Re: Rare Writing Directions

From: Timothy Partridge (
Date: Mon May 26 1997 - 13:31:09 EDT

In message <> you recently said:

> 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.
> 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.

I have seen an example of Mongolian text with European digits rotated this
way (in the book The Languages of the World).

> I think, it would be useful to have this method described in a
> forthcoming Unicode standard.

The current standard only mentions what happens with Hebrew and Arabic.

I suspect (but don't have any knowledge) that Mongolian could have
ligatures (vertical of course). In Hebrew style vertical Latin letters
simply go on top on one another without rotation - forming ligatures
is not possible in this case!

> 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: fu=FEark), 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).

Presumably we would need an indicator as to whether the first line of a
paragraph was left to right or right to left. How often would we wish to
use this though? Would it only be useful for *new* text in these ancient
languages? If I was reproducing an ancient inscription I presumably would
want to show the original line breaks and use explicit codes as you suggested.

Anyone implementing Egyptian heiroglyphs is going to have fun - many of the
characters are mirrored, with the little figures facing the start of the line.
It's a character set with no certain direction. How is BiDi going to cope?
Perhaps they should be treated as Neutrals.

The Cambridge Encylopedia of Language (I think I have the title right) also
mentions a form of boustrophedon where it is reversed at the word not the
character level (each word reads left to right but the words are right to
left). I don't recall if it gave examples of languages that use this or
whether this was more of an invented construct used by some authors.


Tim Partridge. Any opinions expressed are mine only and not those of my employer

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