Date: 2017-06-20 07:59 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
The passing comment in the circles article about stroke order being important in Japanese and Chinese writing reminds me of the time I found out why it's also important in English (or rather, in the Roman alphabet).

I had a colleague at the time who was Chinese, and in whiteboard-focused meetings I noticed that he wrote his capital R with an unusual stroke order. He would start on the left-hand side of the bowl, draw the bowl anticlockwise, then when the pen got back to the LHS, he'd draw the main vertical, then come back up to the bottom of the bowl and curve over for the right-hand leg. So you ended up with this sort of thing:



That looks a little odd, but in context, and drawn a little more neatly, it was obviously an R.

But the problem arose when he started writing in a hurry, because the important thing about changing the stroke order is that it also changes the failure modes of writing a letter. If you write an R in a hurry with the normal stroke order, then the right leg is still connected to the upper bowl but it probably doesn't quite manage to contact the left leg. But with his technique, haste resulted in a totally different failure in which the upper and lower parts didn't connect to each other:



To my eye, the thing on the left is clearly still an R, if a hastily written one, but the thing on the right is either a weird kind of L with some ill-advised attempts at calligraphic flourishes, or else it's some symbol I can't make sense of at all. So he became quite illegible once he sped up.

And yet, surely, this is purely an artefact of which of those failure modes I'm more used to seeing in handwriting. If I'd spent my life seeing the thing on the RHS in places where I needed to interpret it as R, I would be so accustomed to interpreting it as R that I probably wouldn't even notice. In other words, if everyone wrote R with that person's stroke order, it would be the right order, and perhaps people would find the thing on the left to be non-obvious at first glance.

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