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Digression: little/big endian numbers LTR/RTL

From: Jeremy Carroll <jjc@hpl.hp.com>
Date: Thu, 01 May 2008 16:52:20 +0100
Message-ID: <4819E734.4080806@hpl.hp.com>
To: Simon Montagu <smontagu@smontagu.org>
CC: Frank Ellermann <hmdmhdfmhdjmzdtjmzdtzktdkztdjz@gmail.com>, www-international@w3.org

OLD SUBJECT: Re: BiDi IRI deployment?

Simon Montagu wrote:
> Frank Ellermann wrote:
>> [Digression... I'm not completely convinced that numbers are
>> really written LTR in RTL languages, or if they just have a
>> "little endian" concept where RTL languages use "big endian"]
> This question comes up every so often. I can assure you that native 
> speakers of RTL languages write numbers LTR, whether by pen or by keyboard.

This is not what my (north african arabic) native speaker informant 
tells me.

He tells me:
- classical arabic numbers are RTL
   (compare Olde English "four and twenty blackbirds"
- when writing in classical arabic mode numbers are written RTL (i.e. 
the hand moves from right to left)
- dialects are polluted by the colonial languages (e.g. north african 
arabic by french).
- this pollution results in numbers being said and/or written LTR (i.e. 
the hand jumps leftwards, moves back to the right when writing the 
number, and then jumps leftward again).


It seems to me that arabic numbers were always RTL with least 
significant digit first; when imported into western Europe these 
gradually became LTR with most significant digit first (because of the 
LTR writing system). This resulted in changes such that the phrase "four 
and twenty" is now archaic, because of the least significant digit first 
With European colonialism the most significant digit first meme was 
re-exported from western Europe back into arabic speaking communities, 
resulting in the apparent LTR numbers within a RTL writing system.

Received on Thursday, 1 May 2008 15:53:24 UTC

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