All modern languages as we are aware, have words and figures separately, to represent numbers in writing. Of this, figures is nothing but an abbreviated way of mentioning the respective word, in a easier and faster way. As such, the figures should have developed in later stages of language development when the demand for numerical representation in writing grew to intensive levels.
We observed that the numeral system of modern languages have two components ie words and figures.Each language has its own set of words and figures for this purpose.How many items constitute a set?
Let us take English,for example.
Description No. of words used No of figures used
One, two, three……. 100 10 only
Up to hundred
Total words used 103
We observed earlier that, in the beginning Man would have done counting using his 10 fingers only. It,therefore follows that the first natural language would have had 10 words only for the 10 numbers.Later,when Man had to represent, more than 10, he would have, extended the concept naturally and said” ten plus one, ten plus two…. “etc. So, an essential attribute, of the numeral system of the first language, should be a structure, complying with the above principle.With respect to the numeral system ,the natural language, in its evolution, could have adopted decimal system only, for the simple reason that man has 10 fingers only and he could have used 10 fingers only for counting.When he had to represent numbers in writing, alphabet letters (as in Roman numerals) would have been his natural choice.Later during the course of evolution of language,he would have invented the figures like 1,2,3,etc to represent numbers in writing in a easier figurative fashion.
In the early stages of evolution of writing, words like one, two etc.would have been freely employed to represent numbers. Later, when the need to use numbers increased, Man would have felt the need for abbreviated characters to represent the numbers, in an easier way. Then, he would have struck on the idea of using the familiar alphabet characters to represent numbers. Thus, in English, the first letter of the alphabet ie.” a” would have started representing the word one. So, it appears that the use of alphabet letters for representing numbers figuratively, could be one of the essential attributes of the first natural language. Let us examine the above principles in relation to Tamil language. You will be surprised to know that Tamil numeral system has the capacity to represent any number of any value with just 10 basic numbers. With this ten numbers, denoting any large number is done on a very simple and a logical method.
Let me illustrate this.
The ten basic numbers are from 1 to 10. Suppose you want to indicate 11, it is nothing but 10 + 1. So it is called by a word
that is made up of words for 10 + 1. Likewise 20 is 2 tens .So it is called by a word comparing 2, 10 ! It is so easy and natural! Then for 100 one word and for 1000 another. Two separate words for 90 and 900 are there for phonetic reasons. Thus the entire numeral system in Tamil has only 14 words, as follows.
No of words
For 1 to 9 – 9
10 - 1
90 - 1
100 - 1
900 - 1
1000 - 1
Total - 14
This means the English speakers would have, had to coin 101 separate words for their number system. Let me illustrate the simplicity of Tamil numerals.
11- Pathinonru= Pathu(10) + Onru(1)
Likewise upto 19
Tamil : 20-Irupathu means two tens (Iru(2)+ Pathu(10))
30- Muppathu means three tens (Mu+Pathu)
40-Narpathu means four tens (Nal+Pathu)
( Like wise it goes for all multiples of tens except 90)
English: 20-twenty does not mean two tens
30-thirty does not three tens
As mentioned earlier Tamil used its alphabet letters for indicating numerals, like, most of the word languages using Arabic numerals. Further, one unique feature of Tamil numerals is that all numerals end with the same sound viz. `u pronounced like voo in the word voodoo. The first ten numbers Onru,Irandu,Nalu,Ainthu etc.
The sole exception is the word for 1000.
Tamil has advanced numeral system as well.While in English the maximum number that can be denoted is 'trillion' that is(1,000,000,000,000 or 1012 )
or a million million million in British usage,Tamil has a word 'Maha Yugam' meaning
100,000,00,000,00,000,00,00,000 or 10 to the power of 22 !