Why Text Expands and Contracts in Translation

Telecommunications, e-commerce and remote work have exploded, so it’s likely your company will need translation and localization services at some point. There are many variables that can have a direct impact on the overall quality and finished results of your translations. One thing that you should pay attention to is text expansion and contraction.

What is text expansion and contraction?

Although there are many complexities behind the concept, text expansion and contraction basically refer to the fact that differences among languages mean some words and phrases may end up being longer or shorter when translated.

More noticeable in certain languages than others

Take English, for example. It’s often a more concise language even though it’s more complex. While many English words have multiple meanings, it uses fewer words to express an idea. These words are often shorter than words in other languages with the same meaning.

A simple example is the English word “ please.” This word has six characters and its translation in French is “s’il vous plait,” which contains 13 characters (16 including spaces) divided over three words. On an ad, for example, this difference in space is a big deal.

Another example: based on research from the University of Lyon, a 300-word document in English often ends up being 350 to 400 words when translated to Spanish. That means a text translation will end up being 20 to 30 percent longer. Makes a big difference!

Same goes for spoken language

Let’s look at things from another angle. English is spoken slower, so it carries more information in fewer syllables. This also applies to text. While the is faster when spoken, it is longer when written. As a result, reading aloud a document in English and the same document in Spanish often ends up taking the same amount of time. This can often be explained by looking at the roots of a language. English is part of the Germanic language family, compared to others like Portuguese and French that are considered Romance languages. In these cases, it isn’t just the words or length of words that is different; it’s also the number of words.

Romance languages often require more words to convey the same meaning as a phrase in English would. As a result, translations end up being longer than the source text when translating from a Germanic language to a Romance language.

Getting the Translation You Need

Getting professional help is incredibly important to make sure your translations are highly accurate and still convey the intent and meaning behind your original text.

Taking text expansion and contraction into account is always important when starting a translation project, especially one that will be printed or used for subtitles, for example, and our team understands this.

Let us take care of your multilingual desktop publishing (DTP). We’ll make sure your designs are adapted correctly to account for expansion and contraction. Contact ITC Global Translations for more information!

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