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I have a multilingual site, and I wondered about this. It feels really inconsistent to use Title Case for one language, but normal casing for another language.

Despite that, it seems to be common. Take a look, for example, at the iPhone.

iPhone menus in Dutch & English

I used to have Title Case for my Dutch version, but apparently people thought it looked 'weird'. Now I use normal casing for the English version to keep it consistent with the Dutch version, but I guess this is again weird for the English users.

So I wonder: is this a design decision or is this more of a cultural 'fact' with which your localization process should comply?

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    Related question, concerning "people thought [the title-cased Dutch version] looked 'weird'": How are headlines (in newspapers etc.) usually cased in Dutch? – O. R. Mapper Jan 29 '15 at 14:20
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    @O.R.Mapper dutch newspapers are usually not title-cased. But as far as I can see on Google Images, English and UK papers also don't use title-case for headlines? – Dirk Boer Jan 29 '15 at 16:19
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    Slightly unrelated but I question what title case is doing in a software menu at all. Title case is meant to emulate the capitalization of proper nouns, but the things listed there are not proper names in the sense that a trademark or book title is. – nitro2k01 Jan 30 '15 at 6:39
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    Some regions actually have very strict rules for what is and is not allowed considering casing. In Norway for example, official documents are not allowed to write "iPhone", they HAVE TO write "Iphone" instead. Which will indeed look very inconsistent to anybody reading international news... – Peter Jan 30 '15 at 8:56
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    UK newspapers do not usually use title case. Title case in the US newspapers actually looks quite strange to me. – jwg Jan 30 '15 at 10:26
60

I would imagine the typical user will only ever use one language version. The only time they will ever see another is if it installs in a different language and they have to change it.

As such you should stick to the conventions for each language. It doesn't matter if it is inconsistent with others- afterall, if you were doing the Chinese version then it would be using Chinese script and look very different to other language versions.

When designing a multi-lingual system there is potentially trouble in some languages taking a lot of characters to write something others can cover in one or two, and that is definitely something to consider with mobile design where space is limited.

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    Agreed! The inconsistency is only in the mind of the developer since users only see a single language. – Franchesca Jan 29 '15 at 13:18
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    I'm sure Middle Easterners would love it if things in Arabic were written left-to-right just like Western countries! Seriously, stick to local convention. – Cole Johnson Jan 30 '15 at 2:41
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    I often change the language of the applications I use on a whim (once I had to change from Spanish to another language because there was a dialog box with two buttons that both said "Cancelar", and I needed to know which one was "Cancel" and which one was "Disconnect"), but it wouldn't surprise me to see a different capitalization convention upon switching languages. – Peter Olson Jan 31 '15 at 16:59
  • Heck dutch will look weird to the vast majority of English speakers anyhow. As the saying goes "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". – Voo Feb 1 '15 at 15:02
  • a great example of the developers perspective introducing complication that users are unlikely to see and shows why it's so important to test with users and cater for them only – Toni Leigh Apr 25 '15 at 7:14
34

I don't know about iOS as Apple does not seem to have international design guidelines, but I can tell you that for example Microsoft has extensive UI guidelines regarding capitalization in different languages (including Dutch) that indeed differ from English.

  • Microsoft may have guidelines, but they clearly don't follow them religiously. On my Windows 7 desktop I can see examples of both styles in use: the "File" menu in Explorer has entries "Take Ownership" and "Create shortcut" for example. – Jules Feb 1 '15 at 3:15
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    @Jules Surely a mistake. On a side note, English capitalization of menu items was changed from title-style to sentence-style with Windows 7. – AndreKR Feb 1 '15 at 3:30
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The thing is that in many languages (including Dutch and German), there is no such thing as title case. It simply does not exist, and theirfore "it looks weird" is actually already a nice way of putting it - it is simply wrong. As also highlighted by @the other one, it does not matter to the typical user how it is done in a localization that he does not use.

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    I think that the fact that "it simply does not exist" in German is that German already capitalizes nouns and other words, while English does not. Writing everything with a capitalized first letter as in title case would suggest that everything's a noun to the German reader. "Datei Laden" ("Load File") would get the meaning "File Shop", since "Laden" is a noun for "shop" and the verb for "load" is "laden". – Ray Jan 30 '15 at 12:46
  • +1 . That's a good point and definitly true, @DebugErr - but other Germanic languages (like, e.g., Dutch) do not capitalize nouns (like German), and still do not know the concept of "title case". – damian Jan 30 '15 at 12:51
  • I see, I'm afraid I don't know Dutch, the reason why I targeted my comment only towards German. – Ray Jan 30 '15 at 12:52
  • @Davor Title case is used in UK English. See Oxford Manual of Style, which states: "4.1.8 Titles and subtitles of works. These include English books, newspapers, plays, films, TV programmes, pictures, the Bible and books of the Bible (but biblical), etc. Capitalize the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs, but generally not articles, conjunctions, or short prepositions." That said, it's not clear to me whether items in a menu count as titles or not. I would instinctively say not. – Jules Feb 1 '15 at 3:12
  • @DebugErr I am Dutch and I can tell you we normally don't use Title Case. Sometimes it is used for book/movie-titles. In that case if follows the sames rules as Jules mentioned regarding English. – Tonny Feb 1 '15 at 17:33
1

As others have said, you must always follow the rules of your target language when regionalizing.

The only possible reason (other than not realising that title case is an English-only idiom) that I can think of for wanting idiomatic consistency between languages is that an inconsistency is visible anywhere that you have incomplete regionalization: where only some of the text and graphics have been changed to local forms, while others remain in the "source language" - typically English.

This is hard to avoid unless you can consistently get every single resource translated to every single target language before every single update or release - which means, on regularly updated websites in particular, this is a very common problem indeed.

So you get adjacent items in different languages and idioms, like:
- Helderheid en actergrond
- iCloud
- Iphone
- Beer bier
- Wet Water
- ...etc.

This looks weird, obviously. But unfortunately, there's no good way around it that I am aware of.

There are scripts that can title-case, and you could choose to only make the script run when the user is viewing in English... but such scripts can never be perfect, and anyway won't fix things like graphics, multimedia content, etc.

And even if you did, it would then be unclear which is translated. At least with "Beer bier", people have a chance to understand "this is probably Dutch, it means 'A beer named after bears' not the English meaning of 'a corpse-plinth made out of beer cans'."

So there really is no easy solution for incomplete translation scenarios.

1

I would say that the use of title case in English is optional, and that as other languages do not use it if you wish to be consistent then it is entirely possible to not use it in your English version. It is quite clear that while some application menus use title case in English, this is far from a universal standard, and it is unlikely users would object to the use of sentence case for menu text, or even notice that you had done so in most cases.

As to specific vendors, it is worth noting that while Apple appear to consistently use title case, Microsoft use a mixture of both -- looking at Windows 7 Explorer, there is a rather bizarre mixture - the File and Tools menus have both styles, while the Edit, View and Help menus only use sentence case. Edit/Undo is a bit of an oddball, as it quotes the title of the operation that it will undo, which is capitalized in whichever style it was originally described in. Overall, sentence case seems to be more common under Windows. Under Linux, at least in the GNOME and KDE environments, title case seems to be preferred.

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