Global Numerals


Article E09


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  1. Ancient India had its share of science. Some herbal medicines and Yoga meditation are acclaimed even now. Columbus and other pioneers tried to search a new sea-route to India, a country richer than medieval Europe. Ancient India had invented the decimal system. Numerals 0123456789 are of Indian origin. They are called Arabic numerals. That term came in use because Arab traders introduced the concept to ancient Europeans, who were accustomed to Roman symbols I V X etc. Arabic script is written from right to left, but numerals in it are written from left to right, as done in Indian and European languages. Arabs call these numerals as < al-raqam al-hind > which means (the Indian numerals).
  2. It would be better to name 0123456789 as global numerals. They are used globally in countries using Roman script and also in Russia, China, Japan, Greece, and Israel that do not use the Roman script for writing. Science-based things like calculators, telephone dials, measuring tapes, thermometers, and also coins, postage stamps etc in India make use of global numerals. Constitution of India has accepted these numerals. Hindi language for the Central Government employs global numerals. However, in India only Tamil and Malayalam languages have adopted them for all work. Other languages in India use same numerals but with different shapes. Devanagari (one) resembles global (nine) in shape causing confusion. Quite different shapes are used in Arabic script. (Example dot = zero. small circle = 5)
  3. Marathi Vidnyan Parishad, some thinkers and Marathi science text books use global numerals (also Roman symbols for chemicals, mathematics etc) while main Marathi text is in Devanagari script. But general public and most publishers use Devanagari numerals. Global numerals are seen on playing cards, train platforms, clocks, snake ladder games, hotel rooms, lift (elevator) buttons, taxi-fare meters, lottery tickets etc.
  4. Some Marathi calendars use global numerals for dates (Gregorian solar) with small type Devanagari numerals for tithi (date in Hindu lunar calendar, Marathi-month-reckoning from first day after no moon night). A solar year has 365 days. Moon makes 12 revolutions around earth in 354 days. Like Feb 29 in solar leap years, there is an extra lunar month within 3 solar years, with some extra or omitted tithi (Point is oversimplified here). There is a Marathi custom to celebrate 1000-Moon-View (nearly 1000 full moon days) at age 80.
  5. Despite inconvenience of Roman numerals (I V X) and (i v x) etc, many scholars and law-writers use them for serial reference of appendixes, legal clauses and so on, in English.
  6. Systems of dots and short lines can be used. One dot = one. Two dots = two and so on. Some dices (cubes with 6 faces) display dot numbers. One may use four short vertical lines and put a horozontal line across them to signify a group of (5). A large but managable number can be shown, and counted, with some groups and few free lines.
  7. Telephone numbers with more that ten digits are difficult to narrate and remember. A mixture of alphabets and numerals (such as vehicle numberplates) help in identification. It is easier to read and write 72 and 2 billion, than Seventy-two and 2,000,000,000.
  8. Science could not have progressed without decimal system. Salute ancient India for its invention. Salute ancient Arabs and later Europeans for spreading the concept. Use of global numerals, in all countries and languages, would be a welcome step to unify mankind.

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Updated on : $ December 22, 2004 $
Author : Madhukar N Gogate