English is a wordy language!

(actualisé le ) by Ray

We have compared the word-counts of the considerable number of translations into English from other languages on our site – 369 at latest count [1]. – with the following results:



- ALL OF THE TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH OF RUSSIAN AND GERMAN TEXTS HAVE WITHOUT EXCEPTION SIGNIFICANTLY MORE WORDS THAN THE ORIGINAL

- THE TRANSLATIONS OF RUSSIAN TEXTS INTO ENGLISH HAVE AN ASTONISHING AVERAGE OF 35% MORE WORDS THAN THE ORIGINAL

- THE TRANSLATIONS OF GERMAN TEXTS INTO ENGLISH HAVE AN AVERAGE OF 10% MORE WORDS THAN THE ORIGINAL

- THE TRANSLATIONS OF FRENCH TEXTS HAVE A SLIGHTLY GREATER NUMBER OF WORDS THAN THE ORIGINALS, 4% MORE WORDS ON AVERAGE PER TEXT [2]

The detailed lists of the texts involved in this study can be seen below.

There is a real possibility that the very act of translating high-quality literary texts such as those involved here necessarily entails a certain necessary surplus of words in the target language to properly convey the subtlety and finesses of the finest authors, although we have seen that that was not the case in a non-insignificant percentage (23%) of the translations into English from Guy de Maupassant, as fine a writer as ever was.

However allowing even a 5% error of margin, so to speak, that nevertheless leaves both the German and Russian languages well out in front of both of the others in terms of literary power and impact per word, we do believe.

And of course the phenomenally compact Latin of Caesar’s Commentaries, probably the most compact language in the history of mankind [3], leads the field as can be seen in the summary above.

Thus our conclusion as per the title of this study:

WHEN IT COMES TO LITERATURE, ENGLISH IS A SIGNIFICANTLY WORDIER LANGUAGE THAN RUSSIAN AND GERMAN (AND LATIN OF COURSE)


1. RUSSIAN TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH


2. GERMAN TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH


3. FRENCH TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH


Footnotes

[1the above counts don’t include the following works:
- Xenophon’s Anabasis, written in ancient Greek (95,000 words in English);
- B. Traven’s 130,000-word English translation of his own novel The Death Ship, somewhat modified from the original 90,000-word German text.

[2we have noted that several of the French texts were selectively translated by their English translators in the late Victorian period, no doubt to conform to the prudish tastes of English public at the time. These texts have been highlighted in the list of translations from the French above.

[3exemplified by Caesar’s celebrated “veni, vidi vici!" for “I came, I saw, I conquered!”