Sunday, October 26, 2014

Le Texte Devient Plus

English is generally terser than other European languages. Sometimes I think that's partly a function of translation: Expressing another language's idioms is unlikely to be as efficient in a second language. But there's more to it than that, as can be easily learned by reading any of the popular histories of the English language (Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue or Robert MacNeil's The Story of English come to mind). Over the centuries of mashing up with the languages of invaders and trading partners, English became simplified grammatically (if not in its spelling).

The kind of writing that appears on English-language packaging is an extreme case, though, since it is often ad-speak, which is even terser than normal writing. When that kind of text gets translated into French, watch out:

It just gets worse and worse. Scan becomes seven letters. Join expands to 13. Be Rewarded blows up to 20. And I think we can all agree that "Obtain a reward" just doesn't have the ring of "Be Rewarded."

1 comment:

Pete Hautman said...

My publisher informs me that novels translated from English into French are usually about 25% longer.