question does exists only because I could have compared with other languages -and espescially the one I speak, French-, where words and numbers are written in the same way.

    For me, the comparison with other languages is completely in topic. And the way words are written, and the reasons why they are written this way or that way, helps to understand the question I asked.

    Thanks for reading me, Cherine.

    I am sorry, but I do not know what "PM" means, and I read that abbreviations are not to be used normally in the forum. I am not very used to English speaking forums either.

    Anyway, if you do think that this subject is more general and of general interest, may be you can set a topic elsewere about it. And maybe it has nothing to do in any forum of the Wordreference forums, as I am speaking of the writing of numbers in digits and not in words..., though... :)
     

    cherine

    Moderator
    Arabic (Egypt).
    Bonsoir,

    Both your post and mine are off-topic, but I'll reply here because it took me some time to see your post, and I guess the others who've read your post are also entitled to an explanation.

    First, PM is the short form of Private Message. SMS language is forbidden in the forum (things like: c u 2moro) but commonly used short forms are ok (like: PM, fem., masc., adj.,....).

    As for what is considered off-topic in this thread: it's the comparison between right-to-left and left-to-right systems. If you are really interested in such a wide comparison, it's very fine in the forum, just let me know and I'll move the thread to the proper forum: the All Languages forum.

    Regards,
    Chérine
     
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