Why is Arabic written from right to left?

When learning Arabic, the challenge begins as soon as you realize you have to flick the pages of your student book backwards. Unless you would like to proceed by reading the book from the end all the way to the beginning, you will have to incorporate this fact into your Arabic-learning rituals.

Conflicting script directions can be especially intimidating for Latin-based language speakers, whose brain physiology is set to make their eyes go from left to right while reading.

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Psychologically speaking, the right hemisphere of your brain does not like Arabic. When we learn a new language (or a new activity), our right hemisphere goes into full swing. The bad news is that Arabic demands attention from the left hemisphere. This is because some Arabic characters are visually very similar to each other, with subtle details setting them apart, such as a line or a dot.

Since the right hemisphere uses broader information to identify characters, attempting to fully comprehend the intricacies of Arabic can be a very difficult task for it. Conversely, the left hemisphere, which is responsible for logic and analysis, excels at fulfilling this task. The problem is that the right hemisphere's hyperactivity at the first stages of learning does not give the left hemisphere the chance to interfere.

Israeli scientists at the University of Haifa conducted a study that involved flashing cards to a group of students who were fluent in Arabic, English and Hebrew. They found that when they flashed the cards in English and Hebrew, the students used both their left and right hemispheres to decipher the characters.

However, in Arabic, they only used their left hemisphere to recognize the word. When they used their right hemisphere for simple words, they answered randomly, because they could not tell them apart at all.

The hemispherical function is, nonetheless, irrelevant to the hypothesis related to why Arabic is written from right to left, as opposed to from left to right and top to bottom. It is evident that our five senses contributed to the making of all languages.

The manifestation of spoken language in written form was imperative to express concepts concerning daily life. The Sumerians invented written language due to long-distance trade, which was needed for resources that were unavailable in the region.

 

Although it is hard to pinpoint why Arabic is sinistroverse, it has been theorized that before the paper-making process emerged in China, the Arabs used chisels to engrave the ideas and concepts they wished to manifest on stones. Due to its longevity, stone was preferred over leaves, skin, bones and shells.

Considering most of the "writers" (and individuals in general) were right-handed, they would use their right hand to hold (and carve with) the chisel and the left hand to hold a hammer. Such direction is more natural because it involves an outward motion and is, therefore, easier to perform from a motor point of view.

A left-to-right motion would have been counter-intuitive, especially with the risk of injury involved. Writing systems for Latin and Greek were invented later when paper was made available. In order to avoid smudging the ink on the paper (also due to the majority being right-handed), a left-to-right direction was found to be more favorable.

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