Left-Handedness: A Writing Handicap?

By Peachey, Ian | Visible Language, September 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Left-Handedness: A Writing Handicap?


Peachey, Ian, Visible Language


ABSTRACT Left-handedness is often seen as a disadvantage when it comes to writing and left-handers are often seen as 'problem ' writers. However, the difficulties many left-handers face do not stem from their left-handedness, but from the left-to-right writing movement of the Western writing culture. This article investigates left-handed writing technique and tries to determine., through both research and direct observation, the extent to which the theory regarding left-handed writing technique corresponds to the techniques used in practice.

The main focus of the investigation is an observational study. Participants were asked to copy out a series of simple sentences while photographs were taken, to document their writing technique. The results oj this study are then discussed in the context of handwriting manuals and specific left-handed writing guides. The fundamental aspects of writing technique - such as penhold, pengnp and paper position - are all dealt with in turn., together with the effect of the resulting written trace.

It is concluded that despite the range of literature available on left-handed writing, a 'right' and 'wrong' attitude still tends to prevail, which is in contrast to the variety of writing techniques seen in this investigation. Left-handedness is not a writing handicap and it is through more liberal and tolerant attitudes that this notion will be eradicated.

INTRODUCTION THE ACT OF HANDWRITING, UNLIKE MOST OTHER ACTIVITIES, IS ALMOST entirely focused on one side of the body. While the non-writing side may be involved in subsidiary tasks, such as steadying the paper, the main job of writing is carried out by just one-half of the body, and in particular one arm and hand.

Left-handed writers are often cast in a negative light, as if their left-handedness is some kind of handicap. While the prejudices and discrimination that they faced in the 18th and 19th centuries have long since ended, left-handers are still seen as 'problem' writers in need of special attention, whether it be in the form of classroom layout, specially adapted pens and grips or alternative methods of teaching.

Contrary to popular opinion, the difficulties that many left-handed writers face do not stem from their left-handedness. Instead, these problems arise from the nature of writing and in particular the direction in which we write. In the Western handwriting culture, we write from left-to-right across the page and from top-to-bottom. This left-to-right movement is an 'arbitrary evolution' in our culture, and not necessarily fundamental to the act of writing. A right-to-left movement - which is much more natural for a left-hander - occurs in a number of other alphabets, such as Hebrew and Arabic (Sassoon, 1995:67).

However, it is the left-to-right movement that causes the most problems for left-handers. Not only do they have to try to push the pen across the page, but they have to try to push it across the body midline, which can result in problems with paper position, pengrip, an inability to see the writing and cramped body postures - all before the resulting written trace has even been considered.

Despite these difficulties, neither the left-hander nor the writing culture is at fault. It is their relative incompatibility that is the problem. The extent to which the theory regarding appropriate lefthanded writing techniques corresponds to the techniques used in practice needs to be established, and where necessary, suggestions made for how the theory can be improved.

OBSERVATIONAL STUDY

TO TRY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND SOME OF THE VARIETY OF DIFFERENT

techniques used by left-handers when writing, an observational study was undertaken. No specific hypothesis was tested, since the investigation was exploratory and gathered qualitative data. It aimed to survey a range of left-handed writing techniques, without any specific ideas about the outcomes.

Task

PARTICIPANTS WERE ASKED TO COPY OUT A SERIES OF 14 SIMPLE SENTENCES

and photographs were taken to document their writing technique. …

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