Data visualization in right-to-left languages

Line chart that uses Arabic text and numerals

If you speak Arabic or Farsi, I need your help. If you don’t speak, share this post with someone who does.

Right-to-left (RTL) languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Farsi are used by roughly 1.8 billion people around the world. Many of them consume data in their native languages. Nevertheless, I have never seen any research or study that explores data visualization in RTL languages. Until a couple of days ago, when I saw this interesting observation by Nick Doiron “Charts when you read right-to-left“.

I teach data visualization in Israeli colleges. Whenever a student asks me RTL-related questions, I always answer something like “it’s complicated, let’s not deal with that”. Moreover, in the assignments, I even allow my students to submit graphs in English, even if they write the report in Hebrew.

Nick’s post made me wonder about data visualization do’s and don’ts in RTL environments. Should Hebrew charts differ from Arabic or Farsi? What are the accepted practices?

If you speak Arabic or Farsi, I need your help. If you don’t speak, share this post with someone who does. I want to collect as many examples of data visualization in RTL languages. Links to research articles are more than welcome. You can leave your comments here or send them to boris@gorelik.net.

Thank you.

 

The image at the top of this post is a modified version of a graph that appears in the post that I cite. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the original publication.

One thought on “Data visualization in right-to-left languages

  1. My husband (Iranian, native Farsi speaker, but with the caveat that he speaks and reads mainly English now) says that he expects all charts and graphs to be left-to-right these days. He thinks that some older texts may have data visualizations that go right-to-left but he wouldn’t expect to see that in current visualizations.

    It may also be worth noting that the numerals are read left-to-right, even though the text is right-to-left. (For example, the number 123 is written ۱۲۳, where 1=۱, 2=۲, and 3=۳.) We aren’t sure but we think that could have an impact on expectations when numbers are involved in a visualization.

    I asked him about visualizations that might be less influenced by mathematics, like timelines, and he wasn’t sure which direction he’d expect it to go. (He joked that it would go top to bottom, and indeed the only example we found was oriented top to bottom.)

    Like

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