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Why write from left to right?

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Zbigniew
20 hours ago, lips said:

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.

This study found the horizontal reading rate of Chinese characters to be on average over twice as fast as that of the vertical reading rate:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225178268_Comparative_patterns_of_reading_eye_movement_in_Chinese_and_English

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Angelina

I stopped reading at "Chinese characters are built from component radicals; 214 such radicals..." . 

 

I guess this study was conducted by researchers with little experience in researching Chinese characters/文字学. 

 

BTW What happened with @OneEye?  

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lips

Thanks for the link to the paper.  The study used a sample size of "...four skilled native Chinese readers...", which doesn't seem large enough to draw a definite conclusion.  The background of these four Chinese were not mentioned either.  If they were primarily younger mainland Chinese who were brought up reading Chinese mostly horizontally, it would be natural for them to read faster this way.  The authors' conclusion, "Eye-movement recordings taken while subjects read from horizontal Chinese text, now widespread, and classical vertical text suggest that modern readers are now more at home with horizontal text; indeed, continued updating of reading skill appears necessary" does not say horizontal text can be read faster intrinsically, but rather, experience and reading skill are the key factors in reading rate.

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Publius

Yeah, they should have chosen Japanese. It's more representative of vertical text in my opinion. Almost all printed publications in Japan are vertical, manga books, novels, newspapers. They painstakingly made apps and plugins to make vertical reading possible, not because it's cute I'd guess.

20150730-032836_U720_M76569_1230.thumb.jpg.f55048515609b6090d1f375b28e69448.jpg

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Tomsima

Although we read left to right in English, we still speed read top to bottom. Reading a vertical text still means you can skim right to left. I feel the speed thing is inconsequential as it wouldnt have been a consideration when people began to write characters in vertical columns. The reason for the choice of vertical text in ancient times is perhaps due to aesthetics, or maybe even ideology. in modern times choosing to offer characters horizontally is practical, as nearly every other script runs horizontally, and thus saves you turning your head 90° every other sentence when reading a history book about a western country, for example.

 

i personally prefer reading characters vertically, not because I feel it's faster or easier, but because it is part of the history of the characters themselves. in the same way a student learns the stroke order of a character, reading and writing vertically creates characters which are aesthetically pleasing and recall the rich history of the script.

 

If you look at 漢簡, the use of long vertical strokes in characters whose last stroke is a 豎 (also including characters like 下, where modern stroke order differs from earlier periods) is characteristic of the script. 草書 runs characters together from bottom to top, creating long vertical strings of characters which has now become a world recognised art form. Obviously this would still be possible to do horizontally, but it wasn't, and thus these kinds of vertical writing as an art now form a part of the written cultural heritage of Chinese characters.

 

This is purely my own conjecture, but in idealistic terms a line running from top to bottom may on some level suggest a connection between the heavens and man, the mountains with their saints above and the common people below cf. ideas like 神人暢. Calligraphy has been written since pre-Han times, and why they chose to use bamboo slips vertically rather than horizontally to write this calligraphy may have been for some practical reason I am currently not aware of, or perhaps it was purely for aesthetic reasons. But perhaps it was also a choice that reflected a world view of the above descending to the below, be it water flowing down from a mountain, or a way to connect the skies and the earth.


we have the word horizon, perhaps the word in search of to describe this vertical plane is not so mundane. maybe 'transcend', or 'avatar' (to cross down to the below')

 

of course this is just my own view, and is almost certainly unsubstantiated by any scholarly research. 

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Shelley

If you write on a bamboo slips vertically it means you don't rest your hand on the slip as you move left to right. If you write top to bottom you can write on each slip without touching the bamboo and then when finished join them together..

 

This is a problem encountered by left-handers who when writing, their hand covers and even rests on the writing already done and depending on the ink it can lead to smudging. There are all sorts of "solutions" to these problems but I don't know how well they work.

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Publius

Yes it makes sense if you use brush on bamboo, but there are earlier forms, like bone script, that are also vertical. Maybe there's some ritualistic significance or technical constraint or maybe it's just random why certain people chose one direction over another. Early Greek was written in a form called "boustrophedon" or ox-turning, that is, one line left to right, the next right to left, which is quite sensible if you consider eye movement. So they had two mirroring sets of letters. But only the left-to-right set survived (compare Greek alphabet to Phoenician). Why it was so is anybody's guess.

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