Re: writing direction

From: Aviah Morag - TransLink (
Date: Tue Mar 24 2009 - 02:35:13 CST

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    What I never understood is this: why do we drive on the right in Israel,
    which was a former British Mandate? And while we're at it, why do the Brits
    drive on the left and pass on the right on the roads, but do the exact
    opposite (quite scrupulously so) on escalators?

    Seriously, now - neither changing/altering the writing direction nor
    changing the driving direction is without historical precendent. You can
    still find RTL Greek inscriptions out there, including in a Crusader
    fortress right near our house. And in Japan, far-right groups use RTL text
    as a political symbol for "ancient times" or "tradition."

    I'm not aware of any studies on whether RTL language speakers are more prone
    to "look right," etc. Like most (all?) of the Middle East (and
    Mediterranean, and Southern California!), we're not exactly the picture of
    traffic safety. :-/


    On Tue, Mar 24, 2009 at 9:24 AM, Vinod Kumar <> wrote:

    > 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
    > right.
    > 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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