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I don't know if linguistics is the right place to ask about writing systems (and if not please let me know where to look) but here's the question. When reading something, I often find that when I finish a line and go to the next that I end up picking the wrong line to start reading which slows me down/breaks my concentration. I was wondering if there's a language that doesn't read from left to right or right to left, but reads both ways; switching orientation each line so you can read in one continuous block without having to jump around the page.

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I don't know of any modern language that uses this system, but it is attested in more than one ancient language: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boustrophedon – sumelic Jan 30 at 1:21
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Boustrophedon is a kind of bi-directional text, mostly seen in ancient manuscripts and other inscriptions. Every other line of writing is flipped or reversed, with reversed letters. Rather than going left-to-right as in modern English, or right-to-left as in Arabic and Hebrew, alternate lines in boustrophedon must be read in opposite directions. Also, the individual characters are reversed, or mirrored.

Boustrophedon
(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Egyptian hieroglyphs are also known to be read in LTR or RTL directions, but I think, no document contained both directions at the same time.


All modern writing systems have some order in which the symbols are aligned. However, there are systems where each symbol carries a "bigger" or "smaller" unit of information. Compare letter-based Latin script to ideographic writing systems like Chinese and Japanese.

Hence, albeit you can't completely eliminate losing track of symbols, the probability that you trackback within the same row can be higher or lower.

Your question also seems to be related to Rapid Reading techniques (RR). If you take classes of RR, you will be taught to overcome several factors that commonly reduce your reading performance. Here are some of these:

  • Replacing a sequential word-by-word reading to seeing a whole page at once (or, actually, square blocks of text).
  • Avoiding linear reading. Alphabetic writing systems imply the words aligned horizontally. Your eyes follow a word and it requires training to follow several lines at once.

Further details: this answer at Chinese.SE.


Ideographic writing systems can also be written right-to-left and left-to-right. Here's a nice proof:

Su Hui, a first century Chinese poet, wrote a poem in the form of a 29 by 29 character grid. Her poem can be read forwards, backwards, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, allowing for 2,848 different readings.

poem

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