Principles of Typography for different languages

Sometimes German students ask me how to do the typesetting of documents in English, French or Spanish. I’m not able to help them because I never learned to speak or write French or Spanish.

Different languages have different typographic rules to typeset documents.

  • For English documents one can read Robert Bringhurst’s “The Elements of Typographic Style” or
  • for German documents, for example, “Detailtypografie” by Friedrich Forssman and Ralf de Jong.

Do you know a document (book, article or URL) comparing the styles for some languages (English, German, French, …)?

Some examples:

  • abbreviations are written in German with a “Spatium” (a small space, in LaTeX: ,, for example: z.,B. = e.g.), in English without any space,
  • abbreviations should not used in German at the beginning of a sentence (write the complete word(s), for example “Zum Beispiel”),
  • a dash in English is --- (in LaTeX) without spaces before and after the character, in German ~-- (with spaces, ~ is a space without the possibility of line breaking),
  • the quotation marks are different (English: “Foo” vs. German: „Bar“ vs. « Baz »; LaTeX package csquote),
  • vertical, horizontal and double rules in tables (LaTeX package booktabs),
  • in German the ampersand & is only allowed in company names (Paul & Söhne), in English I don’t know,
  • in German punctuation marks like !?., are written without a leading blank,
  • there are different style formatting footnotes in German (e.g. normal number, hanging, footnote text left justified or right left justified). Other languages?

Answers:

Thank you for visiting the Q&A section on Magenaut. Please note that all the answers may not help you solve the issue immediately. So please treat them as advisements. If you found the post helpful (or not), leave a comment & I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Method 1

The Complete Manual of Typography” by James Felici has sections on French, Spanish and Italian typographic conventions. They probably cover most of the important points. There is also a good discussion of the differences between American and British conventions.

The book is available as a PDF from Amazon and the publisher.

Method 2

For German and English typesetting, there is ‘Zweisprachige Mikrotypografie’ by Amelie Solbrig available for free. It’s an introduction to typesetting and a compilation of German and English typesetting rules. It also comprises interviews with industry practitioners. For a student, it beats the shamelessly overpriced ‘Detailtypografie’ by Forssman & de Jong (currently €98 / US$130) …

Solbrig, Amelie (2008). Zweisprachige Mikrotypografie – ein Regelwerk für den deutsch/englischen Schriftsatz. Diplomarbeit im Studiengang Verlagsherstellung. Leipzig, Germany: Leipzig University of Applied Sciences (HTWK Leipzig).
Download page:
http://bmb.htwk-leipzig.de/de/branche/diplomarbeiten/gestaltungtypografie/zweisprachige-mikrotypografie/

Method 3

Some of the more general rules used in French:

  • Hyphenate words that have 6 letters or more only, leave 3 letters before and 3 letters after the hyphen minimum.
  • French quotes are « », for quotes inside quotes, use the single English quotes
  • Thin spaces (1/8em) before ? ! ; and inside french quotes « »
  • There is always a space before % $ : but some do the full non-breaking space and some do the thin space.

If you have any more specific questions about rules in French, feel free to comment and I’ll add to this post.

In French, I use one of these two:

Method 4

For French typography, the best books I can recommend are Histoire de l’écriture typographique and Règles de l’écriture Typographique du Français by Yves Perrousseaux. I tried to look for an English version but didn’t find any.

So, if you don’t find an english version of theses, you can still have a look at this framasoft page. Of course it’s not as comprehensive as a book. I checked a bit and it looks like google can translate it quite fine. I mean… you’ll get the key stuff 😉

I hope this helps. And if you have any specific question regarding French typography, keep in mind that you can still ask here 🙂

Method 5

For Italian typography, the best book I can recommend is Regole editoriali, tipografiche & redazionali by Fabrizio Serra. One could find it on Amazon.it, or other main Italian bookstores.

Method 6

Excellent resource for Vietnamese (in English): https://vietnamesetypography.com/


All methods was sourced from stackoverflow.com or stackexchange.com, is licensed under cc by-sa 2.5, cc by-sa 3.0 and cc by-sa 4.0

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