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Old 05-12-2005, 10:53 PM
CheapBastid is offline
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Arabic culture - visual time flow?


I understand that Arabic is predominantly written from right to left and I wondered if that also applies to the visual representation of time.

It seems that generally when graphically representing a timeline, or indicating movement through time westerners use movement into the future as movement to the right. Is this reversed in Arabic culture(s)? Specifically I wonder about Saudi.
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Old 05-12-2005, 11:10 PM
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Not generally. All timelines I have seen go left-to-right.

Oddly numbers are also written left-to-right. But if you are idly doodling a number, say a telephone number, it sometimes goes right-to-left.
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Old 05-12-2005, 11:12 PM
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I've read history books in Arabic over the years, and I know I've seen right-to-left timelines, but can't remember any specifics I could cite. As for Saudi Arabia, I don't remember the country of publication, but I really don't see any reason the right-to-left direction of the timeline would differ from one country to another. Written Modern Standard Arabic is the same in all Arab countries (except for very minor orthographic differences between Egyptian and Lebanese printers). Hebrew, I bet, is the same in this regard, right to left timelines.

And dioramas in museums? Something like "The March of Geologic Time..." Precambrian on this end, Holocene on the other end...

One unfortunate fact for Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian-speaking composers of vocal music: Music notation still goes left to right, sorry! Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian lyrics have to be broken into syllables that go the wrong direction. Within a syllable, the letters go the proper direction (right to left), but the syllables are reversed. One way to get around this is transliterating the lyrics into roman, but that isn't entirely satisfactory either. Not everybody in the Middle East can read romanized text.
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Old 05-13-2005, 11:45 AM
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So we have one vote for each.

Anyone else help with this question?
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Old 05-13-2005, 11:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul in Saudi
Oddly numbers are also written left-to-right.
[hijack]
Not so oddly---it's because decimal place-value notation in Arabic was derived from the decimal place-value numerals in left-to-right Indian scripts. The Arabs just kept the convention for writing numerals as they found it in the Indian texts, instead of reversing it to match the direction of their own script.
[/hijack]
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Old 05-13-2005, 12:41 PM
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Even in Europe visual narratives weren't always invariably left-to-right. In the Medieval era and early Renaissance anything goes (even in places with relatively high literacy rates like Florence and Bruges) although there might have been a tendency towards left-to-right-- it wasn't exclusive, in any case; I'm not sure when things became more predictably left-to-right. We grew up on newspaper comics, and have a sense of the "natural order of things."
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Old 05-13-2005, 02:03 PM
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One thing I've always wondered (but don't want to open up a whole new thread for): is left-handedness more common in Middle Eastern countries than other places? I always figured that the main reason we write left-to-right is that it's easier on right-handers; your pinky and the side of your hand won't drag over the ink, so there's less of a chance that it will smudge or get on you (not such a big deal now, but it would have been so in the days of slow-drying inks). Because right-handers are the majority, the more convenient method for us would have become standard. It seems counter-intuitive that a right-handed society would develop a writing system that is "backwards" to the way that most people orient things, but if there is a significant left-handed minority (or majority) there to push the right-to-left system and help it flourish then it might make sense. Or do Arabic writers hold their pens or pencils in a different way from writers of Roman alphabets, so the ink doesn't touch the hand at all? Or is my theory wrong and the ink smudging has nothing to do with the direction of the writing?
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Old 05-13-2005, 02:11 PM
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Hmm, now doesn't Chinese and Japanese read up to down, right to left? And in some older cultures (early Greek, et al) they wrote in "boustrephedon" (ox-plow)-- left-to-right on one line, then turning around right-to-left on the next line (or the equivalent in up-and-down). Herbrew and Aramaic were (are?) also right-to-left. I think it's independent of handedness.
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Old 05-13-2005, 02:23 PM
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To the OP -- can't tell you about Arab culture, but as an Israeli I just can't give you a preferred direction off the top of my head -- you see timelines going either way and we're perfectly comfortable both ways. It's really a question of context; there's no "natural" direction, you have to look at the axis to figure out which way it's going. Generally I'd say that time flows forward from the Y Axis in whichever direction the T axis happens to go... Technical or scientific stuff will mostly go left-to-right, although this is by no means completely universal.
Comics are iffy too -- if it's a translation of a Euro/American strip, it'll go left to right (or the whole thing will be printed in mirror image ). If it's originally in Hebrew, it'll go right to left.

Quote:
Originally Posted by continuity eror
One thing I've always wondered (but don't want to open up a whole new thread for): is left-handedness more common in Middle Eastern countries than other places? I always figured that the main reason we write left-to-right is that it's easier on right-handers; your pinky and the side of your hand won't drag over the ink, so there's less of a chance that it will smudge or get on you (not such a big deal now, but it would have been so in the days of slow-drying inks). Because right-handers are the majority, the more convenient method for us would have become standard. It seems counter-intuitive that a right-handed society would develop a writing system that is "backwards" to the way that most people orient things, but if there is a significant left-handed minority (or majority) there to push the right-to-left system and help it flourish then it might make sense. Or do Arabic writers hold their pens or pencils in a different way from writers of Roman alphabets, so the ink doesn't touch the hand at all? Or is my theory wrong and the ink smudging has nothing to do with the direction of the writing?
I think it's the other way around. The Mid-eastern writing systems are older than Greek or Roman. IIRC, early Greek was written from right to left, and at some point they turned things around, because it was, in fact, easier to write from left to right. The Romans picked things up from there. Us natives never caught on and have kept righting from the "Correct" (err... that is a synonym for "right", correct? ) side ever since

Dani
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Old 05-13-2005, 02:33 PM
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Hmm, now doesn't Chinese and Japanese read up to down, right to left?
Yes, at least traditionally. (That is, each line is top-to-bottom, next line goes to the left of the previous line.) Both were traditionally written with a brush, so the writing hand never comes in contact with the paper and smudging wouldn't have been a problem.

Nowadays Japanese is often written in Western style orientation (left-to-right, top-to-bottom). Technical and sceitific writing is done this way because it incorporates numbers, formulas and foreign words more easily. Literary works are usually in traditional orientation. A single horizontal line of text (e.g. banners) is usually left-to-right, but the writing on the right side of a truck is sometimes right-to-left because front-to-back (of vehicle) is more natural, and it overrides the preference for left-to-right.

And IIRC, many Japanese texbooks have timelines with the traditional format - i.e. time goes from right to left, and the top-to-bottom writing fits neatly underneath the line.
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Old 05-14-2005, 11:01 AM
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I can say with certainty that lefties in the Arab World 'hook' their hands when the write, just like they do in the rest of the world.
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Old 05-18-2005, 12:34 AM
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I taught English in an Arabic speaking country and used a left-to-right timeline for help sometimes in teaching tenses. No one seemed to have a problem with that... to the point that I never even considered it until I read your question!
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