Number Words and Number Symbols: A Cultural History of Numbers

TitleNumber Words and Number Symbols: A Cultural History of Numbers
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsMenninger K
Number of Pages510
PublisherDover Publications
ISBN Number978-0486270968

This book is not only a fascinating introduction to the concept of number and to numbers themselves, hut a multifaceted linguistic and historical analysis of how numbers have developed and evolved in many different cultures. Drawing on evidence from history, literature, philosophy and ethnology, noted German scholar Karl Menninger. recounts the development of numbers both as they are spoken (and written as words) and as symbolic abstract numerals that can he readily manipulated and combined.

Despite the immense erudition the author brings to the topic, he maintains a light tone throughout, presenting much of the information in anecdotal form. Moreover, almost 300 illustrations (photographs and drawings) and many comparative language tables serve to enhance the text. The author begins with a lucid treatment of number sequence and number language, including the formation of number words in both Indo-European and non-IndoEuropean languages, hidden number words and the evolution of the number sequence. He then turns to written numerals and computations: finger counting, folk symbols for numbers, alphabetical numerals, the "German" Roman numerals, the abacus and more. The final section concerns the development of our modem decimal system, with its place notation and zero, based on the Indian number system, and its introduction to the West through the work of the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. The author concludes with a review of spoken numbers and number symbols in China and Japan.