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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/641

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WRITING PHYSIOLOGICALLY CONSIDERED.

using a brush which is manipulated slowly and makes a thick stroke, and follow the order of arrangement of their mural pictures. Their temples are made of wood, and it is the posts that are ornamented, naturally from the top down. This direction is also most convenient in all painting, since it corresponds with the natural movements of the joints of the fingers.

The Shemitic peoples—the Bedouins of the desert, Arabs, Turks, and Mohammedan negroes—write squatting on the carpet, or sometimes standing; the right hand, holding the pen, hangs free from the arm over the paper, and the arm is not supported. The left hand, also free in the air, or supported on the raised left knee, holds the paper stiff or laid on a little board. The right hand stays unmoved in the same place; only the fingers are put in motion for the shaping of the letters; while the left hand continually pushes the paper from left to right, so that the letters assume an arrangement from right to left, or in a centripetal direction. Thus the Shemitic people in writing perform movements directly opposed to ours. We hold the paper still, and move the hand; they move the paper, and hold the right hand almost still, as the Koran orders them to do.

An alphabet of two hundred phonetic signs representing syllables was invented in 1832, by a negro of the Yei tribe, who had learned to read from a missionary. He taught his people to write with a reed pen and ink; but, while he wrote from left to right, the whole nation to-day write from right to left. If as some believe, our centrifugal system of writing from left to right is founded on physiological considerations, the Yeis would not have departed from it after having been taught in it.

M. Erlenmeyer accounts for the direction of the Shemitic writing on the supposition of its having been originally centrifugal, by assuming that these people first wrote with the left hand, to which the direction of their writing would be centrifugal, and afterward changed the hand without changing the direction of the writing. This is exceedingly improbable, for the Shemitic races consider the left hand impure, and regard writing as a holy act, which they never could have thought of performing with an impure instrument. Another explanation must be sought.

Holy acts, with the Shemitic peoples, are performed looking toward the east; therefore, in writing, those people would turn their faces to the east. The light would then come from the south, and the scribe would write from the light toward the shadow, from the unrolled part of his paper toward the roll which he is continually unrolling with his left hand. If he wished to write from left to right, he would require to have the roll in his right hand, and, in that case, the thicker the roll the more it would cut off his light and be in his way. The centripetal direction, from right to left, was then for the primitive Shemitic peoples, and still is for the Orientals, the only natural direction; it is founded