Chinese language from left to right

Valerie Sutton signwriting at MAC.COM
Thu Dec 14 22:01:21 UTC 2006

SignWriting List
December 14, 2006

Andre from Canada wrote:
> I read SW Spanish and SW German textbooks.  Also, I read a SW  
> Brazilian Portuguese magazine.  I noticed that authors are used to  
> write from left to right, not from top to bottom.  US authors are  
> used to write from top to bottom.  I once read that according to SW  
> members, it is easier to read from top to bottom.
It is better for the grammer of signed languages to write in vertical  
columns with Lanes. It has nothing to do with other countries. It has  
to do with old and new software.

The old SignWriter DOS computer program could only write from left to  
right, so that is why you see old documents written from left to right.

The new SignPuddle software, which includes SignText, is designed to  
write down in vertical columns because it is better for the grammer  
of signed languages. Many of the old writers do not realize this yet,  
so they still need to learn how to write down in vertical  
columns...It is a big change for some people who are used to the old  

So it is just a matter of training...A lot of the Brazilian work is  
written in vertical columns...Marianne Stumpf, who is Deaf herself,  
writes articles in vertical columns...I will show you the foreword to  
her Lessons in SignWriting textbook...that is written vertically...

So it has nothing to do with the US versus other has  
to do with old software versus new software...and the fact that some  
people do not realize that weight shifting, role shifting and  
comparing an item on the right with an item on the left, is written  
and read better, if the writing is vertical...

>     I want to share this with you:  I met a young hearing woman who  
> is a native Chinese who moved to Canada.  I asked her to read a  
> Chinese language from top to bottom.  She answered : "No, this  
> Chinese language is now read from left to right, not anymore from  
> top to bottom."  I then asked her: "Why did this Chinese language  
> stop to be read from top to bottom?"  She replied : "It was very  
> hard to read it from top to bottom with many vertical columns in a  
> book. It is easier to read it from left to right in a book."  She  
> said that it is easier to read one, two or three vertical column 
> (s), but not 10 vertical columns.  She knew that this specific old  
> Chinese language was read from top to bottom and had many vertical  
> columns.  But it has changed: it is now read from left to right and  
> has many horizontal lines.  But, I do not know if it is true.

It is important NOT to compare SignWriting with Chinese. Chinese does  
not write facial expressions with handshapes underneath the head.  
SignWriting is written vertically because the body is vertical and we  
are writing the way the body looks. Chinese does not write the human  
body. They had other reasons for writing vertically and it has no  
relation to SignWriting.

All writing systems, for any language, technically can be written in  
any direction if we wish. And I know some Signwriters who write in  
circles, for poetry, or in diagonals...I can find you a poem from  
Spain written by a Deaf person and they wrote the SignWriting in a  
spiral design because it looked beautiful, so there will always be  
people who choose to write in different directions...

But we write in vertical columns with a right lane, a center lane and  
a left lane, because we found through experience that readers read  
the Sign Language better when reading vertical columns. When reading  
documents that are left to right, some of that information is lost...

So I am slowly trying to educate old writers about the benefits of  
writing down in vertical columns...not all people know about it yet...

> I checked this and I found that most US children stories use from  
> one to four vertical column(s).  Also, I wanted to check the books  
> (i.e. more than 50 pages).  The SW textbooks based on a bilingual  
> language (sign language and spoken language) exist from left to  
> right.  It seems to me that only SW books based on monolingual  
> (i.e. sign language only) read from top to bottom and with more  
> than 10 vertical columns do not exist.  But I may be wrong.  I'm  
> asking everyone if you have a SW book only based on a sign language  
> (i.e. without using a spoken language) and which is read from top  
> to bottom and has more than 10 vertical columns?

Why do you have to have more than 10 vertical columns on one page?

Why does that matter? If you are worried about it not being small  
enough, you will see that we can write at very very small sizes...but  
because most people are beginners with SignWriting right now, I don't  
want to write documents too tiny, because then it is hard to learn to  
read at that size...but for advanced readers very small is  
readable..I think 5 columns is plenty on one page...why would 10 be  

>      I would also like to ask a question only to native Chinese SW  
> members:  Is it true that a Chinese language is now read and  
> written from left to right?

I can read a little Korean and they write both down the page and also  
left to right...and I have some Chinese books that are written in  
both directions within the same book! But those two languages have  
nothing to do with Sign Language and SignWriting...Sign Language is  
vertical because our bodies are vertical and we are writing body  
movement when we write SignWriting...

Val ;-)

More information about the Sw-l mailing list