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zompist bboard :: View topic - Reversal of writing direction
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Reversal of writing direction
http://www.incatena.org/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=44240
Page 1 of 1

Author:  faiuwle [ Fri May 13, 2016 5:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Reversal of writing direction

It seems I've managed to remember my password.

I know Greek went from right-to-left -> boustrophedon -> left-to-right. Have other writing systems done something like this? Are there other ways/reasons writing direction might reverse? Why did Greek switch to/from boustrophedon?

Author:  Salmoneus [ Fri May 13, 2016 6:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

Well, the obvious alternative way to reverse would be left-right > top-bottom > right-left. Probably more likely to happen across cultures, though, rather than within one. And given that a plain double rotation would leave a bottom-top secondary order, it would probably have to involve an inversion of secondary order in the TTB phase. But that's probably a lot more likely than a direct inversion of primary order - after all, particularly early on, a lot of writing will only be one column anyway, and secondary order is less psychologically basic. Alternatively, a TTB-RTL script could go straight to RTL-TTB (or the opposite) by conceiving of individual letters as inhabitants of single-character columns, and then extrapolating.

Part of this process might be seen in the Mongolian alphabets, which originated in RTL-TTB Sogdian, and rotated to become TTB-LTR. The second part of this process might be seen in old Japanese signs, which apparently became RTL from TTB-RTL. [and have now reversed to be LTR, though this probably doesn't count for you because the RTL direction was never the main form of writing the language]

Author:  faiuwle [ Fri May 13, 2016 6:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

Yeah, that could work, too. Isn't the Japanese LTR because of influence from Western alphabets? I was kind of hoping for a reason for this for a script mainly used to write the dominant global language, which might not be as influenced by other languages. Would primary horizontal <-> vertical be less likely with a pure alphabet, rather than a syllabary or something ideographic?

Author:  clawgrip [ Fri May 13, 2016 7:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

As for why, Epigraphic Egyptian Hieroglyphics seemed to change direction based on the aesthetics of the location being written on, but Hieratic and Demotic were written RTL. So direction can be based on aesthetics or usage. Japanese uses vertical TTB-RTL script for newspapers, and regular books, while it uses horizontal LTR-TTB for textbooks and the like. Advertisements frequently use both. You can even see the horizontal (EDIT:) RTL writing sometimes, generally on the right side of trucks, so that the beginning of the line is at the front of the truck, regardless of which side you're looking at.

Sumerian was written horizontally LTR-TTB in cells that were arranged vertically TTB-LTR. In Akkadian, the cells were eliminated and it was just LTR-TTB, a pattern which continued through all cuneiform descendants, such as Hittite, Hurrian, Urartian, and even Old Persian Cuneiform. So maybe the cell writing was too cumbersome and they simplified it.

I don't know why the Greek alphabet changed direction. Some musty old scholars thought that it had to do with a change in which hemisphere of the brain was being used, but this is, I am certain, old racist people starting out with the conclusion that the West is obviously the best because Greek democracy, and then cherry picking facts to justify it.

Sogdian/Old Uyghur changed direction to conform more closely with written Chinese. Probably this made it easier to write parallel texts on Chinese scrolls (my speculation), while Chinese, Korean and Japanese adopted the horizontal style based on Western influence.

Author:  zompist [ Fri May 13, 2016 7:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

A quick browse through The World's Writing Systems suggests that TTB scripts are quite rare. Egyptian could be written that way but usually wasn't. Chinese is about the only strong example, though of course it exported the idea to Japanese, Korean, and Mongolian. (Maya is LTR but in very narrow 2-character columns.) The book does contain one example of TTB Sanskrit.

So far as I can see there are no scripts whose primary direction is bottom to top. But Rongorongo was written in horizontal lines (themselves boustrophedon), the lines being written bottom to top.

The point being, TTB scripts are so rare that there's just not much data on change to or from TTB. The cases we know about are pretty clear cultural influence (Mongolian going from Central Asian RTL to Chinese TTB; Chinese etc. adopting Western RTL).

It's curious that many early scripts, and no modern ones, mix RTL/LTR/boustrophedon. It seems that a preference evolves, but the initial choice looks random.

Author:  faiuwle [ Fri May 13, 2016 8:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  KathTheDragon [ Fri May 13, 2016 8:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  zompist [ Fri May 13, 2016 8:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

On Egyptian, WWS says there was a "distinct preference" for RTL.

It looks like Hanunóo is an actual example of BTT (I missed it on my browsing as I assumed the SE Asian scripts would be the same!). WWS says Batak is primarily LTR and that Berber was originally BTT.

Author:  Vijay [ Fri May 13, 2016 9:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  zompist [ Fri May 13, 2016 10:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

It wasn't in Devanagari; it was in the , once popular in Central Asia and still maintained in Japan.

Author:  Frislander [ Sat May 14, 2016 4:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

I think was written in funky ways which may have changed over time. Anyone got any more in depth info on that?

Author:  clawgrip [ Sat May 14, 2016 7:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  Pabappa [ Sat May 14, 2016 10:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  Vijay [ Sat May 14, 2016 10:49 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  Richard W [ Sat May 14, 2016 2:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  Richard W [ Sat May 14, 2016 2:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  Richard W [ Sat May 14, 2016 2:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  clawgrip [ Sat May 14, 2016 8:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  garysk [ Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

Sorry for bumping this thread.

It is surprising to me that no one has mentioned what I learned (who knows where?) in my childhood as one reason for writing direction reversal.

What I remember from way, way, way back is:

Especially with the advent of ink and paper/parchment/papyrus flat writing surfaces, the problem of a right-handed person writing RTL is that the writing hand can easily smudge the freshly written text as the writer moves to the left. Switching to LTR obviates that problem. A right-handed person sometimes, when writing Hebrew, e.g., contorts the right-wrist a bit so that the hand remains below the baseline, avoiding the contact that could lead to smudging.

If the custom was TTB-RTL, the smudging problem could occur. Simply rotating the surface 90 degrees counter-clockwise changes the same text to LTR-TTB, eliminating the smudging.

I have seen some people, left-handed mainly, contort their writing hand to hold the pen/pencil above the baseline to avoid the same-line smudging problem (hoooray for quick-drying ball-point and felt-tip pens!), and I have also seen some left-handed people turn the paper 90 degrees to the right so that for them the direction is TTB-RTL, again avoiding smudging.

Having never written on clay, I don't know if smudging the just-written text was a problem with that medium. It seems like it could have been, as the entire tablet had to be moist throughout the operation (maybe not had to be, but I don't know if you could continue impressing line 14 if the clay of adjacent line 13 is already dry enough to prevent accidental erasure).

Did cuneiform scribes suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or other forms of tendonitis?

A future topic (may have already been discussed): what determines handedness? I feel for the left-handed in our right-handed world. The abuse they still to this day suffer for a condition that is surely not of their choosing is awful.

Author:  StrangerCoug [ Sun Jun 12, 2016 11:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction


Author:  Curlyjimsam [ Tue Jun 21, 2016 12:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Reversal of writing direction

You could have a script that is normally written one way, but another way in a small minority of contexts (say 5 or 10% or something). Then, for some reason, the minority option becomes more popular and eventually comes to dominate. This would - very superficially - give the impression of a shift from one order to another, though in fact both have always been possibilities.

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