The Mayans however used 20 as their grouping factor - perhaps they were nimble with their toes as well. Imagine if we had 20 different numerals in our numbering system, we would have learnt to sing "One little, two little...... TWENTY little Mayan boys" in our toddlerhood. And that might not be a bad thing, perhaps we would have started using a lot more of our brains early in life. Also, if grouped in twenties, number symbols won't be repeated as often as groups of ten, so if you are 50 plus of age as I am, in a base of twenty, 50 would be only 25.
It is said that the Mayans were the first to see the need for a symbol to denote zero. It is shaped like an eye. In fact it is interesting how the Mayans represented numbers, with dots and bars.
The Arabs however took the bars and placed them vertically, diagonally, horizontally and with a couple of round shapes, designed their numerals. I think their representation of zero is the most efficient. You see, if you need to symbolize nothingness, a void, you'd use something that takes up no space, wouldn't you? Why not a little dot? And that is exactly what the Arabs have used, and I think that's brilliant.
Unfortunately, although modern civilisation adopted the Arabic numbering system, the numerals themselves did not catch on. Westerners probably did not like the squiggly look of Arabic script including it's right-to-left orientation (but numbers are written from left to right). But they liked how the Indians symbolised zero. If you look at Hindi and Tamil scripts, you can see how curly-wurly the writing is. Yes, it seems that they have taken the Arabic dot and extended it into a little circurl which was subsequently adopted by the West.
The Chinese however have nothing round in their characters from my observations, they are mainly lines fashioned into mini pictures that fit into square boxes.
Although it sounds pretty cute - "ling", the character for zero looks complicated.
I would reckon doing maths with pictures can get tedious and I suspect that's why the Chinese too are now using the Arabic numbering system. Combined with their skills on the abacus it was hard to beat the Chinese at arithmetics in my day.
Sometimes I just wonder at how different races developed their scripts those long years ago. To a certain extent the styles seem to reflect the way they sound too - most obvious is the Indian roly-poly pronunciation that kind of corresponds with the curly-wurly letters. You'd probably be able to imagine Arabic guttural staccato emanating from their squigglies. And It's not too difficult to associate Chinese sing-song style with the swishy lines of their boxed-in characters - which perhaps also account for the difficulty with rolling their R's.
We Malays have no script to call our own, being accommodating by nature, we use what is plonked upon us by whoever had conquered us. It shows when we speak Malay to a non-native speaker, we tend to pick up the way they sound and speak in the same manner. For example using "lu" and "gua" with a Chinese, or saying "kaloo" instead of "kalau" with a Tamil, even with Indonesians we would go "bagimanaa ini Pak" instead of "macam maner ni" as is usual.
Interestingly though when I was shopping in Singapore one day in the ninety's, a Malay promoter named Yati told me about a "jeeloh" percent interest on something or other in thick Chinese accent. "Jeeloh"? I asked. "Yes, worr.." said she.
I must have looked very much like an Ah Soh.
Oh yes, about zeroes. We have taken them for granted after centuries of use but think how awkward it would be had the Roman empire not implode and we would have to calculate with letters - and no zero. 10 is X. 50 is L. 100 is C. 1000 is M.
How would we ever write a cheque for Rm1.7 trillion?
How would we even show Zero percent?
Though Zero is nothing it's still a big deal.