I do not really know where to post such a question, so please bear with me if you think there were a better stackexchange for it.

Endianness refers to how we order elements from multiple scales. As such, ordering from coarser to finer scales is called big-endian ; the opposite is called little-endian.

The Wikipedia article discusses merely about its implications in computer architecture, but its scope is actually much broader and we can find it in everyday life.

Indeed, I identified at least four instances where endianness matters :

  • personal identity : should we put first name before or after last name ? Well, obviously English language itself answers the question (in a little-endian way), but many Asian countries beg to differ ;
  • dates : should we write day/month/year (little-endian) or year-month-day (big-endian) ?
  • addresses : should we write Number Street City Country (little-endian) or Country City Street Number (big-endian) ?
  • numbers obviously : we usually agree to write that half a kilometre is 0,5 km (big-endian), but we could have convened to write 5,0 km (little-endian) ; for instance, Arabic speakers do write 0,5 km, but read it from right to left, hence in a little-endian way.

From a psychological point of view, endianness is about choosing between prioritising global or local. Let me explain.

If you're asking someone today's date, you probably actually are just asking what day we are. You are likely very well aware of current year and even month, and as such not interested in them. One might reply « We are the fourth » without any further detail and you would be perfectly fine with this answer. You are interested in the finer scale as it helps you precise locally. This is little-endian logic.

As an opposed example, if you are a bit interested in Roman history, you will probably learn that its Western part fell in 476, but you probably won't even try to memorise the specific month, not to say the specific day. This is big-endian logic, where coarser scale helps you precise globally. Likewise, if you want to chronologically sort old administrative papers (say, paid bills) which span over more than a decade, you will first look for years, then months, and finally days. Maybe you won't even be interested in the day if it isn't necessary for you to sort. Which is why international norm for date time notation (ISO 8601) is big-endian.

Except for numbers, Western countries are mostly little-endian. Few exceptions include United States and Germany, which are sometimes quite weird using what we could call middle-endian (basically meaning there is no logic at all), respectively for dates and addresses.

Also, German would read « 132 » as « ein hundert zwei und dreißig » (litteraly « one hundred two and thirty ») which is middle-endian again, as opposed to English which is big-endian here (reading hundreds, then tens, then units).

However, Chinese people seem to be big-endian for all of these four aforementioned subjects. Which other countries or cultures also are fully big-endian ?

Is there any culture which is fully little-endian ?

  • I think you're looking for stuff like Nisbett's work on cultural differences in perception, a line of work reviewed here: psyarxiv.com/c57ep/download?format=pdf I am definitely among the skeptics for this. For a start, the only correct taxonomy of cultures is obviously New Zealand vs Everyone Else, so I'm not on-board for some important chunks of the initial premise. But there are people out there making a serious effort to answer your question, best of luck to all of you.
    – steveLangsford
    May 4 '20 at 22:29
  • Thanks steve ! I guess I am skeptical too about making broad dichotomies between cultures, but I'll have an interested eye on the paper you mentioned. Let's say I was first interested in a cartography, rather than an a posteriori analysis (which is a biassed reasoning). I didn't quite get the joke about New Zealand by the way, how would they be so much different to every other people ? :)
    – tnetennba
    May 4 '20 at 22:50
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    Two factual errors: Arabic writes numerals from left to right (opposite the direction of the letters). German says "einhundertzweiunddreißig" (not "und zwei").
    – fdb
    May 5 '20 at 10:27
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    @GastonÜmlaut Gah, you’re right! I initially wrote 175, but then later changed it to 157 for some reason… not sure why? Ní foláir nó go raibh mé ar mearbhaillín giota beag ag an am… May 5 '20 at 22:49

This is potentially a very interesting question, but it suffers from conflation of “language”, “culture”, and “country”. It is the same sort of confusion that happens when people who do not speak gendered languages imagine that French people think their hands are female (la main) and their feet are male (le pied). I assure you that they do not.

To take just one of your examples: British English says day/month/year, while US English says month/day/year. Here 9/11 is the 9th of November, but there it is the 11th of September. Does this say anything at all about mentality or culture? I think not. Like most things in language this is merely a matter of convention.

  • Being a native French speaker I have no doubt about your assertion :) I also agree with the lack of rigour you mention between language/culture/country… I do not really know which concept would be most appropriate. Maybe none of them. I really do not want to extrapolate too much about it. I'm merely interested in hypothetical rules. For instance, is there a correlation between dates and addresses conventions ? Are there some conventions that never occur ? Maybe then, move on to ask what are the areas of common conventions, and why these areas share it (common history, cultural influences)?
    – tnetennba
    May 5 '20 at 12:36

One example of endianness in language is the traditional Welsh vigesimal counting system, and its Celtic counterparts in Cornish, Breton and Gaelic.

To give examples, the number 34 would be expressed as pedwar ar ddeg ar hugain (four on ten on twenty), and the number 97 would be saith ar ddeg ar bedair ugain (seven on ten on four twenties).

This is not common to all vigesimal systems, as French would describe the latter number as quatre-vingt-dix-sept (four twenties, ten, seven).

This does not extend into all aspects of the language. Names were traditionally described as 'X son/daughter of Y' (e.g. Dafydd ap Gwilym), similar to the O' and Mac prefixes of Irish and Scottish families and clans.

  • The Welsh numbers are little-endian, not big-endian. May 3 '21 at 8:47
  • Also don't forget Gaelic vigesimal
    – OmarL
    May 3 '21 at 10:54
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Duly corrected.
    – Kaz
    May 3 '21 at 13:02
  • @OmarL I can't speak (for) Gaelic, but please feel free to add your experience to the answer.
    – Kaz
    May 3 '21 at 13:03

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