Saturday, May 24, 2008

How Did We Talk About Numbers Before 1202?

There's a fairly standard mathematical story about how Fibonacci brought the Hindu-Arabic numbers to Europe in 1202. The claim is before then the Europeans were using the roman numerals.

What sorts of words were used for numbers before then?

Our number-words are very much tied to the Hindu-Arabic notation. Three hundred fifty-six: 356. There is a very close match between how we say numbers and how we write them.

Of course, there are the French who (I am told) say things like sixty-seventeen for 77 and four-twenty-seventeen for 97.

Back before 1202, how would some Latin-speaker have said CM? Would that be spoken as the Latin equivalent of nine-hundred?