Stephen Chrisomalis, Wayne State University
How to choose a number: multimodal variation in ancient written numerals
In any literate tradition, there are normally two graphic systems one could use to write numbers: written language and numerical notation, which uses largely non-phonetic symbols (62, LXII, etc.). In most, writers have choice among representations – combining number words and numerical notation in a single phrase, or (as in modern checks) both side by side. The question of whether to write twelve thousand or 12,000 or 12 thousand was as pertinent in much of the premodern world as it is today.
Here, we investigate the multimodality of numerical expressions in antiquity, including their cognitive and social underpinnings, through a comparative survey of inscriptions and manuscripts with a focus on the Near East. In the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, texts that use both words and symbols for writing numbers are abundant, and reflect several distinct motivations.