I'm particularly thinking of a situation where multiple characters form a compound. Can such compounds be broken up over two lines?

Examples I can think of as potentially problematic are multi-character nouns in Mandarin, kanji + kana verbs in Japanese or compounds in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

  • I'm not sure this is a strictly linguistics question. Maybe you can save this one for the Chinese SE. Let's wait for other opinions.
    – Alenanno
    Dec 7, 2011 at 14:11
  • 1
    @DavidGrellscheid As Mitch said, your question can be improved. Sorry if I didn't specify that right away. But a multi-language question with some introspecting theme in Linguistics (asking how a group of languages - which are similar - work in the same situaton) would be OK to me.
    – Alenanno
    Dec 7, 2011 at 14:27
  • 1
    Thanks for your comments! I hope the new version is more topical. Dec 7, 2011 at 15:37
  • 1
    This is not a question about linguistics but about typographical practices in writing a particular language. In my view it should be closed as off-topic. The correct place for it would be on the Chinese SE. Dec 8, 2011 at 9:21
  • 1
    Modern Korean while not an ideographic script follows much the same pattern as Chinese and Japanese. And of course lots of people will start a debate when you call Chinese or Japanese, and probably even Egyptian "ideographic"! Dec 8, 2011 at 11:31

2 Answers 2


In Japanese specifically, kanji+kana compounds can be split between lines, but it is recommended to keep them together as much as possible. Splitting doesn't look as nice, but Japanese readers know to keep reading, if that makes sense. You do not insert a hyphen or anything like that (as you would in many Latin script languages). The same applies to Japanese kanji compounds. Also, do not start a line with punctuation.

Best practice: have a Japanese speaker suggest where to split as all the kana characters after a kanji do not necessarily belong with that kanji.

  • Are you sure this applies to Okurigana as well?
    – Alenanno
    Dec 7, 2011 at 17:43
  • 2
    Do you mean to say you can split between the characters and the kana? Or that you can split within the kana at word boundaries too? Or that you can split even the kana even not at word boundaries? (My personal impression has been that you can split anywhere but you have to be careful about punctuation at the beginning and ends of lines.) Dec 8, 2011 at 11:33
  • 1
    Indeed. You can split anywhere between characters, but it is still best to keep words together. So, yes, it applies to okurigana as well, @Alenanno. Sometimes there is really little choice but to split between the characters (kanji or kana) in a word. However, as long as one is able, words (kanji and their okurigana, a complete katakana or hiragana word, or a multiple kanji word) should not be split. Also, perhaps I should specify. In handwritten Japanese, you should never split a word between characters. In typewritten Japanese, sometimes it is necessary.
    – user575
    Dec 8, 2011 at 21:03
  • 1
    @Jayme I took the liberty to post that question on the Japanese SE. Splitting Kanji and okurigana at the end of the line.
    – Alenanno
    Dec 8, 2011 at 21:15

A good way to have rough but well informed advices on how to process scripts is to look at the Unicode standard. The result does not contain all the nuance needed for a high quality typography, but still a lot of information.

The document to read here is the Unicode Standard Annex 14: Line Breaking algorithm and the accompanying LineBreak.txt data file . There, the paragraph 3.1 says :

Three principal styles of context analysis determine line break opportunities.

  1. Western: spaces and hyphens are used to determine breaks
  2. East Asian: lines can break anywhere, unless prohibited
  3. South East Asian: line breaks require morphological analysis

The Western style is commonly used for scripts employing the space character. Hyphenation is often used with space-based line breaking to provide additional line break opportunities—however, it requires knowledge of the language and it may need user interaction or overrides.

The second style of context analysis is used with East Asian ideographic and syllabic scripts. In these scripts, lines can break anywhere, except before or after certain characters. The precise set of prohibited line breaks may depend on user preference or local custom and is commonly tailorable.

Korean makes use of both styles of line break. When Korean text is justified, the second style is commonly used, even for interspersed Latin letters. But when ragged margins are used, the Western style (relying on spaces) is commonly used instead, even for ideographs.

If you look the details of the LineBreak.txt file, you'll see that all Han (Hanzi/Kanji/Hanja) characters, most of the Kana, the Yi syllabic characters and some pictographic symbols (e.g. ☺, 🚀), are in the ID (for IDeographic) class, which allows breaking at any place, also in the middle of a word. The presence of the modern Yi script, which is a pure syllabary, in this list shows that this property of breaking at any moment is more linked to tradition than to the logographic/phonetic nature of the script.

Two other logographic script are encoded in Unicode 6.2, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform. In both cases, the corresponding characters are of category AL, like western alphabets. This means no line-breaking, axcept at specipc places, allowed by punctuation (including spaces and word divider.) Note that the grouping of signs in hieroglyphic texts is considered beyond the scope of Unicode (see p. 25/488 of the Unicode Standard 6.2 (pdf)). This add a structure inside a line and clearly forbids linebreaking for Egyptian compound.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.