Academic journal article Visible Language

Exploring the Relationship between Language and Design: A Study of Hong Kong Newspapers

Academic journal article Visible Language

Exploring the Relationship between Language and Design: A Study of Hong Kong Newspapers

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

Printed newspapers are still a popular way to acquire news in Hong Kong. There are 54 daily newspapers available in a city that has a modest population of just over seven million (Information Services Department, 2015). Newspapers are published in both of Hong Kong's official languages: Traditional Chinese (27) and English (12), as well as bilingual publications (10) and a few in Japanese (5).

The study reported here investigates the relationship between language and design practice through comparing the visual design of Hong Kong newspapers published in Traditional Chinese and English. The aim is to investigate whether changes in typographic systems influence how information is presented within an established genre, such as newspapers. The study begins with an overview of typographic differences between Traditional Chinese and English, and then outlines considerations for analyzing typographic presentation and layout in newspaper design. Following this discussion, the study uses a sample of Hong Kong newspapers to explore the relationship between language and typographic presentation.

2 Typography and layout in newspaper design

2.1 Considerations for analyzing Chinese typography

Linguistically and typographically, Traditional Chinese and English are very different. Whereas English uses the Latin alphabet, the Chinese writing system is logographic1 and contains both phonetic and ideographic elements (Sun et al., 1985). In comparison to the 26 alphabet letters that form the basis of English, Chinese type designers are required to design a vast number of characters2. Chow (quoted in Lam et al., 2007) estimates that there are around 60,000-80,000 Traditional Chinese characters. However, it has been suggested that familiarity with about 3,500 is sufficient to read 99.9% of newspaper articles, and knowing around 1,000 characters may be enough to understand 90% of newspaper articles (Xing, 2006).

Despite changes in technology, the vast number of characters required is a major challenge for Traditional Chinese typeface designers (Hirasuna, 2009).3 Moreover, Chinese typefaces do not have related variant forms equivalent to italics in Latin typefaces because it is time-consuming to design all the characters required for one 'regular' font, let alone an additional 'italic' or other variant (Takagi, 2012; Wong and Hsu, 1995).

Chinese typefaces are sometimes described in a parallel way to the calligraphic script, serif and sans serif classifications, commonly (albeit somewhat crudely), applied to Latin typefaces (Hofmann, 2014). As shown in Figure 1, three common classifications for Chinese typefaces are:

_Kai - based on the Kaishu calligraphic script

_Song (also known as Ming)4 - originated from Kai but with simplified, geometric strokes and serifs

_ Hei - a sans serif equivalent.

In relation to legibility, Chinese readers are said to prefer type-faces from the Song and Hei classes to Kai (Cai et al., 2003; Yang and Sun, 2011; Hofmann, 2014). Tam (2011) explains that Chinese characters often appear darker than Latin letters due to a lack of internal white space. The exaggerated end strokes of Kai can intensify the already dark appearance, resulting in illegible type in small sizes.

Tam's (2012) comparative descriptive framework for bilingual texts compares equivalent graphic and spatial cues in Chinese and/or English typography. His framework identifies that 30 attributes, semantically, are directly transferable in the two languages, while 25 cues have no absolute equivalents and a further 21 have similar semantic values but are not identical.

An important difference in relation to editorial typography is that the Chinese script does not have a case system. Accordingly, typographic variants such as all-capitals, small capitals, or capitalization at the start of an English sentence or for proper nouns are not applicable to Chinese. For analysis, however, it is more appropriate to draw comparisons with uppercase rather than lowercase English characters, as Chinese characters do not have ascenders and descenders (Tam, 2011). …

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