Although people in many parts of the world share common alphabets and numeral systems (variations on the Latin Writing System are used throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia, and much of Africa; the Hindu-Arabic numerals are nearly universal), styles of calligraphy vary. This results in the "regional accent" in handwriting.
The variation within a geographical region depends upon several factors:
- The presence or absence of a national copybook. (France, for instance, has a national copybook, while Germany does not.)
- The amount of time spent teaching handwriting.
- The type of copybook taught, e.g., italic or block lettering.
The numerals used by Western countries have two common forms. "In-line" or "full-height" form is that used on typewriters and taught in North America, in which all numerals have the same height as the majuscule alphabet (i.e., the capital letters). In "old style" text figures, numerals 0, 1, and 2 are x-height; numerals 6 and 8 have bowls within x-height, plus ascenders; numerals 3, 5, 7, and 9 have descenders from x-height, with 3 resembling ʒ; and the numeral 4 extends a bit both up and down from x-height. Old-style numerals are often used by British presses, which sometimes results in confusion because of the numeral 1's resemblance to a shortened majuscule letter I. Aside from these two main forms, other regional variations abound. The numeral one also can be confused with the lower case serif l.
The numeral 0 — Some writers put a diagonal slash through the numeral 0 (zero), a practice that may have originated with early, low-resolution computer terminals which displayed a slashed "zero" glyph to distinguish it from the capital letter O. This practice is confusing to speakers of Danish and Norwegian languages containing the letter "Ø", and they prefer to place a dot in the center of zero for this purpose. Additional forms that avoid confusion with Danish include one with the use of a tick, that is, a slash that does not cross the entire bowl of the figure, but entirely lies in the upper right; a form found in Germany with a completely vertical slash; and one with a slash from upper left to lower right. Mathematicians avoid all of these practices, which obscure distinction between the numeral 0, the empty set symbol (), and the Greek letters phi (φ) and theta (θ). Confusion between the numeral 0 and the letter O can be resolved by using a script letter O (with a loop at the top), and leaving the numeral 0 without embellishments.
The numeral 1 — In mainland China, Taiwan, and parts of Europe, this numeral is written with an ear at the top extending downward and to the left which resembles a serif. People in some parts of Europe extend this ear nearly the whole distance to the baseline. It is sometimes — but less frequently — written with horizontal serifs at the base; without them it can resemble the common North American 7, which has a near-vertical stroke without a crossbar, and a shorter horizontal top stroke. In North America, the numeral 1 is often written as a plain vertical line with or without ear at the top.
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