Direction of writing (was: Ayeri: Menan Coyalayamoena ena McGuffey)
|From:||Ray Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Sunday, April 10, 2005, 17:56|
On Saturday, April 9, 2005, at 10:21 , Muke Tever wrote:
> Benct Philip Jonsson <bpj@...> wrote:
>> Carsten Becker skrev:
>>>  This raises a question: The Proto-Semitics, were they
>>> mostly left-handed, or why are semitic languages written
>>> from right to left? It would be more natural for a
>>> left-handed person.
As far as I know, there is no evidence that Proto-Semites were more prone
to lefthandedness. I have been told that it is to do with the medium of
writing. Certainly, when writing on something like paper, the
left-to-right direction is easier for righthanders (darn shadows get in
the way if you go right-to-left, and you smudge the ink :)
But I am told that if you scratch or engrave on a hard surface, it is more
'natural' for righthanders to work from right-to-left. I do not know how
string the evidence is.
I believe that where scripts are written right-to-left, righthanders often
do handwriting in columns - top to bottom, starting on the left - then,
when the page is turn 90 degrees rightwards, the writing appears as it
>>> I guess left-to-right became the
>>> standard direction in Europe because most people are right
>>> handed and writing is easier for them that way.
The Greeks clearly found the right-to-left direction, which they inherited
from the Phoenicians and in which the earliest inscriptions are written,
to be awkward. As it is well known, they soon developed the 'boustrophedon'
(ox-turning, i.e. as oxen pulling a plow) style, where the opening line
always starts right-to-left, then even numbered lines run left-to-right &
odd numbered lines continue right-to-left :)
They eventually settled down, as we know, to completely left-to-right
direction and bequeathed this to subsequent European alphabets, with the
notable exception of Etruscan, which continued to be entirely
>> I've seen the right-to-left direction claimed to be
>> an inheritance from pictographic writing. When a
>> right-handed person draws a person or an animal they
>> tend to draw them looking leftwards, and that determined
>> the direction of writing.
The only snag is that someone forgot to tell the ancient Egyptians about
> That seems sensible... but doesnt Egyptian read _towards_ the
> faces? [That is, left-to-right, for left-facing pictograms...]
It does indeed!
Hieroglyphs could be written from right-to-left (the most favored
direction), left-to-right or top-to-bottom. The rule, when reading, was
very simple: "Read _into_ the front or faces of the symbols, and from
above to below."
Think of the artistry that newspaper compositors could display if we could
still use such freedom of direction :)
Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight,
which is not so much a twilight of the gods
as of the reason." [JRRT, "English and Welsh" ]