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Subject: Re: justification
From: Patrick TJ McPhee <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:TYPO-L Discussion of Type and Typographic Design <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sat, 18 Apr 1998 16:46:32 -0400

text/plain (44 lines)

Jean Lee Cole wrote:

% What I was asking about was the "very long tradition." How did it start out
% that way? Did scribes "justify" illuminated manuscripts before the advent
% of the printing press? (I.e., does the tradition reach back further than
% printing?) Or was it the hegemony of axial symmetry that made justification
% "look better" to early printers?

So far as I can see, it reaches back to the beginning of written language.

_The Art & History of Books_, by Normal Levarie, has a picture of the
`Prism of Sennacherib', Assyrian, vii century BC, which is covered
with justified cuneiform writing. It has pictures of later Egyptian
Hieroglyphics, which are written in columns but justified on the top and
bottom, and of Hieratics from about 1200 BC, which are right-justified.

Just going through all the early examples, there are two Roman examples
from iv or v and ix century AD which are not justified (but one of these
is poetry), and two or three French examples from the xiii century AD
which are only loosely justified, but every other manuscript example in
the book (there are maybe 10 or 15 others) _is_ justified.

Furthermore, you can see in many of them where the lines where drawn, so
it was clearly the goal to create a big squared box of text, presumably
for aesthetic reasons.

In our century, many leading lights have suggested that justification is
bad and makes text less legible (due to varied inter-word spacing and
hyphenation).  The only study I've seen of this found that people
retained information better when it was set justified.  If that's true,
it could be that the old scribes justified text because they'd noticed
people had difficulties reading ragged text aloud (this could be because
your eyes can't shoot back a fixed amount when the text isn't justified
and you have to scan around a bit to find the left edge of the text).

(Is Joyce Brothers dead yet? Is there a need for someone to take her
place? I think I'd like to become a pop psychologist.)


Patrick TJ McPhee
East York  Canada
[log in to unmask]

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