WW #23: They Aren’t Here

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Last week was about counting things. What about if there’s nothing to count?

The Nitherians had a good grasp on the nature of zero (sozmslo [soˈzm̩.ɬo], literally “they aren’t here”), an understanding they developed when balancing financial accounts (they realized that “revenues equal expenses” wasn’t quite the same as “nothing”). They also used negative numbers (vio yolesnslo [ˈvi.o jo.leˈsn̩.ɬo], literally “numbers that are being given away”) for compactly expressing expenditures or losses. A number like -6 would be read as slezle yolesano [ˈɬe.ɮe jo.leˈsa.no], literally “six that is being given away”.

Despite impressive advances in number theory, the Kharulians always considered the numbers to begin at one, at least until they borrowed the concepts of zero and negative numbers from the Nitherians in the 7th century (as sózamash [ˈso.zə.məʃ] “zero” and iolyesan [i.o.lʲeˈsan] “negative”). They used the word kyívim [ˈci.βim] “nothing” when they needed to indicate a quantity of zero. The Muipidans had a similar attitude towards numbers, having imported most of what they knew of number theory from Kharul; they used the word nata [ˈna.ta] “absence” to indicate a quantity of zero.

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