October 8, 2011

Pajama Musings - Magical page counts

In case you've never read, and compared, translated books in both their original and a translated language you might not even be aware of this, but there's often quite a difference in just how many pages these books will have. Personally I have been aware of this for many years now, but it was only when I bought a couple of books at the flea market last week that I once again realized just how big this difference can be sometimes.

Basically I could name pretty much any book now to compare the page count, but the following example really shows you just how big the difference can be. I bought the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton in the German language - four books all in all. In English you get two books though. Confused yet?

Here goes.
The English book Pandora's Star is 1152 pages long.
The German translation, which present itself in two parts, adds up to 1456 pages.
Even if you consider that maybe the print of the English version might be (a lot) smaller this is quite the difference and it also explains why they decided to split the book in German - I'm not going into detail as to what this means when it comes to reading the books, that's a whole other story, obviously ... let's just say it's probably a good idea to start with the first part and not "in the middle" of the book, so to say.

How about another example?
Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone has got a measly 224 pages in English and 336 in German. Magic? You could almost get that impression.

So what is the exact percentage regarding those differences in page numbers or, more precisely, word counts? That really depends on the kind of text and the languages in which a book gets translated. Generally you may say that a translated text will be 10-20% longer than the English version (that difference will reflect in the actual word count, not so much in the page count which may vary due to font size and formatting).
The interesting question would be, how much of this is the fault of the translator (who's got a thing for writing/translating in a rather florid and wordily style) and how much has simply got to do with the fact that you often cannot translate one word into another without loosing or changing the meaning, thus making it necessary to translate one word with a whole phrase to convey what the author wants to say. I think it's mostly the latter which is to blame.

Back to the examples above.
The first one would be 26% longer, and the second 50% ... this is way more than the above mentioned percentage. Maybe they did blow up the font size to make the difference even bigger, who knows? Where Harry is concerned, there probably must be magic involved. Even in translation.

Have you ever noticed the difference in page and/or word counts of translated books? Let me know.


  1. I can't say I've noticed this in translated books, because I only read in English. I do know basic Welsh and a little Spanish, but not enough to read books.

    However, working in the print industry, it's often noticable that Welsh text is longer than English (which can present problems when doing duel language publications.

  2. I only read English too *hangs head in shame* but I seem to remember German has a lot of long words. So maybe it's not always more words, just ones that take up more space.

  3. All the time! I have a reading buddy and sometimes we read books in different languages, German and English. It always amazes me how the German is always longer. You would think that somehow differences in words/meanings etc. balance each other out long term, but they never seem to. It' a mystery to me.

  4. I didn't really pay attention, but now you pointed it out, I got my Le Petit Prince collection off the shelves and this is what I see for page count: original French - 85. English - 91. German - 93. Latin - 83.

    Not much of a difference here, but this is a children's book. So maybe it's just with proper novels?