Māl, enunciations, and the prehistory of Arabic algebra

Oaks, J. A., and H. M. Alkhateeb, "Māl, enunciations, and the prehistory of Arabic algebra", Historia Mathematica, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 400 - 425, 2005.


Medieval Arabic algebra books intended for practical training generally have in common a first “book” which is divided into two sections: one on the methods of solving simplified equations and manipulating expressions, followed by one consisting of worked-out problems. By paying close attention to the wording of the problems in the books of al-Khwārizmī, Abū Kāmil, and Ibn Badr, we reveal the different ways the word māl was used. In the enunciation of a problem it is a common noun meaning “quantity,” while in the solution it is the proper noun naming the square of “thing” (shay '). We then look into the differences between the wording of enunciations and equations, which clarify certain problems solved without “thing,” and help explain the development of algebra before the time of al-Khwārizmī.



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