Darekun wrote:Japanese didn't have numerals per se until the arabic ones were copied from the west - of course, we didn't have them until we copied them ourselves. Numerals seem rare in languages; most just use words for numbers, like our "one", "two", etc. Japanese's words are "いち", "に", etc.

The reason may be traced to the history of mathematics. The one big problem in number language was to invent a convenient system for writing down numbers. Anyone who knows Roman numerals will know how hard it is to write 'one million' down using them -- at least in any manageable form. No European mathematician ever solved this problem, but a couple thousand years ago some ancient Hindu genius invented positional notation. He or possibly she used a dot to signify what the Arabs later turned into the zero when they adapted these Hindu numerals into the Arab system we still use today. To my knowledge, no group of mathematicians have ever come up with a similar notion before encountering Arab numerals, and since the system is so superior to anything else known, most languages are happy to absorb it.