Why Are Arabic And Hebrew Languages Written From Right To Left?

If you’ve ever came across a text in Arabic or Hebrew, you would have noticed that the script is read not from left to right, but rather from right to left. In fact, Arabic and Hebrew are not the only languages written that way: Persian, Azeri and Kurdish (Sorani) are also written from right to left.

But have you ever wonder why? Why some languages developed this certain writing style when the majority went left to right?

Well, let’s look at the facts. (the article continues after the ad)

In our search for the answer we’ve came to the conclusion that this based on two things: one that we know the answer for and one that we don’t.


We know that modern languages are written in a specific writing style that’s same with the writing style of the original language they’re based upon. For example, Western languages are based on Greek and Latin – both of these languages are written from left to right and this is why Western civilizations write from left to right. On the other hand, languages such as Arabic, Hebrew and Persian are based on the Proto-Canaanite alphabet – an ancestor of the Phoenician script that was written from right to left hence they adopted the writing style of right to left.


What we don’t know for sure is why Greek and Latin are written from left to right and Proto-Canaanite from right to left. Historians have hypothesized that this is due to the mediums/material that were available to the people when the languages were invented. When the Proto-Canaanite alphabet was developed before 1050 BCE, people were only writing on stone. Because most people are right-handed, it was only natural to write from right to left as one could hold the chisel in his/her left hand and hammer in his/her right.

But when Greek were developed around 900BCE, other materials were known as well such as dried animal skins (parchment) and papyrus. When these materials were used, it made sense to write to left to right as right-handed people (who were again, the majority) could easily smudge the written text if they wrote the other way round.

But, and there’s a big “but” here, making sense is one thing, backing up this theory with evidence is a different story. And to this day, historians have yet to find strong historical evidence for this hypothesis.


BONUS FACT: Ancient Greeks were also using a writing style called “boustrophedon” which was basically a hybrid style in which the direction of each line alternates. The first line is written from left to right, the second from right to left, the third was again from left to right and so on and so forth. 

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: The Incredible Story Of How Hebrew Became Extinct And Were Revived in 1881 By A Group Of Friends  

Photo: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: English is read from left to right, but are some languages written from right to left or from top to bottom? | Why did some languages develop right to left reading style while the majority went left to right? | Right to left languages | Egyptian Arabic Dictionary: Why do Arabs write right to left?

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