The scripts of East Asian languages such as Japanese and Chinese are considered the most complex in the world. The scripts of these languages are more of artwork rather than mere letters, which changes meanings according to the contexts, making themselves all the more difficult to grasp quickly.
Almost all of the languages are written horizontally; from left to right, and in a couple of cases, like Arabic, from right to left. However, the most peculiar thing about the Japanese language (also Chinese and Korean) is that it is traditionally written from top to bottom. Even though the emergence of science and technology and the influence of western culture have paved the way for horizontal writing to dominate, the ancient literature is continued to be written in the vertical mode.
It is really interesting to trace back the origin of the vertical writing. Most of the linguists believe that the vertical script originated according to the writing materials. The writing media of ancient Chinese were primarily bamboo sticks, animal bones and other wooden slips. The letters used to be written using a brush. It was long before the invention of paper. The bamboo slips were in existence from at least 12th century BC. Writing horizontally on the sticks would have caused the ink to run since the sticks are curved. The vertical writing got stuck then and continued to thrive until the gradual invasion of the western languages.
The horizontal writing system in Japanese is known as ‘Yokogaki’ whereas vertical writing is called ‘Tategaki.’ The Tategaki system was inspired from Chinese. The modern Japanese writing system is a combination of two character types. The first one, Kanji, is the collection of adopted Chinese characters. The next one, Kana, consists of a pair of syllabaries. Since these languages consist of mainly disconnected syllabic units, it is easy to write in vertical manner, with no difficulty of comprehension. The words are written vertically in columns, from top to bottom, and ordered from right to left. Every new column starts to the left of the preceding one. Also in the early times of paper, it was easy to write in vertical columns since it helped writing with a brush in the right hand while unrolling the paper scroll with the left hand.
Currently both writing styles exist side by side. The classical texts are written in vertical system while the modern materials are all written in horizontal style.
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