October 28, 2013
How many directions can languages take us? While most alphabets are written from left to right, there is an entire compass of directions that exist. Arabic and Hebrew veer from right to left, and Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are written vertically. There are even a few scripts that go against the grain altogether.
Pictured above is the Hanunó’o alphabet of the Philippines, which was one of the few ancient alphabets that went against gravity. Hanunó’o was read from left to right, yet was written from the bottom up with a knife etched into bamboo. The alphabet was used up until the 17th century.
Another interesting script style is boustrophedon, which is when words are written in opposite directions. The word is translated from the Greek meaning, “an ox that turns while plowing.” This is because the hands of boustrophedon writers would snake around the page just like an ox moves when plowing a field. Some prehistoric Greek texts were written in this twisty style.
Languages take us in many paths, but today, everyone writes from the top down. You can thank gravity for that one.