In contemporary usage, the word abacus refers to a computational device with beads sliding on fixed rods, often associated with the Japanese or Chinese. However, the word abacus has Latin roots, suggesting a rich history in Western as well as Eastern cultures.
The present‐day abacus, called suan‐pan in China, soroban in Japan, and schoty in Russia is still in use by shopkeepers throughout Asia and in Chinatowns around the world. It works on a place‐value or positional system of numeric notation, similar to that of our familiar Hindu‐Arabic numerals. The number of beads on each rod represents the value of the digit in that place, with higher place values to the left (or, on the schoty, above) and lower place values to the right (or below). Numeric values are read from left‐to‐right (or top‐to‐bottom) similarly to the written numerals. For example, the numeral 341 is represented by 3 beads on the hundreds rod, 4 beads on the tens rod, and 1 bead on the units rod.
On Chinese and Japanese...
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