Are Arabic writers left-handed?
No, most Arabic writers are not left-handed. In fact, the majority of Arabic writers favor their right hands for doing various tasks, including writing. This is due to the right-to-left direction of the Arabic language, cultural traditions, and religious interpretations.
The association of Arabic writing with left-handedness is a common thread on forums like Reddit and Quora. This misconception is quite common in the West, which is understandable given the lack of education we, Westerners, often receive about the other parts of the world.
However, this belief about Arabic writers and left-handedness is not true.
In this article, we will find out why this misconception exists, and finally solve this question once and for all.
Why Do People Think Arabic Writers Are Left-Handed?
One reason people believe Arabic writers are left-handed is the structure and direction of the language. Arabic is written and read from right-to-left (and top-down)—similar to Hebrew. English is written left-to-write.
The Arabic language is written from right-to-left because the letters are written connected in a cursive style. There is also no space between letters so that the words flow together across and down the page. Arabic is a beautiful script that is often confusing for foreigners to understand.
The Arabic alphabet is also written right-to-left.
Why Is the Arabic Language Written From Right to Left?
The Arabic language is written from right to left because of historical writing mediums, the ancient roots of the language, and the difficulty of writing Arabic left-to-right.
Thousands of years ago, languages were written on a tablet of stone using a chisel. Since most people are naturally right-handed, they would hold a hammer with the right hand and a chisel with the left hand. Moving from right to left would feel more natural. That’s why you find most older languages (such as Arabic, Hebrew and Farsi) written from right to left.
When ink was invented, people wrote on materials similar to paper. After that, writing from left to right became more preferable in many parts of the world since this method avoided smudging ink.
The first alphabet on record is the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet and is written from right to left. Archaeologists have also discovered writing that appears to relate to Egyptian hieroglyphs and syllables from other languages. The hieroglyphs and Proto-Sinaitic alphabet letters were largely written from right to left. The Arabic alphabet is based on the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet.
Here is a short, 3-minute video with a great explanation:
The development of language is a major factor in the answer to the question, “Are Arabic writers left-handed?” This leads us to the challenge of writing Arabic letters any other way.
It would be difficult to write Arabic letters left to right for two main reasons:
- The Arabic alphabet is written in a cursive style and the letters connect with each other.
- Arabic uses one of three short vowels as the basis of each word. These three vowels vary in shape according to grammatical rules. They are not as clear when they’re written left to right because they look like another letter (vowel + consonant vs vowel).
Most languages become confusing when written in the reverse direction.
Is There a Higher Percentage of Left-Handed People in Arabic Countries?
No, there is not a higher percentage of left-handed writers in Arabic cultures.
The percentage of Arabs who write from the left hand is largely unknown. However, the percentage of the world population that writes with their right hand (about 90%) is likely also true in Arabic cultures. There might even be less left-handed writers in Arabic cultures.
Arabs tend to favor their right hands over their left for various tasks such as eating, drinking, handshaking, etc. Even if someone is born left-handed, there’s a big chance they would convert to their right hand, making the overall left-handed people count less than the rest of the world.
However, there are some left-handed Arabic writers.
Interestingly, a 2009 study by I.C. McManus reported that the country with the highest percentage of left-handed people is the Netherlands. The United States is a close second.
Are Arabic Children Encouraged To Write With Their Left Hands?
Quite the opposite, actually. As explained above, Arabs prefer using their right hands. And so, it is only natural that they teach their children this principle.
There are 28 letters in the Arabic Alphabet (Some may argue 29 letters), typically written from right to left in a cursive style. It is easier to write Arabic from right to left since most people are right-handed. Because of this reduced difficulty (and tradition), most Arabic adults teach their children to write from right to left.
And so, naturally, they would proceed writing in that direction.
Is It Hard To Write Arabic Right-Handed?
No, people who learn to write in Arabic as children organically learn how to write Arabic right-handed. It is worth noting that left-handed Arabs have a harder time learning to write it, as compared to right-handed ones.
That is probably due to the cursive nature of Arabic and the fact that it is written right-to-left. However, when someone whose main language is written left-to-right tries to learn writing in Arabic, they often do find the language difficult.
Often they need to hold their writing hand in the opposite direction from what they are used to, which can result in awkward positions for writing. This has led some people to adopt strategies such as switching between hands and rotating the paper to a more comfortable angle.
Is It Easier To Write Arabic Left-Handed?
It may seem odd, but it’s actually easier to write Arabic with your right hand. This is because Arabic is written from right to left.
One way to write Arabic with your left hand would be by writing it in reverse so that it reads the same as how you read English or anything else in a Western language. However, this won’t produce any of those fancy squiggles and dots found in Arabic letters like “سماء، شئت، بحر”.
How Do Arabic Speakers Write From Right to Left Without Smudging the Text?
Arabic writers avoid smudging the text by raising their writing hand slightly off the page and holding it still. They keep their writing hand at the same level while mainly moving the wrist and reducing finger movement. It is almost as if they are drawing and sketching.
In some Western countries, English writers occasionally drop their writing hands onto the page, causing smudges and ink stains on their hands. Some writers lay part of their hand down on the page as they write.
This is partially the reason for the confusion among some Westerners about Arabic writing and smudges.
Can Arabic Be Modified To Write From Left to Right?
No, the Arabic script is cursive, meaning it doesn’t follow a set path as English does. It goes in various directions and curves to the right at times. Thus, writing from left-to-right would have an entirely different appearance when reading it than if it were written right to left or up-to-down with no modifications.
You can alter the direction of the script without modifying the language by using mirror writing or alternate characters like Hebrew does.
Mirror writing is writing a language in the opposite direction as usual with the letters reversed so that it reads “correctly” in a mirror. However, this is not common practice.
Is There a Religious Reason Arabic Writers Might Not Write Left-Handed?
The Holy Quran is the holy script revered and followed by many Arabic writers. The Quran does not say anything about writing with one hand or the other. However, Prophet Mohammed stated that one should eat and drink with their right hand. This has led to people thinking that your right hand is, indeed, better.
Not only the right hand, but the right side of the body as a whole. There is a tradition in the Middle East to enter a house with your right leg, and leave with your left, out of respect. There is also the practice of eating with your right hand and cleaning with your left hand.
Some people believe this tradition of “right equals clean or respect” might play a role in the direction of Arabic writing.
What Other Languages Are Written From Right to Left?
Arabic is not the only language written from right to left. In fact, the following languages are written in the same direction:
Final Thoughts on “Are Arabic Writers Left-Handed?”
In the Western world, it’s a common misconception that all Arabic writers use their left hands to write in Arabic. Many people ask, “Are Arabic writers left-handed?” However, the majority of people who speak Arabic natively are right-handed or ambidextrous, and there are many reasons behind this preference.
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like to check out the following blog posts on other writing topics (I have tons on this website for you to read):