Text Expansion and Contraction in Professional Document Translation

We Know How to Estimate Text Contraction and Expansion.

One interesting and seldom discussed aspect of professional translations is the fact that the length of a text in one source language will typically expand or contract when translated to certain target languages. When translating documents from one language to another the content will typically change in length as measured by the number of words. This variation is known as text expansion and text contraction.

When translating documents, text expansion and contraction is not a constant ratio… It varies according to the languages involved in the translation of written content. For instance, an English document professionally translated into Spanish can be as much as 25 – 30% longer (a case of text expansion). Conversely, a Spanish document professionally translated into English will, on average, be around 10 – 15% shorter (a case of text contraction). Texts in other European languages may similarly be affected. On the other hand, documents translated in Asian languages tend to be shorter than the English source content.

Text expands and contracts for different reasons. The structure and rules of a language – aspects such as grammar, syntax, terminology, and sentence structure – all play a part in this outcome. The English language is generally more concise and to the point than Romance languages. Subject matter is also a factor in text expansion and contraction in professional document translations. Formal text covering technical, legal and academic subjects tends to be more affected than informal text, such as letters or personal papers.

In the professional translation services industry there are several reasons why it is very useful to know how much texts will expand or contract. Some professional translation services providers calculate costs based on the target language word count, that is to say, the number of words in the finished translation. Some others calculate costs based on the source language word count, that is to say, the number of words in the document to be translated.

Text expansion and contraction is also a major issue when dealing with software localization, web page design, desktop publishing (DTP) and artwork design. In the case of software localization, before the actual professional translation takes place, software developers typically perform what is known as “mock translation”, replacing text lines in the source language with strings of letters, taking into account the average text expansion and contraction ratios. The aim is to make sure that the extra length of the professionally translated text does not affect functionality or the way the text is displayed.

Likewise, in the case of web page design, DTP and artwork, designers need to know if the translated text will fit into an existing webpage or artwork file. Text expansion and contraction will be a major factor to determine the required font size, how much room is needed, the number of pages, amount of block space and so on.

Professional translation services companies such as ASTA-USA Translation Services, Inc. and its legal division Legal Translation Solutions can help its clientele deal with text expansion and contraction and other issues affecting professional translations.