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js6426

Why write from left to right?

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js6426

Hey guys,

 

So I had a question regarding the general switch from writing top to bottom, to going from left to right.  Does anybody know why this change was made? 

 

As I was studying today I actually thought how much easier it would be if it was still top to bottom.  Firstly I was looking at my homework, and the teacher hadn't understood my sentence.  I had written ‘腿坏’,but because my writing is very sloppy, my 坏 had a big space, and so it actually looked much more like ‘腿土不’ (bonus points if anyone can tell me what that means in Chinese hah)!  Similarly, as I was learning and writing out 站牌,my 牌 wasn't good, and I found it really hard to keep it all together.  The whole thing just looked like one big mess, which could easily have been construed as 立 占 片 卑!Again, bonus points for anyone who can translate my newly made idiom!  If, on the other hand, I had been writing from top to bottom, even though each character might not have been written perfectly, all confusion would have been avoided.  Maybe some characters could still be confused if written from top to bottom, but surely it would be less than left to right.  Of course I know that this wouldn't be a problem for natives, but my problem just got me thinking.  So, why was the change made?

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Jim

I'd thought it was a typesetting change and this wiki article seems to suggest it was computerised typesetting that hastened the shift but that it had started already (reading this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_and_vertical_writing_in_East_Asian_scripts). This bit was interesting:

Quote

The earliest widely known Chinese publication using horizontal alignment was the magazine Science (科學). Its first issue in January 1915 explained the (then) unusual format:

本雜誌印法,旁行上左,並用西文句讀點之,以便插寫算術及物理化學諸程式,非故好新奇,讀者諒之。
This magazine is printed so that it goes sideways from the top left, and is marked with Western punctuation. This is to make the insertion of mathematical, physical and chemical formulae convenient, not for the sake of novelty-hunting. We ask our readers to excuse us.

In the subsequent decades, the occurrence of words in a Western script (predominantly English) became increasingly frequent, and readers began to appreciate the unwieldiness of rotating the paper at each occurrence for vertically set texts. This accelerated acceptance of horizontal writing.

Also says the PRC mandated the change in the mid-50s.

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Shelley
1 hour ago, js6426 said:

writing from top to bottom, even though each character might not have been written perfectly, all confusion would have been avoided

This is an interesting point I hadn't thought about. It really makes good sense.

 

I thought though the top to bottom writing was as a consequence of writing on bamboo slips, thin strips of bamboo joined together, as in this article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboo_and_wooden_slips

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roddy

The confusion would have been avoided for those characters, but then when you have to write characters with a horizontal rather than vertical structure and nobody can tell what your 立日心田心 is...

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js6426

Interesting stuff, thanks guys!  Roddy, I was trying to think of a good example for how vertical writing could be confusing, that one is fantastic!  It doesn't seem like confusion was an issue in the change coming about, but I'd be interested to know which holds the higher risk of confusion!  Although of course I'm sure such a test would be difficult to make, fairly subjective, and highly irrelevant for people with half decent Chinese handwriting! 

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Lu
3 hours ago, js6426 said:

If, on the other hand, I had been writing from top to bottom, even though each character might not have been written perfectly, all confusion would have been avoided.

Poor 林蛋大 and his teacher would disagree.

 

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lips
3 hours ago, js6426 said:

Maybe some characters could still be confused if written from top to bottom, but surely it would be less than left to right

Is there any study that supports this?

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js6426
1 hour ago, js6426 said:

It doesn't seem like confusion was an issue in the change coming about, but I'd be interested to know which holds the higher risk of confusion!  Although of course I'm sure such a test would be difficult to make, fairly subjective, and highly irrelevant for people with half decent Chinese handwriting! 

 

I don't know of any test to support it, which is why I said this :tong

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Zbigniew
10 hours ago, js6426 said:

So, why was the change made?

I don't know the reason in the minds of the people who introduced the change, but our two forward-facing eyes and their horizontal orientation mean humans can read horizontal text more efficiently than vertical, all things being equal.

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lips
4 hours ago, Zbigniew said:

our two forward-facing eyes and their horizontal orientation mean humans can read horizontal text more efficiently than vertical, all things being equal

What is the scientific logic behind this?  Any supporting scientific study?

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lips

Thanks, that's interesting.  Wonder if the results apply to Chinese as well.

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somethingfunny

I'm sceptical about how much can be drawn from that scientific study.  Raise a child from birth in a world where all text is arranged vertically and then if they're still slower reading vertically rather horizontally, I might believe it.

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lips

I was raised reading Chinese both vertically and horizontally (L to R).  Now I read Chinese both ways equally fast.

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lips

"Our results are consistent with the view that slower reading of vertical text is due to a decrease in the size of the visual span for vertical reading."

 

I do not doubt that this could very well be true for an alphabet-based language. I am not convinced that this applies to reading a character-based language like Chinese.

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Shelley

Interestingly when doing crosswords I am more likely to infer/guess a word from a few letters when it is Left to Right. I struggle to make patterns when I read from top down. I am sure this is just lack of practice but makes me think it has something if not everything to do with what you are used to and how fast you can absorb the information.

 

When characters or words are shown to the reader in the centre of the screen and are changed at fairly quick rate, it is surprising how fast it can be read. Not having to move your eyes seems to up the reading speed, and LTR is almost as good as not moving your eyes,  TTB requires eye movement and even head movement,  so LTR is quicker and easier to read.

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roddy

In evolutionary terms maybe we spent more time scanning the horizon than scanning the... see, we don't even have a word for it. 

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Hofmann

Checking people out.

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