FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish) are, in some cases, more difficult to typeset than Chinese or Arabic because of the expansion of text when translated from English.
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French Typesetting Text Expansion
French is the main culprit and can expand as much as 50% from the original English. Why would this be? The English language has a much larger vocabulary than French, drawing as it does on two entirely different sources (Latin + Germanic). The French language has also been much more strictly controlled by the Acadamie Francaise, which has tried to keep the language ‘pure’ and free from foreign influences. When studying French in the 80s I always remember the ‘correct’ equivalent for ‘weekend’. The commonly used ‘Le weekend‘ was frowned upon by the Academy and the official translation was ‘le congé au fin de la semaine’, literally ‘the break at the end of the week’.
Non-romance languages also tend to combine nouns much more frequently than the Latin languages and new words are more warmly welcomed into the lexicon.
Basic grammatical differences also contribute to the expansion. The possessive ‘s’ in English requires more words in French: ‘Paul’s car’ becoming ‘La voiture de Paul’, ‘bigger’ becomes ‘plus grand’ etc.
German Typesetting Text Expansion
There are often very long single words in German, which can create problems. This can produce untidy line-breaks when placed in narrow columns. Such as:
Julian, unser Auszubildener,
kam zu uns während eines
so hat er es sehr schnell
Some German words are very long. They even have awards for the longest German word of the year! In 1999 the winner was: Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.
The monster word consisted of 63 letters, 20 syllables, and ten individual words—all to express a law having to do with British beef (Rindfleisch) and the so-called “mad cow disease.”
The longest German word is:
Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, which translates into English as the ‘Association for Subordinate Officials of the Head Office Management of the Danube Steamboat Electrical Services’. This was a subdivision of the pre-war Viennese shipping company known as Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaft (DDSG) that transported both cargo and passengers along the Danube.
Italian Typesetting Text Expansion
In comparison, Italian is not such a problem as the text usually expands by about 10% and this can be resolved in the typesetting. You have to go back a long way to find the longest word in Italian. In 1677 the word precipitevolissimevolmente (as fast as possible), was coined.
Spanish Typesetting Text Expansion
Spanish too does not expand so much and can usually be accommodated during the typesetting phase. If you want to be funny in Spanish, and liguistic at the same time, you can claim that the word ‘arroz’ is the longest in their language, because it starts with ‘a’ and ends with ‘z’. Who says linguists have no sense of humour?
How to avoid expansion problems in FIGS
There is something to bear in mind if the translation is being produced for a website for all these languages. Having text on images is generally a bad idea. Consider a button used on a web form or for navigation on a web site. The image is usually of a fixed length. If the translations into FIGS produces a longer word the image may have to remade. This will, at the least, be more costly or, at most, it may require a complete redesign of the web page or site.
So the general rule with FIGS is: text will expand. If the original English text and documents or web site is created with this in mind, it will save expense and hassle later on in the localisation process.