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How can I format a dictionary that mixes vertical and horizontal scripts?

Constructed Languages Asked on August 20, 2021

My conlang Atili is written in a vertical script. I’m having a hard time trying to imagine how to write out words in the Atili script within my dictionary. This is important because Atili spelling is not predictable, and the normal Romanization that I use for Atili is phonetic and thus does not convey how a word is meant to be spelled in the Atili script. Right now, I’m using a secondary Romanization as a proxy for the native script that does convey the spelling of words in the conscript, which leads to dictionary entries like the following:

azih   ÄZYIH n. (A) hand; (B) the first letter of the Atili alphabet, which represents the consonant /∅/

I would rather just write the Atili word in the native script, but I’m not sure how to sensibly mix the horizontal Latin alphabet with the vertical Atili script. I’m not looking for technical details about implementing such a thing, just how to lay out the entries on the page.

2 Answers

If you have a situation where the entry in the conscript is taller than the textual material discussing it, you’ll have to accept ‘wasted’ white space filling out the rectangle. Really, the only sensible way to do this if your textual material is in English is to have your conscript entry run down on the left edge of the rectangle, and fill in the English on the right.

If you have an alternative horizontal orthography (even if it uses the same characters, like happens in Chinese and Japanese), I would recommend using that for the dictionary/lexicon.

Correct answer by Jeff Zeitlin on August 20, 2021

In a dictionary, you'll sometimes want to mix text from the languages concerned within a block, or perhaps even a sentence. At that point, I believe there really is only one viable option: Rotating one of the scripts entirely. Yes, the one you rotate will be a bit misrepresented, but it works. For an example, see this picture from what seems to be a French book on the Mongolian language:

A picture from what appears to be a French book on the Mongolian language, where the Mongolian writing that uses the traditional (vertical) alphabet is displayed in-line by rotating it 90 degrees, probably counterclockwise

This is not me trying to discourage you to change, or even downplay, your conlang's directionality. Indeed, rotating the English is also an option. Though I'd probably suggest rotating whichever one features the least, and from your snippet that seems to be the Atili.

One last thing to keep in mind.
If Atili text runs top-to-bottom right-to-left like Chinese traditionally did (or bottom-to-top left-to-right), rotating it 90 degrees to match Latin alphabet text is simple, as is doing the opposite. But if it runs top-to-bottom right-to-left like traditional Mongolian (or bottom-to-top left-to-right), it gets a little bit more complicated. Assuming you rotate the Atili, then it either ends up as right-to-left text in the middle of your left-to-right Latin script text or you end up with the side normally facing the next line being the upper side rather than the lower side - neither is ideal, but either is fine.
The book from the example picture seems to have gone with the latter approach.

Answered by Sara J on August 20, 2021

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