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Saturday, November 6, 2010

words, words and mathematics

An interesting example of the transmission of mathematical ideas and terms can be seen in the origin of the trigonometric term "sine." In his Sanskrit mathematical treatise completed in 499 AD, Aryabhata used jya-ardha (Sanskrit for "chord half"), shortened later into jya, for what we now call "sine." Arab mathematicians in the eighth century transliterated the Sanskrit word jya into the proximate sound of jiba and then later changed it to jaib (with the same consonants as jiba), which is a good Arabic word, meaning a bay or a cove, and it was this word that was later translated by Gherardo of Cremona (circa 1150) into its equivalent Latin word for a bay or a cove, viz., sinus, from which the modern term "sine" is derived. See Howard Eves, An Introduction to the History of Mathematics (Saunders, sixth edition, 1990), p. 237. Aryabhata's jya was translated into Chinese as ming and was used in such tables as yue jianliang ming, literally "sine of lunar intervals." See Jean-Claude Martzloff, A History of Chinese Mathematics (Springer, 1997), p. 100.

from Passage to China   By Amartya Sen - Volume 51, Number 19 · December 2, 2004

for a text on zero symbol click here.

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