Superscripts in Chinese Texts.

This might seem a picky issue, but the Hattery is the Home of Pickiness, and as an editor (emeritus) I’m all about things like where to place superscripts. So with no further ado, Sijin Xian’s On the Placement of Superscripts in Chinese Texts:

As an English-Chinese translator serving mostly nonprofit and research institutions, I’ve had the distinct honor of working on a wide range of publications, including research papers, policy recommendations, and international organization submissions. Naturally, I deal with a lot of footnotes (or endnotes) and, consequently, the superscripts that hold their places in the texts. While the placement of superscripts in English texts follows a conventional and consistent practice, things tend to be more lax and vague when it comes to Chinese.

Below are a few screenshots I made of Chinese translations of English-language reports by international organizations. Notice where the superscripts are placed in relation to the neighboring punctuation. […]

I opt for the practice where superscripts precede the punctuation. This is how I was taught to write Chinese-language reports in school and the style adopted by Chinese academic journals. (I had a hard time adapting to the superscript placement rule in English when I attended graduate school in the US).

While of course I am used to the superscript placement rule in English, I have to admit that her chosen solution looks pleasing in Chinese. Thanks, Bathrobe!

Comments

  1. It’s a she

  2. Woops! Fixed, thanks.

  3. It seems to me that if what is being footnoted is a whole sentence, which is the typical case, then the subscript indeed belongs after the sentence-ending punctuation. But if what is being footnoted is less than a sentence, such as an independent clause, the superscript should appear before the punctuation. This is analogous to the treatment of closing quotation marks, thus:

    Alice says Bob is a fool¹, but Bob says otherwise².

    Or if you think that’s unaesthetic, then:

    Alice says Bob is a fool¹, but Bob says otherwise.²

    corresponding to British and American quotation marks respectively.

  4. But you’re talking about English. Did you look at the Chinese examples?

  5. The Chinese fonts used in the article seem to be almost monospaced, but not completely. If you look carefully Roman letters and superscripts messes up the vertical character alignment slightly.

    So why not design a ‘。’ which has less space after it when the next glyph is a superscript? Or am I misunderstanding something fundamental about how fonts work? As far as I know, at some fonts already treat some sequences of glyphs in special ways, like connecting the top part of the “f” to the dot of the following “i” in “fi”.

  6. jdmartinsen says:

    The method I’ve come across most often in academic journals (mostly language, literature, and history) uses superscripted circled numerals ① following the punctuation, although I’ve also seen this done before the punctuation, as well as bracketed numerals [1] both before and after the punctuation. Space doesn’t usually seem to be a problem. The linked example looks more like a typesetting issue in the generated PDF; I see this occasionally in archived dissertations, which presumably haven’t been professionally typeset.

  7. My preference is for listing reference numbers in brackets. In many fields, the choice of precisely where to put a reference number is purely an esthetic one. However, when publications may contain a lot of mathematics (including possible references for specific mathematical expressions), the use of superscripts runs the greatest risk of causing confusion—since a superscripted number might be an exponent.

  8. Sijian Xian says “Take another look at the first sentence of the Chinese translation, and you will see that the Chinese period — a circle instead of a dot — occupies two character spaces.” It looks rather as if, like each other punctuation mark, the Chinese full stop occupies exactly one character space, and a following footnote reference, if any, shares the following character space with the following character.

  9. It’s fine as a work-around by the author but, in my opinion, the Chinese typography software should up its game and not maroon the superscript by having a hard space that makes the period impossible to approach. It should be a compositor’s choice to open a gap between the period and the space in which to insert useful material.

  10. I did indeed look at the Chinese, but I was talking about Latin conventions, even though they are slightly off-topic. (Off-topic? This is LH!) In actual use, I prefer the (Euler 1737a) style of citations; it’s slightly more intrusive, but it avoids an unnecessary indirection.

  11. It’s fine as a work-around by the author but, in my opinion, the Chinese typography software should up its game and not maroon the superscript by having a hard space that makes the period impossible to approach. It should be a compositor’s choice to open a gap between the period and the space in which to insert useful material.

    Makes sense to me.

  12. As rosie pointed out, the period actually occupies one space. You have to think in terms of traditional writing paper in China and Japan (原稿用紙 in Japanese), which is divided up into squares. Each character, kana letter, and punctuation mark occupies a single square. There is no justification. What throws a spanner in the works is the spacing of the superscript, which is only a fraction of one square in the sample. That is why it cleaves so closely to the following letter. Perhaps the answer is to have the superscript superimposed on the period’s space. But this goes against traditional concepts of typography.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve seen Chinese texts where punctuation occupies half a square.

  14. Well the author must not have been familiar with them.

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