Sample from Chapter 7. Text Writing in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese

So far we have learned mainly about individual Chinese characters and words, and occasionally their arrangement in a phrase or sentence. Now we learn about how these items are arranged in a text, in which writing direction, punctuation, spacing, and paragraphing are important. These conventions, or lack of them, began originally in Chinese and were adopted into Korean and Japanese. They have been largely Westernized in all three languages since the early 20th century, and are the same in outline, though not in detail, among the three languages. The text writing conventions are described here in Part I and will not be repeated in Parts II and III.

Writing Directions: Vertical vs Horizontal

More than 3000 years ago, brief texts on oracle bones were written vertically, columns moving either from right to left or left to right. Ever since, Chinese text has been traditionally written vertically from the top to bottom of a page, with the columns moving from right to left (figs. 7-4 and 4-2ab); books accordingly open at the right-hand cover, rather than at the left-hand cover as English books do. Apparently, this writing direction was convenient in ancient times when a book was a scroll: the right hand wrote characters vertically, while the left hand unrolled a scroll a little at a time.

For the past few decades, however, there has been a movement to change the writing direction from vertical to horizontal. Since 1956, China's leading newspaper, The People's Daily, has been printed in a horizontal direction, left to right. But its page may contain occasional vertical texts, perhaps for a flexible use of paper space or to attract the attention of readers. Most textbooks and government documents are written horizontally. For a Chinese text written horizontally see Figure 5-1.

Koreans and Japanese used the Chinese vertical direction in the past. Today Koreans use usually the Western horizontal direction and occasionally the traditional vertical direction, while Japanese use both directions equally often. Figure 7-1a shows a Korean text written horizontally, while figure 7-1b shows a Japanese text written vertically.

Figure 7-1. Two East Asian texts prepared on half of a standard manuscript sheet: (a) Korean text written horizontally, using mainly Western puctuation marks and Arabic numerals; (b) Japanese text written vertically (turn the page sideways), using mainly East Asian punctuation marks and Chinese numerals.

The Korean text says: In this book the object of research and examination of Han'gul spelling is the pre-1989 "unified rules of Han'gul spelling".

The Japanese text says: During the time of China's Ryoo (502­557), there was an official who excelled in painting and sculpture. Everybody exclaimed "Excellent" in praise of his talent.

In Japan, most books, textbooks, newspapers, and magazines are still written in the vertical direction, which is considered formal. However, modern technical texts tend to be written horizontally in the Western manner, in order better to accomodate Arabic numerals, mathematical and chemical formulas, and European words. Even in one copy of a newspaper, some sections, usually political­economic sections, tend to be written vertically, while some other sections, such as entertainment and lifestyle, tend to use a horizontal direction.

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