On 25 Jun 2011, at 21:46, Patrick Dunn wrote:

> On Sat, Jun 25, 2011 at 3:46 AM, Michael Everson <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> Assignment for the student of writing systems: explain and defend the reasons why "an unbroken line of text" could be a key feature of any writing system. Explore historical, ergonomic, and technical considerations.
> Short answer:  Why the hell not?

Demerit. Flippant, and if that were sufficient, then why don't we see any such writing systems surviving?

> Long answer:  It seems to me the impetus to unidirectional writing might come ultimately from the characteristics of ink.

Note: Boustrophedon texts are known in inscriptional text, and were replaced in inscriptional text. So discussion of ink may be a red herring. (Though it may not.)

> If one is writing in English or in Hebrew, one can hold the right hand in such a way that it doesn't drag over the wet ink (harder in Hebrew, but doable). I'm not a native speaker of Hebrew, and my writing in it is limited to notes, but I do notice that I change my grip slightly on the pen when writing in it.  That makes me think, just on a guess, that this changing of grip at the end of every line might get tiresome.

Perhaps. But why was it given up in inscriptions?

> So tiresome that one inevitably abandons boustrophedon?  Meh.  I'm not sure it's any more tiresome than, say, *spelling* the damned word.

The origins of spelling are interesting. Some cultures do better at it than others. 

> As far as computers or mechanical typewriters go, they might very well encourage boustrophedon.

Unlikely for the latter, since glyphs are typically reversed when the directionality reverses, and that would require at least more complicated typewriters than the ones we (or some of us) grew up with. 

But there are no market pressures to create boustrophedon typewriters because boustrophedon writing has always been selected for extinction in every writing system that tried it.

> After all, early mechanical typewriters required a lifting of the hand at the end of every single line (I am *just* old enough to remember using one of these).  Boustrophedon would have been handy to
> avoid that mechanical annoyance.

The carriage return?

> As for reading, I think the claim that "boustrophedon cannot be read" is -- well, asinine on its face, not to put too fine a point on it.

Is it? Reading is all about recognition, typically of word-shapes, rather than the letters making up a word. Boustrophedon with its glyph reversals imposes a burden on users which (as we see from history) users reject.

> Obviously it could be read: people weren't doing it for the cardio.

For the what?

> Moreover, it obviously *can* be read.

Can it be quickly skimmed for content? I doubt it.

>  Scholars of ancient languages sometimes still do.

Sure. We puzzle it out. Or we write it out with regular left-to-right directionality instead, because it's much much easier. 

> And I personally, finding some college classes a bit less than challenging, made it a game to write some of my notes boustrophedon.  I can still read them.

As quickly and easily as your other notes? Did you use glyph reversal?

> The only thing that might prevent a purely cursive boustrophedon is the tool requiring lifting (as for dipping or recharging or sharpening).  That strikes me as a trivial impediment, and if you've ever seen anyone write in a Devanagari or Arabic script at speed, clearly it's still possible to join up a lot of cursive even with required pauses in the writing stream.

Training in writing everything in two directions with glyph reversals would be a lot of training indeed. And it would lead to strongly differing ductuses for each direction, which would lead to letter deformations... all unnecessary, and all unknown in modern writing systems because people don't like boustrophedon writing.

> Ultimately, I go back to my previous response: why the hell not?

Because it's not practical.

> No doubt that will not satisfy the terms of the assignment, but thank God, I already have my goddamned Ph.D. so now I only do imperiously delivered assignments for the fun of it.


Michael Everson *