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English is a wordy language!

Wednesday 1 December 2021, by Ray

We have compared the word-counts of the considerable number of translations into English from other languages on our site – 485 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 AVERAGE OF 33% MORE WORDS THAN THE ORIGINAL

 THE TRANSLATIONS OF GERMAN TEXTS INTO ENGLISH HAVE AN AVERAGE OF 9% MORE WORDS THAN THE ORIGINAL

 THE TRANSLATIONS OF FRENCH TEXTS INTO ENGLISH HAVE AN AVERAGE OF 4.9% MORE WORDS THAN THE ORIGINAL

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 (17%) 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 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 [2], 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 GERMAN AND RUSSIAN (AND LATIN OF COURSE)


GERMAN TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH


RUSSIAN TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH


FRENCH TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH


[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.

[2exemplified by Caesar’s celebrated “veni, vidi vici!" for “I came, I saw, I conquered!”