Lingohub is always interested to learn more about different languages, their peculiarities, and cultural nuances. Once we have detailed overviews of the RTL (right-to-left) languages, you can read the best practice of localizing them in our blog. Today our team brings you more information for a much rare script for the web - top-to-bottom or vertical.

Vertical scripts are the writing systems where the text is written and read from top to bottom. The characters are placed in columns, not rows like in left to right or right to left.

The spreading of vertical scripts

Nowadays, horizontal writing from left-to-right or right-to-left is more commonly used than vertical writing, mainly due to the influence of Western languages. Also, one of the reasons for traditional script's low popularity in the development of the Internet - the systems mainly don't support vertical text, and some parts of the interface, like links, buttons, etc., are preferable to be horizontal. But the situation in this field is continuously changing. While the first operating systems lacked support for top-to-bottom scripts, modern technologies, particularly those localized for East Asia, started to possess this functionality. At the same time, in Mongolia, the government announced the switch from the Cyrillic to the Traditional script (vertical) by 2025. Take a look at the Mongolian website as an example of vertical writing.

example of vertical script

But, still, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean vertical scripts are widely used in literature (manga, for example,) newspapers, restaurant menus, row signs, etc.

Let's overview the main languages that use vertical writing:

  • Traditional Chinese. This writing system consists of columns of hieroglyphic characters written from top to bottom and right to left. This script is traditionally used in China and Hong Kong.
  • Traditional Japanese (tategaki). This writing style was inherited from the Chinese, so as well as in traditional Chinese, the hieroglyphics are written from top to bottom and right to left.
  • Mongolian script (Hudum Mongol bichig): Mongolian script goes from top to bottom and right to left. The feature of this writing system is that Cyrillic symbols, which are widely used today, also be written in a vertical style.
  • Korean script: Korean Hangul script is usually written to the right in a horizontal style but can also be written vertically. In vertical written Korean text, the direction is from right to left and from top to bottom.

Let's overview the popularity of the languages with the vertical scripts'. As discussed above, this type of writing system is not used by all people but is still an essential part of the culture code.

LanguageNumber of speakersCountry
Chinese1.3 billionHong Kong, China, Macao, Taiwan and Singapore
Japanese128 millionJapan
Mongolian8.3 millionMongolia
Vietnamese76 millionVietnam, Dongxing islands, widely spoken in Cambodia and Laos
Korean75 millionSouth and North Korea

The technical challenges of vertical scripts localization

With the development of computer technology and the Internet, horizontal languages have become predominant online, while vertical languages have become less common. The tech issues of using vertical languages on the web also apply to localization. The main challenges are:

  1. The technical problem in most web browsers and text editors. Nowadays, Google Chrome and Safari cannot correctly display vertically-oriented text. Users may get issues such as incorrect character orientation, garbled text, and line breaks.
  2. Issues with interactive elements, such as buttons or links. They may not display correctly in a vertical orientation.
  3. Character encoding and fonts. Vertical languages often use complex character encodings and require specific fonts to display correctly. This can lead to compatibility issues, mainly when translating content into platforms or systems that may not fully support the required character sets or fonts.
  4. Design challenges. If you plan on incorporating vertical elements into your design, it may be necessary to make some adjustments. Your design team should collaborate closely with localization to ensure superior outcomes.

Despite these technical problems, vertical languages are still widely used in a big part of East Asia culture, such as newspapers, manga, literary works, formal documents, traditional hieroglyphic scripts, etc. Also, some websites combine both scripts, for example, this Japanese construction company .

chinese vertical script

So vertical scripts remain an essential part of the culture. For example, if you're creating a web/mobile game referencing traditional Japanese or Chinese culture, consider incorporating a vertical writing style into game elements, especially when talking about letters, notifications, part of the design, etc.

The cultural challenges issues of vertical scripts localization

The complexity of localization for vertical languages is dictated not only by technical questions but also by the complex culture of the countries that use such languages. So during localization, besides the tech part, you will face the following cultural challenges:

  1. Cultural sensitivity and context: Localization is not just about translating words; it involves adapting content to the target culture. Vertical languages are deeply rooted in unique cultures that differ from the Western, and accurate localization requires a thorough understanding of the cultural nuances and context associated with the language. A mistranslation or misinterpretation can have a significant impact on the user experience.
  2. Images and signs perception. The localization of visual materials is an essential part of product adaptation. A simple example - in Japanese culture, tattoos have a negative context, so putting the image with tattoos can be unattractive to your audience. 
  3. Tone. East Asian languages, like Japanese and Chinese, have different levels of formality and politeness. It is vital to assess the target audience and context to determine the appropriate level of politeness. In Japan, using respectful and honorific language (Keigo) in formal settings is best, while a more casual and conversational tone may be suitable for less formal content.

Overcoming these challenges requires linguistic expertise, cultural knowledge, technical proficiency, and rigorous testing to ensure a high-quality localized experience for users of vertical languages.

How can Lingohub support vertical language localization?

1. Figma plugin

As mentioned above, one of the main challenges for vertical language localization is the correct and aesthetic placement of the vertical texts and, as a result, significant design changes. The Lingohub Figma plugin aims to apply changes to the Figma layouts quickly. As translation to Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. languages requires a lot of attention to the correct hieroglyphics usage, it is a big chance that your content will be changed often. With the Figma plugin, you can quickly change your layouts to see how they work.

2. Style guide

Languages with vertical script localization often require cultural sensitivity to ensure appropriate adaptation. Understanding the target audience's cultural nuances, aesthetics, and preferences is essential for creating localized content that resonates with local users. The best practice would be to hire a native speaker to build the style guide, audience portrait, and other marketing-related documents with them. The Lingohub style guide allows for combining all the necessary information in a single place so the entire team can always access the needed information.

3. Reliable translators and proofreaders

Translation to languages with vertical scripts isn't trivial and requires strong professionals. If you need reliable translators - you can always hire experts at Lingohub. We provide translators for more than 40 languages, including Korean, Japanese, and Chinese (with different dialects.)

4. Context providing

Context is always essential during localization, but it should be presented as much as possible when discussing East Asia. To give a detailed overview for your translators - Lingohub provides a list of tools:

  • Context images - automatically or manually add screenshots of your interface so the translators can see where precisely the text is placed.
  • Segment data - add all additional data to your segments, for example, placeholder data, to get more overview.
  • Term base. Our glossary automatically provides suggestions for correct terms usage; additionally, you can add descriptions and images to your entries.

The sum up

The vertical scripts are an essential part of East Asia culture and couldn't be ignored on the web, especially when you create historical-, culture-targeted content for this region or want to respect traditions. Localizing such languages isn't a simple task from scratch, but with translation management software, it can be much easier. We at Lingohub are always happy to support our clients and constantly work on adding new features to make the localization experience better. Schedule a quick demo call with our team to get more information, or sign-up for a 14-day free trial. Stay tuned for more details on the language's peculiarities and localization hacks.

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