When you’re planning on publishing in another language, you need more than just effective translation and localisation.

Typesetting is a critical part of the translation process whether your words are going to appear in print or on the screen. And depending on the language you’re targeting, the typesetting conventions and best practices which you’ll need to follow will vary dramatically.

Following on from our article on typesetting conventions in EFIGS – English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish; the most requested languages in Europe – here are some things you should be watching out for when you’re ordering translation in some of the most requested languages in Asia.

But first, it’s worth going over. Why is typesetting so important? Typesetting literally refers to the way text is composed on a page or screen. But any true typesetting definition will include reference to the following points. A correctly typeset text should:

  • Make sense to the audience it is intended to be read by – it should be checked for both readability and accessibility.
  • Appeal to the target audience and create the intended impact – this could be by following the strict rules expected of a professional document in a certain industry, or by using the correct tone to convey a certain message in a piece of advertising.
  • Strive for consistency throughout, in selection of fonts and styles used.

Finally, the finished piece must follow the rules of the language and culture – there will be cultural or linguistic conventions that any native reader will expect to be adhered to. If they’re not, it can lead to instant disengagement with the content of the work in question.

Typesetting conventions for CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)

Following expected conventions is often the most difficult of typesetting jobs. These conventions often vary wildly by language, and require the typesetter to be intimately familiar with not only the specific grammar and syntax rules of that language, but also conventions expected by:

  • A specific culture
  • Subgroups or specific markets or audiences
  • A particular industry or profession
  • A certain genre

For these reasons, the final review phase provided by the best professional typesetting services will usually be intensive. For instance, Asian Absolute uses multiple reviewers, including both a native speaker of the language and one of our highly experienced Quality Assurance experts.

A word on Combined Fonts

There are some considerations which apply to all three of Chinese, Japanese and Korean, most notably the need for Combined Fonts.

As they are character-based languages the vast majority of Latin-script fonts used for English typesetting won’t work with Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Chinese fonts require several thousand different glyphs, whereas a Latin-type font may contain as few as 229.

So Chinese, Japanese and Korean fonts tend to be developed by Asian designers, with an understandable emphasis on the elegance of the Asian characters. Unfortunately this can be at the expense of the design of the Latin letters, which may in some cases be really quite ugly.

The solution? Use an attractive Latin-script font for any Latin letters and numbers, and an Asian font for the Chinese, Japanese or Korean characters. Rather than making the poor typesetter manually change the font each time a Latin letter or number appears, applications such as InDesign allow Combined Fonts to be set within a document which intelligently switch the font according to the nature of each letter or character.

Some of the basics of typesetting which should be followed in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean include:

Chinese Typesetting

Like many Asian languages, even Chinese typesetting basics can be difficult to grasp for anyone more accustomed to European languages.

One of the most important issues to consider is the fact that as well as there being several Chinese spoken languages – such as Mandarin and Cantonese – there are two distinct Chinese writing systems, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese.

There is a big difference between the two systems, both in the individual characters and in the regions where they’re used. Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong, while Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China and Singapore.

Here are some of the other concepts and issues which should be considered when typesetting in Chinese:

  • Both Chinese writing systems include several thousand symbols, not all of which are supported by every available font – this means the decision of which font to choose should be made even more carefully than normal in Chinese.
  • Chinese can be written horizontally, left to right, in the same way as English, or vertically from top to bottom with readers starting at the top right of the page. Simplified Chinese is usually written horizontally, but Traditional Chinese can be written in either way – and sometimes even both ways within the same document!
  • When translating into some European languages it’s wise to plan for the text to expand and take up more space. Translations into Chinese almost always result in the opposite, so plan for your text to take up less space. This also applies to Japanese.
  • There is no uppercase or lowercase equivalent in Chinese. This means that design decisions in a European language which rely on uppercase letters to highlight a word or passage will be ineffective when translated into Chinese. Consider using bold instead.
  • Numbers in Chinese can be written in the same Arabic numerals widely used in European languages, but there are also Chinese characters which can be used for numbers. There are also other, more complex characters which act as long-form equivalents, used for formal documents in a similar way to writing numbers as words in some English legal documents.
Japanese Typesetting

Typesetting in Japanese presents its own unique challenges, many of which are related to the fact that Japanese has four writing systems – hiraganakatakana, and kanji, as well as the Latin alphabet. These are frequently combined within the same sentence, and are used to represent different things. Katakana, for example, represents foreign nouns and concepts, while kanji represents the vast majority of ideas and actions.

But that’s far from all of the challenges of Japanese typesetting:

  • Much like Chinese, Japanese can be written both vertically and horizontally. Writing horizontally in the same fashion as English is becoming more and more popular, but most novels and newspapers still use the same top-to-bottom, right-to-left manner as Traditional Chinese. In Japanese, this is known as tategaki.
  • There are specific rules relating to where line breaks can occur in Japanese text – mainly because, unlike English for example, Japanese has no spaces between words. This means that theoretically a line break could occur at any point, but in reality there are several characters (not just punctuation symbols) which may not be placed at a beginning or end of a line.
  • There is a small difference between Japanese and European type size even when they are theoretically identical. This is usually fine at smaller sizes, but in headings and titles it will start to become very noticeable, usually resulting in changes needing to be made. This can be taken into account in your Combined Fonts settings, where a baseline shift may also be needed to ensure all your text sits on the same baseline.
  • Italics aren’t used in Japanese, and can result in some strange-looking characters if use is attempted. Consider using brackets or a different font weight to create the same effect.
Korean Typesetting

Korean makes use of a unique writing system, which can make Korean typesetting difficult. Called Hangul, the Korean script is a relatively modern phenomenon, first developed in the 1400s but only growing to prominence in terms of usage in the 1940s.

The system is a “featural” one, in which the shape of the letters themselves display the sounds which they represent. The syllables within a word are grouped into a square, with the layout being different depending on which vowels are used.

The depth and ingenious design of the Hangeul script are too complicated to go into here, and the language has deep philosophical roots. It’s also designed in a logical way which makes it relatively easy for a non-native to read, if not necessarily understand.

Some of the other issues involved when typesetting in Korean include:

  • Just like Japanese and Chinese, Korean can be written both vertically and horizontally. Changes in the preferred direction over time have resulted in the shapes of Korean letter-forms changing. This should be taken into account when selecting the most suitable font.
  • Traditional Chinese remained the main literary language of Korea for almost five centuries after Hangul was first invented, and to this day there is disagreement over how much Hanja – the name by which the Chinese script is know in Korea – should be used. Consider your target audience when deciding on this.
  • Use of Chinese script waxes and wanes in popularity on the peninsula, often depending on how nationalist the government of the time is, and in the past it has been entirely removed from the school curriculum. The fact that it’s not guaranteed that the entirety of the population can understand Hanja should be taken into account in Korean translation and typesetting projects.

The Importance of Typesetting

Even amongst languages that share similar roots, it’s clear that there are a vast number of aspects to consider when formatting and Desktop Publishing in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
When you need to be absolutely sure that your latest project will be received in the way you want it to be, make sure you pay more than lip service to typesetting conventions and best practices.

They’ll help you to create the right effect and impact no matter what you’re trying to say. Asian Absolute – Experts in Foreign Language Typesetting Chinese. Japanese. Korean. Languages from across the world – the Middle East, Europe, the rest of Asia, and the Americas too! Asian Absolute has been providing professional translation, localisation, and typesetting services to all sizes of commercial clients for over sixteen years.

Get the typesetting or Desktop Publishing expertise you need in any language.

Give your local Asian Absolute team a call now, and get a free quote or further information about how we’ll make your latest project a success.