Do some languages require more Twitter characters than others?

Do some languages require more twitter characters than others? Yes. Twitter has decided to double their character limit, from 140 characters to 280 characters. But for languages like Chinese and Japanese, the character limit will remain the same. The idea behind this is that speakers of those languages can already express their ideas clearly within that limit. This is because data shows that, given a sample prompt, it requires a far greater number of characters for languages whose characters aren’t logograms to convey the message of the prompt. This research conducted in the Washington Post Article provides a fascinating glimpse into the way different languages are structured.

Japanese and Chinese characters are logograms, meaning that, by nature, their language is more concise. Logograms are characters that represent an entire word rather than a sound. In English, we call the smallest components of language phonemes. If one were tweeting about an elephant, for example, it would take 8 characters to comprise the word elephant, whereas in Chinese it would only take 1 character. Thus it makes sense for Twitter to raise the character limit for some languages and keep it the same for others, thereby leveling the playing field. One can see how it would take fewer characters to convey a message in Chinese compared to a similar message in English.

When one looks at the data provided from the study conducted using Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one can see that English falls roughly in the middle of the languages surveyed. This means that English, highlighted in purple and bolded, requires an average number of characters to type article 1. If one looks at the languages that require the fewest number of characters, one can see that Chinese, Korean, and Japanese require the fewest number of characters. This is evidence that the logograms make a difference.

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I trust the Washington Post as a reputable news organization. And I thought their data was presented concisely and clearly. The only criticism I had about the presentation was that the languages are highlighted in gray and there are a lot of them bunched together, which makes the graph a bit difficult to read. But the data makes sense.

As someone with a gift for languages, this study is fascinating to me. I had no idea about logograms prior to reading this article. And I know hardly anything about Twitter because I don’t own a Twitter account. However, knowing how short tweets are from reading them online, I think lengthening tweets will be helpful for communication going forward .


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