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Re: Digression: little/big endian numbers LTR/RTL

From: Najib Tounsi <ntounsi@emi.ac.ma>
Date: Fri, 02 May 2008 11:21:40 +0000
Message-ID: <481AF944.7010303@emi.ac.ma>
To: Jeremy Carroll <jjc@hpl.hp.com>
CC: Simon Montagu <smontagu@smontagu.org>, Frank Ellermann <hmdmhdfmhdjmzdtjmzdtzktdkztdjz@gmail.com>, www-international@w3.org

Jeremy Carroll wrote:
>  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

Yes, classical spoken arabic is RTL. 1234 is "four and thirty and two 
hundred and
one thousand".

>  (compare Olde English "four and twenty blackbirds"

But 123 is read "one hundred and three and twenty", in native language 
speaking (mine is Moroccan).

>  - when writing in classical arabic mode numbers are written RTL (i.e.
>  the hand moves from right to left)

Yes, for classical ََArabic hand writers.

Though some people might write/read numbers from left to right. It is a 
question of habit. It also depends on the writing tool. Using a 
bidi-enabled tool, if you type "ABC 123", you get "123 CBA".
Otherwise, you should type "ABC 321" to get the same thing.

>  - dialects are polluted by the colonial languages (e.g. north african
>  arabic by french).

I suspect that's why we write 1234 in LTR, and read it "one thousand two 
hundreds four and thirty". The two last digits, units and tens, are read 
in RTL.



>  - 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).
>  PO:
>  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 construction. 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.
>  Jeremy
Received on Friday, 2 May 2008 11:37:29 UTC

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