I puzzled for a long while at why my dad’s handwriting had such an exotic tilt to it, why his letters slanted a certain way, and how I knew that it was his handwriting no matter what. And why other family members, or even friends, wrote like him. And why, even if I didn’t know the person, but saw their handwriting, I knew they had to be Middle Eastern. I wondered if it was because they were all immigrants from the Middle East, and maybe, just maybe, your handwriting can have an accent. I decided to research the question. Turns out, your handwriting can have an accents.
The original study was the first of its kind, and explored Arab-speaking natives writing English, and vice versa. This was perfect, as it mirrored my own population pool. They found that there are different slants and slopes to letters, and the combination of letters. The positioning of dots and the smoothness of curves can distinguish between the different speakers.
Other studies have researched native-Asian speakers, such as those from China and Japan. These speakers, when writing in English, tend to write strokes—such as the horizontal line across ‘t’—first, whereas native English speakers tend to do so last.
But even the curve of letters and numbers differ between different native speakers. Some native European or Arabic speakers tend to write the number ‘9’ with a curved hook at its tip. In Arabic, for example, that is how the number 9 is written: resembling an English letter ‘g’. it is no wonder, therefore, that native Arabic speakers continue this trend when writing in English.
Much research has focused on accents in speech, but the studies on handwriting has shown that other forms of communication can betray a person’s native tongue. It makes sense: when we learn script, we are training our muscles to “draw” a certain way: curve this line, hook that letter, cross and dot here. Our brains become used to this language, and just like an accent in spoken word, our brains and muscles form letters certain ways, even if the letters being written are different than our mother tongue.
Spoken accents affect our brains interestingly. For one thing, if we’re not used to the sounds, it becomes harder for our brains to understand what is being said. We have to “listen harder” to pick up on the sounds and the tilt of the words. Further, because we aren’t used to the sounds, our brains have a hard time trusting the speaker, leading to discrimination against those with accents.
No research has been done so far on whether or not the perceived accents in handwriting can cause discrimination against the writer. However, it is possible that if our brains have a hard time processing spoken accents, it may have a hard time doing so with written ones.
As the researchers noted, future research could help identify the accents of different groups of native speakers. Though lingual accents are dead giveaways, when not able to hear a spoken voice, handwriting may help to identify the accent, or the mother tongue, of the speaker. This can also be used in computer applications that produce “handwritten” notes, and simulate real handwriting across different languages.
– Rania Hanna
Farooq, Faisal, Liana Lorigo, and Venu Govindaraju. “On the accent in handwriting of individuals.” Tenth International Workshop on Frontiers in Handwriting Recognition. Suvisoft, 2006.