We recently wrote about numerals and measurements in Chinese and Japanese texts. While there are lots and lots of numeral systems around the world, most of us are used to the decimal system, expressed using Arabic numerals.
The term "Arabic numerals" can be ambiguous though. As Wikipedia points out, the expression
"...most commonly refers to the numeral system widely used in Europe and the Americas. Arabic numerals is the conventional name for the entire family of related systems of Arabic and Indian numerals. It may also be intended to mean the numerals used by Arabs, in which case it generally refers to the Eastern Arabic numerals."Numbers came to Europe through the introduction of Algebra from the Arab world (hence "Arabic numbers" versus "Roman numerals"). Despite the fact that we call them "Arabic numbers" though, much of the Middle East uses different symbols for the digits 0-9. These are called Hindi numbers – but actually vary a little bit from Hindi depending on the language used:
So, which version should be used in a medical translation? The short answer is, it depends.
At ForeignExchange, we ask clients if they prefer that we use European digits or "Arabic-Indic" digits. The answer depends on where they intend to use the text. Typically, North African countries prefer European digits, while the Middle East prefers the "Arabic-Indic" style. We suggest European style digits when it is intended for global Arabic usage.
For further information, take a look at these two informative articles:
- Wikipedia has a good overview
- Tex Texin provides tons of great information on localizing for right-to-left languages, including Arabic numbers
For a detailed proposal on your next clinical, regulatory, or marketing medical translation project, contact ForeignExchange Translations.