Japanese writing, called Kanji, is beautiful. It's a "logographic writing system1". A fancy way of saying the written symbols primarily represent words (or parts of words) instead of sounds. That approach allows it to be much denser than English. Something I realized after picking up a Japanese Twitter follower.

Take this Tweet2 for example:

最近有科学家研究发现,人类最理想的身高是168厘米,上下变动的范围可在167厘米至170厘米之间。研究指出,身材高大的人血液循环路线较长,心脏负担也较重,因此可能会对寿命有影响。矮个子体表面积相对较小,日常的能量消耗较少,所需营养物质相应减少,身体的耐受力较强。

It's 131 characters long. Nine shy of the Twitter's limit. After running it through Google translation engine it becomes:

Recently, scientists found that the human ideal height is 168 cm, the upper and lower range of variation can be between 167-170 cm. Research indicates that tall people the blood circulation route is longer, it is also heavier burden on the heart, and therefore might affect life expectancy. Shorty body surface area is relatively small, less daily energy consumption, a corresponding reduction in the required nutrients, strong physical endurance.

That's 447 characters. More than 3x the length. I doubt the most efficient human translator/editor could get the same information across in English while staying under Twitter's 140 character limit.

It blew my mind a little to figure this out.


Footnotes

  1. Here's the Wikipedia section on logographic writing systems I used when writing this post.

  2. And here's the original Tweet that got me thinking about all this.