Re: Rare Writing Directions

From: Martin J. Duerst (
Date: Mon May 26 1997 - 13:09:45 EDT

On Mon, 26 May 1997, Unicode Discussion wrote:

> Some scripts are neither left-to-right, nor right-to-left.
> 1.
> Mongolian is written top-to-bottom; Japanese and Chinese used
> to be written this way, the lines were stacked right-to-left.

They still are, a lot! All newspapers and magazines are written
that way, only technical publications are written LTR horizontally.

> Recently, somebody (sorry, I haven't kept that note) has said that
> mixing Latin with Japanese was impossible, hence modern Japanese is
> written left-to-right. However, there is a way to mix top-to-bottom
> with horizontally written scripts: about twenty years ago I have seen
> a book in Japanese, written top-to-bottom, with German proper, and
> place, names imbedded. These were also written top-to-bottom, with
> the glyphs rotated by 90 degrees; so you could turn the book counter-
> clockwise to read these names, in the usual way. This imebedding
> method would also work with left-to-right phrases in Mongolian text.
> For righ-to-left scripts, you would have to turn the glyphs the other
> way.

That's still very much used where appropriate. Also in Mongolian.
One can also integrate Arabic or Hebrew, one then has to turn
the page clockwise. Please note that the logical order is fully
preserved, so no need for BIDI markers nor for a complicated
algorithm. Of course, having lots of Arabic AND Latin in the
same Japanese text will exercise your neck musceles, but should
be quite rare.

For very short Latin texts, such as abbreviations, and for text
written in "full-width" variants (i.e. where Latin letters have
the same width as ideographs), the letter are often also written
one after the other heads up, or two and two besides each other,
heads up. That will also work for Hebrew, but not for Arabic.

> I think, it would be useful to have this method described in a
> forthcoming Unicode standard.
> 2.
> Some old scripts (Greek, Latin, Hethitic, Runes) were used to write
> boustropheda. A boustrophedon runs back and forth like a ploughing
> ox (thence the name), i.e. the lines are written, alternatingly,
> left-to-right and right-to-left.
> As Unicode will adopt the Runes alphabet (or rather: fuşark), it
> would propbably be useful to have boustrophedon-markers akin to the
> existing LEFT-TO-RIGHT MARK and its siblings, U+200E .. U+200F and
> U+202A .. U+202E. These markers could be used to mark plain, logically
> formatted, Unicode text. (To mark physically formatted text, you could
> probably use the OVERRIDE characters, U+202D and U+202E.)
> Also a normative boustrophedon algorithm, akin to the existing bidi
> algorithm would probably be nice to have. I guess, this algorithm
> could be much simpler than the bidi algorithm, as the boustrophedon
> feature will apply only to whole paragraphs (it is more like a layout
> style, which does not have to allow for intrinsic character features).

Please note that no kind of BIDI algorithm nor formatting codes are
needed for just RTL text. It's only needed once directions are mixed.
The same applies to bostrophedon, if you have a full paragraph of
bustrophedon, it's the higher-level protocol that specifies this.
Mixing bustrophedon with other directions would be a mind-bogling
exercise (one could even think about mixing two bustrophedon scripts,
which could for some reason go in opposite directions each line :-),
but without any chance for actual usability or any chance that
somebody would still be able to read this stuff.

Regards, Martin.

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