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What would be the effects on a human civilization if its convention of number display is little-endian, i.e. its people represent one hundred and twenty-three as 321 rather than 123 (assuming they are still reading LTR (left-to-right))?

Some simple results I would expect would be that people focus on the fine differences rather than the large differences (as I asked in this question on math.SE), so people may be more careful about numbers (e.g. careful with money). But I doubt if this makes sense, because people would eventually read the end too.

Other differences that I found in my question on math.SE include ease to organize handwritten arithmetic calculation in compact space (you write in LTR, so you can start the vertical form from the left, and you can avoid wasting space). But I'm not sure what kind of effects this can have in a large scale.

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    $\begingroup$ Questions about the effects on society of some particular change are almost universally considered to be too broad on Worldbuilding. It would probably be better if you can narrow this down to some specific aspect, such as maths instruction or the effects of a given price change on an item. Also, it's probably worth noting that there is precedent on Earth, particularly in speech. In German, for example, the number 321 is spoken as drei-hundert eins-und-zwanzig, or three hundred one-and-twenty -- this might seem half-baked, but doesn't seem to be causing the Germans any major trouble. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Dec 2, 2017 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ Your question is unanswerable — next to nonsensical — because you are asking as if we would have Western society at it is today, then change the way we write numbers, and then for some reason that would bring about certain effects. Now you are pulling breath to say "No, that is not what I meant"... and my response to that is "Yes, I know". And since the question as it is posed, and the intention you had with it are not the same.... this becomes a huge problem. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Dec 2, 2017 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ Also I would like to point out that if you want to use Worldbuilding to explore concepts and the consequences of them, then the chat is the place to do that, not the Questions & Answers. Because open-ended exploratory questions are either much too broad, too opinion-based, or too story/scenario specific; there rarely is any of them that falls into a good middle ground. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Dec 2, 2017 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is only valid as a yes/no question. Would it make a difference? The answers all seem to say "no" but any "Yes" answer would struggle to justify reasons why this would cause that effect. Differences in Germanic and Latin (as outlined in this answer), might be all down to the way they say numbers but how do you go about proving that? $\endgroup$
    – FreeElk
    Dec 2, 2017 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Languages which are written right-to-left, such as Arabic or Hebrew, write numbers just as we do, left-to-right high-order-to-low-order. This means that from the point of view of an Arab or an Israeli numbers are written in "little-endian" order, just as in the question; and Arabs and Israelis function just fine in the world, and participate fully in trade, engineering and science. In conclusion, the effect is either null or very small. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 2, 2017 at 17:21

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I doubt it would make that much difference. Although it would be less efficient as people would have to read through from smaller significance to bigger significance which would be against the natural order of things. I suspect that when a number was encountered even if normal reading was still left to right, the eye would scan the number right to left to get a sense of the size.

If for whatever reason a very strict left to right reading pattern could be enforced it would mean remembering the previous digits and only discovering the most important p at the end it might lead to some marginal number comprehension problems with the less able.

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "natural order of things"? That doesn't make any sense. As regards language (of which numbers are a part), there is no such thing as the "natural order of things". $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 3, 2017 at 0:27
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Germanic languages do say things this way, 25 is funfundzwanzig (five and twenty) whereas Latin languages have theirs the other way around such as the french vingt cinq (twenty five).

English was a mix of the two with a French influence later on. In some parts of England it isn't unusual to hear someone say the time 5:35 as "five and twenty to six".

So, considering Germanic and Latin Europe as your two cultures to compare I would say it has made little difference in speech so I imagine writing wouldn't make it much different either.

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I would think that the direction of display is much less relevant than the order of speech. Do you say "one-and-twenty" or "twenty-and-one"?

  • A direction of display that is inconsistent with the order of speech or direction of writing text would make written arithmetic harder. This makes education more difficult.
  • A direction of writing text that is inconsistent with the handedness of the larger part of the population (if there is such a thing) makes handwriting harder, especially with quill and ink. This might reduce literacy rates.
  • Little-endian might make it harder to approximate results, sort numbers, and so on. This reduces practical numeracy.
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  • $\begingroup$ Normally pronouncing a number should follow the order of writing it $\endgroup$
    – SOFe
    Dec 2, 2017 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @SOFe, not in every language. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Dec 2, 2017 at 17:46
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Well, "little-endian" is already a valid direction in English:

Four and twenty blackbirds...

All of the "teen" numbers correspond: thirteen = 3 > 10; fourteen = 4 > 10.

German and Dutch also read this way: vier und zwanzig, funf und zwanzig.

The system isn't carried to it fullest possible conclusion, but neither has Western civilisation collapsed, been fundamentally transformed into a newt or become obsessed with fine distinctions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, studies indeed found that mathematics is more effectively taught using Chinese than European language because of the order of pronunciation iirc. But regarding my question, I was referring to something with a really big scale. $\endgroup$
    – SOFe
    Dec 2, 2017 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ That of course would require studies to determine if the original study is even meaningful. In other words, are the math students native Mandarin speakers learning in a top notch school in China? Or were these ordinary American kids learning math in a Chinese immersion school? What were the relevant cultural, social and familial expectations of said children? How strict the family life? Attitudes towards education in general and mathematics & science in particular? Is the said conclusion true of all "Chinese" languages or just one of them? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 3, 2017 at 0:25

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