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Q: Hebrew - Right to Left ( Answered,   5 Comments )
Subject: Hebrew - Right to Left
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: yuvalniv-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 14 Mar 2005 14:19 PST
Expires: 13 Apr 2005 15:19 PDT
Question ID: 494626
Why Hebrew is written from right to left?
Subject: Re: Hebrew - Right to Left
Answered By: websearcher-ga on 14 Mar 2005 14:29 PST
Hi yuvalniv:

Thanks for the interesting question!

The prevailing wisdom on why Hebrew (and Arabic) are written right to
left has to do with the fact that they started out as languageg that
were chiseled on stone tablets and the mechanics of holding the chisel
in the left hand and hammering with the right lead to the right to
left orientation.

The best explanation of this I found was at:

Welcome to the Question Bag! Question #29: Why Write from the Right?
Quote: "Hebrew is an ancient language, at least 4,000 years old! We
don?t know for sure, because none of us lived then, but we do know
that long ago, people didn?t have the readily available pens and paper
we have today. Anything that was written down was actually chiseled
out of stone or written in clay...
So what does this have to do with the way a language is written? Well,
although I haven?t chiseled anything out of stone lately, my brief
research indicates that if you are right handed (as the majority of us
are), it is more natural and easier to be precise with the motion of
chiseling a language from the right. A modern example would be
hammering a nail into the wall. You (providing you are right handed)
hold the nail with your left hand, and hammer with your right. This
ends up giving you more accuracy."

Other similar answers can be found at: 

Biblical Hebrew E-Magazine - October, 2004

The Jewish Agency for Israel: FROM RIGHT TO LEFT

Search Strategy (on Google):
* "right to left" hebrew reason
* "right to left" "why is hebrew"

I hope this helps. 

Subject: Re: Hebrew - Right to Left
From: myoarin-ga on 14 Mar 2005 15:10 PST
websearcher certainly answered the question from those sites, but I
just don't believe people started written language by chiseling.  They
had to have a written language first, or one like the ancient
Egyptians (which way does it read?)
Before you go to the effort chiseling stone, you already have a system
of symbols or letters and a full-blown writable language.  Maybe they
started on pads of clay, which was certainly used  - cuniform (and
which way do those texts read?).
And then we know that the earliest Greek texts  - chiseled ones - went
like a snake,  right to left on one line and left to right on the
next, and so on.
There is a word for it, as I remember, it's Greek for "the cow's
path", but I won't trouble to find it.
But that sort of demonstrates what I have said:  they had a written
language before they started chiseling, and they  - right handers in
the main - for a while managed to chisel in both directions, rather
crudely, as I remember from pnotos.  It would be interesting if one
could recognize better work going one way.  But, whatever, the Greeks
settled on left to right for everything, and they are certainly more
noted for leaving chiseled texts than the Hebrews or Arabs are.
It is really a very interesting question, also relating to Chinese and
Japanese, but I think (?) Tibetan is written left to right, and
Sanskrit also (?).
So, with all respect, I think the answer has not really gotten to the source.
Subject: Re: Hebrew - Right to Left
From: marcdrogin-ga on 14 Mar 2005 22:03 PST
Most sources agree that scripts first manifested themselves on clay
and papyrus written with brushes and rigid tools.  Stone carving was
the result of lettering brushed across stone in paint and then the
shapes chiseled into the stone.  In fact the purpose of carving was to
be able to paint the letters in a recessed area that would protect the
paint from the environment.  Of course by now the elements have
long-since removed any trace of the original painting.

Commenter myoarin-ga is correct.  The earliest alphabetical writing
was done not left to right or right to left, but in a continuous
stream first in one direction and then on the next line back the other
way.  It was a pattern any ancient farmer would recognize had he a
field, a plow, and an ox.  The paleographical term for this pattern is
"boustrophedon" which in Greek means "as the ox turns."

Not only did the lettering go in both directions but the shape of the
letter was often turned around depending on which direction the scribe
was writing.  And in those early days there was neither space between
words or punctuation because few could write and read -- and those who
could didn't need the help of spaces or dots.

Why Europe later chose to give the ox a rest and write only left to
right isn't really known.  From my studies which indicate that there
was always a preference for time-saving and convenience, it seems odd
that a scribe reaching the end of a line would choose to lift his pen
and cross all the way back across the wax or clay tablet or sheet of
papyrus before continuing his writing.  Nor do I know why Semitic
scripts,  chose a reverse direction.

But stone-carving was an end result of scribal choices and not the
reason for the way, or the direction, in which we used to write.

I rest my ox.
Subject: Re: Hebrew - Right to Left
From: myoarin-ga on 15 Mar 2005 02:48 PST
Hey, thanks marcdrogin-ga, I was hoping someone tell me the word.
Boustropheden, boustropheden, ...  Maybe I can remember it now, maybe
use it to describe soneone's meandering argument ...
For me, it seems pretty logical for righthanders on clay or papyrus to
quickly begin starting each line at the left so they can see what they
are writing, especially as they wrote faster and their letters or
cuniform symbols adapted and were symplified to facilitate faster
But that doesn't get us any closer to an answer to the question  -
unless the Hebrews and Arbas were all sinister ...
Subject: Re: Hebrew - Right to Left
From: mr_me-ga on 16 Mar 2005 10:39 PST
This doesn't help the questioner, but it is worthwhile knowing that
according to Jewish tradition the Hebrew language is divine.  Meaning
it was created by G-d and was used in forming the world.

I like the question anyway, but I thought it would be interesting to
throw thatinto the pot.

Subject: Re: Hebrew - Right to Left
From: bozo99-ga on 05 Apr 2005 17:12 PDT
Besides languages from that part of the world have more curvy letters
as convenient for writing in sand as compared to scratching on rock.

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