Higher word counts for literature?
Thread poster: Phil Hand

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
Chinese to English
Apr 23, 2012

I generally translate technical and business stuff, and I've found that the ratio of source to target is remarkably stable across a number of genres. My English word counts are reliably 2/3 of source character count (with some exceptions and reasonable variation, of course).
I just translated a short story for a competition (that I learned about through Proz, thanks Romina!), and the ratio is higher, more like 75 words to each hundred characters. Does this happen to anyone else? Does literature always need more words? Or is it just that I'm inexperienced and so I've been too wordy?


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:49
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Russian to English, about the same Apr 23, 2012

I have done a lot of engineering and commercial texts, in which I find the Russian word count is about 70% of the English. I am currently translating a novel, so I compared word counts on two chapters of it and found the result was about the same, within 1-2%.


Denise Phelps  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:49
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sound reasonable to me Apr 23, 2012

I translate mostly academic research and, as in your case, the English versions are generally shorter. In my language pair (SP-EN), this is generally because the writers use a lot of formulas which would be considered padding in English academic writing, for example "with respect to XXXX, the values obtained were" instead of just "the values obtained for XXXX were". I don't have much experience translating literature, but I'd be a lot less happy about defining sections of a literary text as unnecessary padding and pruning away accordingly, so I would expect a literary translation to reflect the length of the original more closely, at least in my language pair.


Hamish Young  Identity Verified
New Zealand
Local time: 20:49
Member (2010)
Chinese to English
I think it always does for Chinese, anyway Apr 24, 2012

Definitely in my experience of Chinese to English literature translation, the ratio of source characters to target words tends to approach 1:1, whereas in technical translation it can get very close to 2:1. For translating ancient Chinese, ratios of 1:2 or 1:3 or higher are common.

So I don't think you're getting too wordy there, but it just shows that you need to be careful about accepting source character rates for literature translation (and hopefully avoid ancient Chinese translation altogether!).


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:49
Chinese to English
Hi, Hamish Apr 26, 2012

Long time no see.

Thanks all for your input. I'm going to go through another couple of drafts of this anyway, but that advice helps me feel a bit less worried.


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