Featured Linguist!

Jost Gippert: Our Featured Linguist!

"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more

Donate Now | Visit the Fund Drive Homepage

Amount Raised:


Still Needed:


Can anyone overtake Syntax in the Subfield Challenge ?

Grad School Challenge Leader: University of Washington

Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


What is English? And Why Should We Care?

By: Tim William Machan

To find some answers Tim Machan explores the language's present and past, and looks ahead to its futures among the one and a half billion people who speak it. His search is fascinating and important, for definitions of English have influenced education and law in many countries and helped shape the identities of those who live in them.

New from Cambridge University Press!


Medical Writing in Early Modern English

Edited by Irma Taavitsainen and Paivi Pahta

This volume provides a new perspective on the evolution of the special language of medicine, based on the electronic corpus of Early Modern English Medical Texts, containing over two million words of medical writing from 1500 to 1700.

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


Sums main page