Text contraction is a decrease in word count during translation. You’ll see it frequently when translating from Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, etc.) to English. And you’ll also see it when translating from English into many character-based languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.)
Texts “contract” because 1,000 words in English don’t magically translate into 1,000 words in Chinese. In fact, a single Chinese character might represent two or three words in English.
But the crux of the matter—for designers, anyway—is that one Chinese character may take up only a fraction of the space of the English word(s) that it represents.
What this means is that our 1,000-word English text will “shrink” once translated into Chinese. In fact, a Chinese translation might occupy only 50–60% of the page space that an English text does.
Text Contraction in Translation: English to Chinese
Grand Rapids–based Oppenhuizen Law Firm hired RedLine to translate one of its brochures into Mandarin Chinese. As noted above, text contraction is almost a foregone conclusion when translating from English into a character-based language.
To take just one example, compare the following two strings. The English text (1) is translated into Mandarin Chinese (2).
- Only through verification can the investor invest with confidence.
Notice how the Chinese takes up less horizontal space? Now imagine the same thing over the course of a paragraph, several pages, or an entire book!
In other words, Chinese takes up less “real estate” than an equivalent English text. This is something that designers need to be aware of when setting type in foreign-language materials or bilingual documents.