What is the ratio between wordcount in Dutch and English?
Thread poster: Clara Gomez and Marcelo Bellizzi

Clara Gomez and Marcelo Bellizzi
Local time: 23:26
English to Pohnpeian
+ ...
Aug 1, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

I need help regarding word count. What is the ratio between Dutch to English words? I have a document with about 3000 Dutch words. I understand if the source language is Dutch, the English word count will be higher, but I don't know by how much. Any comments or responses to this question would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Clara Gomez
clarigomez@aol.com


[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2006-08-01 19:22]


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Bart B. Van Bockstaele  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 23:26
Dutch
+ ...
It depends Aug 1, 2006

It depends very much on the text and the translator. Indeed, when I translate, the result is sometimes longer. However, shorter is just as possible.

Although I normally charge per word in the destination language for historical reasons (easier to count, because I worked by computer at a time the vast majority still used typewriters), I really don't care anymore. Sometimes, the end result will be longer, sometimes not. I have the distinct impression that the longer I translate (now more than 25 years), the smaller the "expansion" becomes.


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Anjo Sterringa  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:26
Member (2003)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Longer and shorter Aug 1, 2006

Dutch uses more words than English: shorter
When translating you tend to use more words: longer
(depending on the text)

If it's a technical manual NL->EN shorter
If it's a legal text: always longer from/to whichever language.

Sorry if this is starting to sound like this joke about the Gallegos - nunca sabes si están subiendo o bajando la escalera.

I seem to remember that a Dutch text would be about 15% longer than an English text, but I am not sure if they referred to characters or actual words.


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Lucinda  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:26
Member (2002)
Dutch to English
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It depends. Aug 1, 2006

It depends on the type of text that is translated.

I agree mostly with AnJo's ratios.

Still, it all depends on how complex the subject matter is. Dutch also tends to have more stock abbreviations (bijv., tbv, mbv, etc.) that need to be written out in English.

I hope that this helps.

Greetings from Sunny Suriname,
Lucinda


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Wouter van den Berg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:26
English to Dutch
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Expect 15% expansion for NL>EN, up to 30% for EN>NL Aug 1, 2006

Dear Clara,

I have a document with about 3000 Dutch words. I understand if the source language is Dutch, the English word count will be higher, but I don't know by how much.


While I agree with both Bart and Anjo (it does depend on the text and it does depend on the translator), from my experience processing Dutch to English translations (four to six each day, by various translators) I am positive that the English translation will count more words than the Dutch source text, and that it may run op to 3,500 words or more.

The reason is that translations into any language using the Roman alphabet tend to use more words than the source text - or if they don't because they agglutinate, they will tend to use more characters.

Considerations such as how many words you actually need to convey an idea in a certain language do not play a relevant role here - though indeed I think English can do with fewer words, as translation from English to Dutch is even more expansive - 30% is not exceptional.

But hey, do everybody a favor and count by the source text!

Best,

Wouter van den Berg

http://www.vertaalbureau.nl
http://www.vertaalbureau.nl/weblog


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:26
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
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The difference is negligible Aug 1, 2006

Bart is right. The difference is negligible in IT and commercial texts, even more in a text of only 3,000 words. I just randomly opened an IT-related commercial text. I translated 3,060 English words into 3,150 Dutch words. Dutch words are a bit longer (200,600 characters with spaces became 221,500).

Anjo might also be right, but I don't do legalese.

Regards,
Gerard


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:26
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Law of expansion Aug 1, 2006

I just read Wouter's reply. Maybe there's a general law that translations expand (both ways). I like Bart's idea that expanding can be overcome by experience.

Kind regards,
Gerard
Dead cheap in DE>NL


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Wouter van den Berg  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 05:26
English to Dutch
+ ...
Overcoming the "law of expansion" is not always appreciated Aug 1, 2006

Gerard de Noord wrote:

... I like Bart's idea that expanding can be overcome by experience.


Me too! I'm sure it can.

But again, my experience as a reviewer is that it rarely happens. Most translators don't really try, and they usually have a good reason for that: the client wants every single word done justice to in the target text. I think that is the basis of the statistical "law of expansion". This is noticeable in about every domain, from software localisation to legalese, even if figures will differ, as they will differ per translator.

Those translators that have the skill *and* take the trouble to keep translations short will always slightly alter the precise meaning. They will produce those revered "translations that read like originals", which are essential in marketing, if you want a translation to actually have an impact. But then again we have received feedback on marketing translations pointing out we missed Dutch words.

Best,

Wouter van den Berg

http://www.vertaalbureau.nl
http://www.vertaalbureau.nl/weblog


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:26
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
This law of expansion might be valid for all language pairs Aug 1, 2006

Otherwise we could continue this topic in the Dutch forum.

I gather you predominantly proof-read NL>EN documents, and I was talking about EN>NL. What struck me was that translations seem to expand both ways.

Slightly altering the precise meaning for the sake of being concise is a fine art, when not translating the works of Shakespeare, medical and legal texts, and any document meant to warn anyone about losing fingers.

Marketing texts are meant to sell a product. Seasoned NL>EN translators shouldn't have any problems to keep all Dutch words in. It's us, EN>NL translators, who suffer when we have to translate "cutting edge out-of-the-box experience". The Dutch translation can be remarkably long or very short.

Regards,
Gerard


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Clara Gomez and Marcelo Bellizzi
Local time: 23:26
English to Pohnpeian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The Law of Expansion...and compound words Aug 2, 2006

Dear Bart, Lucinda, Anjo, Wouter van den Berg, and Gerard,

Thank you for your input. The reason for my question was to calculate the rate per target word since that is the way I get quotes from Dutch to English translators. In some cases in the past, a few translators have told me that the text in English goes up as much as 30% over Dutch. I found this hard to believe, but I wasn't sure.

In a similar situation, I know that many compound words in German result in more words when translated into English, but I always thought the expansion hovered around 10 to 15%, not 30%.

Thank you kindly for taking the time to reply to my question.

Best Regards to all from sunny south Florida.

Clara


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Richard Creech  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:26
French to English
+ ...
The nature of translation Aug 2, 2006

Wouter van den Berg wrote:

Those translators that have the skill *and* take the trouble to keep translations short will always slightly alter the precise meaning.


All translations necessarily alter the meaning. There is no such thing as a translation that does not alter meaning, rather it is a question of degree.


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