T->B/R->L text flow (was Re: Portrait vs. Landscape)

Benjamin Franz (snowhare@netimages.com)
Sat, 27 Sep 1997 07:18:01 -0700 (PDT)

Date: Sat, 27 Sep 1997 07:18:01 -0700 (PDT)
From: Benjamin Franz <snowhare@netimages.com>
To: www-html@w3.org
In-Reply-To: <v03102815b01bd24d1aa6@[]>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.3.96.970927060337.21535A-100000@ns.viet.net>
Subject: T->B/R->L text flow (was Re: Portrait vs. Landscape)

Sorry to dig up such an old message, but I wanted to present some
evidence against something here. This is not specifically directed at
Walter (whom I feel to be a reasonable person) but at the HTML development

On Sat, 16 Aug 1997, Walter Ian Kaye wrote:

> At 5:14a -0700 08/16/97, Benjamin Franz wrote:

>  > Unless you happen to have a language that runs some other way than
>  > horizontal then vertical. Japanese, for example, can run top->bottom,
>  > right->left (and often does in printed media). This would most naturally
>  > result in a need to scroll to the *left* to read text as you extended into
>  > the document. I haven't seen a browser that can handle that (not saying
>  > there isn't one, just that I haven't seen one). So when you say 'the way
>  > we read' you are limiting yourself to a particular sub-set of 'we' and
>  > 'reading'.
> Well, we know Tim is not Nihonjin... ;-)  But Japanese, due to its "block"
> characters, works just as well L->R/T->B as it does T->B/R->L (hey, you
> could build his name from that sequence... <G>), and I would guess that
> most Japanese are comfortable reading L->R/T->B.

*ENGLISH* due to its 'block characters' works just as well T->B/L->R as
any other way. But it is not *normally* written that way and most people
are fairly uncomfortable reading more than very short passages that way.
But it *is* written that way. Sometimes.

While Japanese has substantially more L->R/T->B than English has
T->B/R->L, I still get the feel from books, newspapers and even online
material that the *preferred* way is T->B/R->L, with that preference
becoming more pronounced the longer the text is. I believe that if it were
not for the influence of early introduced Western printing/display/text
management technologies forcing L->R/T->B text flow in most cases, the
Japanese would do nearly everything T->B/R->L. 

Looking through my collection of Japanese books, with one exception -
*ALL* of the books I have that were written for Japanese consumption was
written almost entirely T->B/R->L. Horizontally oriented text tends to be
things like chapter titles, table of contents, copyright notices and other
'meta' information. That one exception book is an English->Japanese
dictionary.  In contrast, the 2nd grade children's writing book meant for
use by Japanese children I have is T->B/R->L. 

I make a habit of surfing Japanese web pages and I am finding significant
numbers of pages that are employing gifs to obtain T->B/L->R text flow. It
reminds me very much of the things we were seeing wrt to tables before
TABLE was fully deployed. It indicates a need that is not being met by

Here is an example of what I mean (this page is what prompted me to bring
up this old thread - I was not deliberately looking for T->B/L->R
documents - I was just surfing looking for information for a web site I'm
creating when I ran into this.) 


I feel that the lack of regard in HTML for the problems of T->B/R->L text
is really insupportable given the lengths its authors go to to support
people with disabilities. Even the i18n effort appears to have completely
ignored the issue (although it chose to recognize the BIDI issue, which
is closely related). 

Why is it 'ok' to say 'yes we know your language doesn't naturally go this
way and that well over 100 million people fall in this category, but you
will have to live with it', but *not* ok to say 'I know that you have
trouble with (small|colored|spoken representation|graphical navigation)
text but you are going to have to live with it'?

Has *anyone* actually attempted to start the process to adapt HTML/XML to
deal with the T->B/R->L text flow problem? Are there people here who would
be interested in trying? 

Benjamin Franz