Localization gotcha: The RTL question mark

Displaying a question mark in RTL is not as easy as it sounds, because different languages use different question marks.

Languages which use Arabic or Arabic-style script flip the question mark, resulting in ؟. On the other hand, Hebrew does not flip the question mark; they use the LTR-style ?.

This is normally handled as part of string localization, but you have to be careful if you have a question mark embedded into a bitmap, such as a Help icon or button. You have to make the bitmap available to localization so that the Arabic localizers can flip the question mark, whereas the Hebrew localizers leave it alone.

Comments (14)
  1. Martin Bonner says:

    Don’t you pretty much have to make all the bitmaps available to localization? (Maybe not pictures of kittens.)

  2. Ben Voigt says:

    So the tricky thing is not that two versions of the graphic art are needed — that would be true even if all RTL languages consistently flipped the question mark — but that you can’t select which graphic based on the global RTL information?

    1. Right. The shape of the question mark can be locale-dependent (not just RTL-dependent). There is also a Greek question mark, so the problem exists in LTR languages, too.

  3. Yuri Khan says:

    I wonder how Facebook localizes its Like (thumbs up) icon for Afghanistan and Iran.

    1. Yukkuri says:

      I believe Facebook is blocked in Iran so for that half of it why bother?

      1. Yuri Khan says:

        Makes one wonder if it is that icon that got them banned.

        1. I assume there are millions of unbanned websites that thumbs up. Why localize it and how? Flip it? Also is there something different about Iran and Afghanistan than the rest of RTL writers like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Iraq, Syria, ISIS, etc.?

          1. Yuri Khan says:

            In those countries, the thumbs up gesture has approximately the same meaning as the middle finger in USA. Not the intended “Like” at all.

          2. I see. According to Wikipedia, it is like that in Iran, Western Africa and Greece, although it has declined in Iran.

  4. Lev says:

    > This is normally handled as part of string localization
    Normally yes, but older versions of Scratch used the Arabic question mark in the Hebrew localization. I wonder how that happened. Maybe whoever translated the strings omitted the question mark, and then someone else added it.

  5. Max says:

    ¿What about Spanish?

  6. Raymond, this certain gotcha is very trivial. Let me share a more concerning one: In Arabic, mathematics are written from right to left but not in Persian. Arabs still write individual numbers from left to right. Windows has zero supports for this although Linux supports it well.

    Also, Word 2016 has ceased support for numbered lists with Indo-Arabic numerals (digits used in Arabic, Persian, Urdu) and only supports Western Arabic numerals (i.e. the same digits used in America and Western Europe). So, I guess U.N. won’t be using Word 2016 to write any document related to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, UAE, Oman, Levant, ISIS, etc.

    1. xix says:

      Nice, you posted a blog within Raymond’s blog. It’s apparently blogs all the way down.

      1. That’s the purpose of the commenting system in blogs: To enrich contents by providing additional input and oversight.

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