Many languages that exist today, especially in the Western world, originated from Latin and Greek. The reason for Latin and Greek being read left to right is not particularly well known, but an important theory is that the medium of writing strongly influenced the direction of the text. This is why left to right is the predominant writing paradigm for Western languages. However, not all scripts share the same writing direction. This brings us to our question: what languages are read right to left?
Do some languages have more than one direction?
Among the most popular languages read right to left, we can find Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Hebrew. Some languages can be written in more than one writing system. For example, Traditional Chinese was written in vertical columns which were read from top to bottom. The first column being on the right side of the page and the last column being on the left. In modern times, however, left-to-right horizontal Chinese has become more popular. Japanese also uses the traditional tategaki (“vertical writing”) style which, similarly to Traditional Chinese, is read right to left and down the columns.
Why is the writing system of a language important?
Knowing the text directionality can be important for authors and web designers. This is because creating content for languages read right to left can be a recipe for disaster for oblivious and untrained individuals. Any material produced for markets where the populations read right to left will not only require a translation, but also a localization process to ensure correct and natural text flow for the consumers.
What extra measures should be taking for languages read right to left?
The problem with directions is not only limited to the text. The whole document layout will have to be mirrored (flipped horizontally) to match the requirements of languages read right to left. Everything located on the right portion of the document will have to be placed on the left.
There are 7 billion potential clients in the world, and excluding the localization process for Middle Eastern markets (as an example of a home to languages read right to left) will cut this number to a fraction.
Examples of what languages are read right to left
|Arabic||Arabic, Azeri, Bakhtiari, Balochi, Farsi/Persian, Gilaki, Javanese, Kashmiri, Kazakh, Kurdish Sorani, Malay, Malayalam, Pashto, Punjabi, Qashqai, Sindhi, Somali, Sulu, Takestani, Turkmen, Uighur, Western Cham|
|Syriac||Assyrian, Modern Aramaic, Syriac|