why do we read from left to right

News flash: Twitter now comes in 28 languages в including Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, and Urdu, which are written from right-to-left. Twitter has long supported right-to-left text from users, but it now has instructions and can display hashtags from right-to-left as well. Why are some languages written from right to left and others from left to right? Let s start at the beginning в 3500 B. C. At least that s typically when scholars acknowledge that writing began, or more specifically, when the writing system known as cuneiform began to emerge. Other forms of writing, like Egyptian and Indian hieroglyphics, predate cuneiform, but
was different because it started to use abstract shapes to represent sounds. Rather than using an image of a bird to represent bird, as hieroglyphics does, cuneiform used markings to represent the sound ah or sa. This was a big leap in writing systems because it was the development of a alphabet, in which letters represent sounds. The biggest advantage of using letters instead of symbols is how many figures you need. If every word was a symbol, we would need thousands and thousands of symbols, but because we can make sounds out of letters and those sounds correspond to the words we speak, an alphabet becomes much easier to use.

This is what happened with cuneiform. Early on it had thousands of symbols, but over time as the symbols became more representational and less literal, fewer were needed. Early on in its development, cuneiform was written from left to right. It has been hypothesized that this is because right-handed scribes would smudge their work if they wrote from right to left. There is little historical evidence for this hypothesis. Why would you compile a dictionary of an extinct language? Read about here. How and when specific languages started writing from right-to-left is still under debate. For example, Persian (which is a descendant of cuneiform) is written from right-to-left, even though its predecessor is not. This may be from particular historical circumstances, but there is no academic on the exact reasons. Both Arabic and Hebrew came from the Proto-Canaanite alphabet, which was written from right to left. Proto-Canaanite was also sometimes written in a hybrid form called in which the directions of the lines alternate. One line is written right to left, and the next line is written from left to right.

This is easier on the scribe, but not necessarily on the reader. This writing style was used in Greek and Latin, particularly in religious inscriptions. Because they are based on characters rather than letters, Chinese and Japanese can be written horizontally or vertically. Traditionally, Chinese was written in vertical columns with the text starting in the top right corner of the page, running down and then to the left. Today, Chinese has mimicked the direction of English and is more commonly written in rows starting from the top left corner, written from left to right and down the page. By including right-to-left languages, Twitter is making the Internet a more non-English-friendly place. Read here. What do you think about this change? The simple answer is that we read from left to right because we write from left to right. P And why do we write from left to right? P Written English is derived from Latin (written from left to right) which was derived from Greek (also written from left to right). P Okay, so why did the Greeks write from left to right? P There are lots of theories, but no one knows for sure.

The first Western written words were probably written in mud more than 5,000 years ago. P They havent survived. P However, there was also writing in stone thousands of years ago (the Ten Commandments, for example). P For a chiseler chipping away, the writing was probably from right to left. P A right-handed chiseler could chip with his right hand and brush away debris with his left hand without putting down his chisel. PSemitic-derived languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, Yiddish and Urdu continued in a right to left pattern, and still do, except for the writing of numbers, which are usually written left to right. Another way of writing, called boustrophedon, meaning as the bull walks, alternated the direction of the writing. P One line would go from left to right but the next would go from right to left. P This kind of writing can be found in some ancient religious texts. P It was used in the oldest Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Latin writings. Cuneiform writing went from left to right, perhaps so right-handed scribes would not smudge their work in clay with the heel of their hands. P For the same reason, languages that were written with brushes (Chinese and Japanese) might have been written from top to bottom.

P The painter/scribe held his brush differently from the way we hold a pen, but to avoid smudges, he went down the page, giving the writing at the top time to dry before a second column was started. That explains the top to bottom format, but not the right to left format. As for the Greeks, they wrote on papyrus, a precursor to paper. P With most people being right-handed, a Greek writer could see what he had written without his hand smudging it or covering it if he wrote from left to right. P We inherited that tradition in the English language. P Until ball point pens came along, our ancestors wrote with fountain pens and before that with quill pens, both of which required blotting to absorb the excess ink and to prevent smudging. P Smudging was common in the past, but has become a problem we rarely have any more. Perhaps the reason we writeand readfrom left to right is as simple as to reduce smudging. Whatever the reason, it is important to acclimate your child to reading from left to right. P More on how to do that in a later blog.

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