writing direction

From: Vinod Kumar (rigvinod@gmail.com)
Date: Tue Mar 24 2009 - 01:24:59 CST

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    Please have a look at
    The writing direction appears to have a profound influence on
    many everyday happenings just as the cola ad shows. Yesterday (Feb
    18, 2009) there was a news that the Taliban has enforced
    driving on the right side of the road in the Swat valley of
    Pakistan because they write from RtoL. Earlier, because of
     the British legacy, they
    used to drive along the left of the road just like us
    Indians. But it beats me to tell the connection between reading
    from right to left and driving on the right!

    A quip from my friend Vijayaraman: "Reading Direction" and
    "Driving direction" relationship is something one can ponder
    about! If there is such a thing, I wonder how Japanese would
    drive their cars - they certainly write top to bottom!

    Thinking deeper into it, there might be a connection between
    writing and driving directions. When you drive along, the trees
    and buildings on the left of the central vertical plane of vision
    move right to left and the trees and buildings on the right move
    LtoR. This is the case whether you drive along the left or the

    Now consider the incoming traffic. On one way roads, or roads with
    dividers the incoming traffic is absent or can be ignored.
    Otherwise, as on most Indian roads, the incoming traffic has to be
    watched carefully. When driving on the left of the road (India),
    the incoming traffic will move from LtoR. If we read from LtoR,
    the characters move in our visual space from RtoL. Hence, if the
    predominant writing direction is LtoR, you should be driving on
    the right of the road as in US to watch out for the incoming
    traffic. So LtoR writing (English, French) is compatible with
    driving on right hand side of the road! US wins over UK.
    Incidently, the Taliban has got it wrong here because they read
    from RtoL and should be driving on the left of the road as we do
    now in India and Pakistan .

    Now consider driving along, reading the sign boards on the side of
    the road you are on. This is normal as you wish to read the board
    "Uncle Tom's Cabin", get down in front and have a mug of beer.
    Obviously the left of the road driving is comaptible with LtoR
    writing. UK wins over US. The Taliban is now right in insisting
    that everybody should drive on the right and read the signboards
    strictly written RtoL in Pashto, Urdu or Arabic.

    The match is evenly poised. Are there other considerations for
    deciding which side of the road a country should drive given its
    predominant writing direction? Changing the writing direction
    looks impossible, but changing the driving side has a faint
    glimmer of chance.

    K Vinod Kumar

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