Formatting Arabic Numbers

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Someone on another posted an interesting question I hadn't pondered yet - why can you switch a keyboard to Arabic, Hindi or Japanese, but still end up with Western numbers?

Example Numbers
* Western (Latin or "Arabic" in Arabic) - 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9
* Arabic (or "Hindi" in Arabic) - ٠,١,٢,٣,٤,٥,٦,٧,٨,٩ Added March, 2009
* Hindi (Arabic actually Devanagari) - ०,१,२,३,४,५,६,७,८,९

Part of the answer is that Western numbers have become a true global standard. According to this Arabeyse.Org forum post from Arfeen Serajul, many Western Arabic speaking countries like Morocco ONLY use Western numbers and are unfamiliar with what we call "Arabic numbers" (Arabic speakers call them "Hindi numbers").

But...the other part of the answer is that the numbers are really numbers. If you input numbers into a spreadsheet like Excel, you want all the calculations to be accurate. From a computing point of view, you have one number, but a variety of options of how you want to display it (with Western as the default in the U.S.)

So, to get non-Western numbers, you typically have to go into the Region settings, not the keyboard settings. Here are some sample instructions for Microsoft Windows. The big gotcha (and it's a doozy) is that you often change the number display setting ACROSS THE ENTIRE OPERATING SYSTEM.

I did experiment with displaying Arabic (Hindi) numbers, but ended up seeing them everywhere, even in English Web sites. Just a tad disorienting.

If you do need to display non-Western numbers, I would recommend doing it in just Word only (there are some options). It's still tricky though - I had to do an AutoCorrect hack in one case (e.g. \1 = १). I think I missed a step somewhere....

About The Blog

I am a Penn State technology specialist with a degree in linguistics and have maintained the Penn State Computing with Accents page since 2000.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage (ejp10@psu.edu) for a profile.

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