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Why did ancient scribes write right to left?

 
 
Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 06:18 pm
Since things normally develop for the ease of the majority, and most ancient Hebrew and Arabic text was written right to left, should one assume that the majority of the scribes were left-handed?

I've often wondered about that and have never received a plausible explanation.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 1,563 • Replies: 11
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 06:18 pm
To confuse the issue for the grave robbers . . . er, archaeologists . . .
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gustavratzenhofer
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 06:22 pm
I can not accept that answer, Set.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 06:29 pm
Tough titty, said the kitty, but the milk won't flow . . .
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gustavratzenhofer
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 06:31 pm
I outta...
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littlek
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 06:34 pm
I tried to get info from google, but came up with nothing. Gus is asking the hard Qs tonight.
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roger
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 07:10 pm
Handedness only matters in cursive. The quill digs into the parchment for a right handed person going right to left. Cuniform and stuff like that is a matter of preference. They prefered right to left.
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littlek
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 07:14 pm
ooooh, no ink to smudge!
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littlek
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 07:39 pm
to quote a website:

"# Hebrew is written from right to left.
# The common accepted reason is that in the past Hebrew was used for inscriptions on stone (compare "the Tables of Testimony").
# Using the hammer and scalpel, it was easier to keep the scalpel in the left hand and beat with the hammer in the right hand.
# And in fact those semitic languages which were written in cuneiform on clay tablets, as Babylonian and Ugaritic (the latter a very similar language to Hebrew) are written from left to right, had they written it from right to left they would have rubbed out the characters with the writing hand."
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CalamityJane
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 08:34 pm
The prevailing wisdom on why Hebrew (and Arabic) are written right to left has to do with the fact that they started out as language 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.
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gustavratzenhofer
 
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Reply Mon 4 Jul, 2005 09:55 pm
yeah, CJ, that's what littlek said. I guess that makes sense.
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Levi
 
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Reply Wed 6 Jul, 2005 01:26 pm
As far as I know, the ancient Mideast used wet clay tablets far more than chiseling. I don't think anyone was as big on chiseling tablets as the ancient Greeks, who wrote from left-to-right.

Also keep in mind not all Semitic languages were written from right-to-left, notably Ethiopic and Akkadian, the latter which also encompassed the major dialects of Babylonian and Assyrian, all of which of course share the same ancestor as the "backwards" Hebrew and Arabic.

I think any speculation about this is rather frivolous. I'll say for three reasons I don't buy that chiseling from right-to-left being easier is the reason for the direction -- plenty of other people who wrote left-to-right chiseled, chiseling was rare compared to impressing wet clay, and before you begin, as a society, to chisel you need an already well-established script (with direction).

Why isn't anyone equally curious and readily speculative as to why IE languages are written left-to-right? And the vertical scripts of Mongolian and old Chinese and Japanese? Don't forget to distinguish between left-to-right vertical scripts and right-to-left vertical scripts. As far as I'm concerned, it is because it is, and the only answers that will satisfy anyone will be oversimplifications.
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