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Summary Details

Query:   Summary
Author:  Rebecca Treiman
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Writing Systems

Summary:   A while back, I posted the following query:

Some writing systems are arranged in columns, and others in rows. They may go from right to left or left to right. Virtually all writing systems, though, go from top to bottom. Very few, if any, have adopted a consistent bottom-to-top direction. I have looked for discussions of why bottom-to-top writing is so rare, but haven't been able to find much information on this. Any input would be appreciated.

Several possible reasons for the rarity of bottom-to-top writing were mentioned:

1. Smudging may occur if one is writing from bottom to top with something wet like paint or if one is using clay. This is a reasonable explanation, and it was mentioned by several respondents. However, it is not applicable to carving or inscribing, which also show a preference for a bottom-to-top direction. There may be a deeper motivation for this preference as well.

2. It is hard to see what you wrote if it is covered by your hand or arm. This could be another motivation for not starting at the bottom of a surface, if one assumes that it?s more important to see what you?ve already written than to see where you?re going to go next.

3. Several respondents suggested that there is a general cognitive preference for the top. Maybe it?s something as basic as the fact that the top of our visual field is usually more important than the bottom ? we look up at people?s heads when talking, we look up to see where we?re walking. However, one can argue this either way. The bottom is closer to the viewer. And the bottom edge of the paper seems to be a natural ?ground? on which to rest items.

Thanks to the following respondents:

Ghilad Zuckermann
S. N. Sridhar
Chuck Bigelow
Michael Swan
Toby Paff
Matthew Walenski
Baden Hughes
Ed McDonald
Lameen Souag
Gunna Funder Hansen
Pete Unseth
Brett Kessler

Thank you all for your input.

Rebecca Treiman
Professor, Psychology, Washington University

LL Issue: 15.1211
Date Posted: 13-Apr-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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