Generally speaking, when a lengthy document or a book is translated into different languages, will the classical Chinese be the shortest translation?

To put in another way, if the same book is printed in different languages with basically the same font size, will the classical Chinese one be the shortest?

For example, for Psalm 119 from the Old Testament:

  • 1
    然也 ( 確是这样; It is correct)
    – Tang Ho
    Apr 1, 2019 at 5:24
  • 1
    Instead of comparing words and characters, just convert English, German and French to characters.
    – Mou某
    Apr 1, 2019 at 5:33
  • Mostly Yes, but notice it's mainly written(with the ideographic script, which in most cases use only one square-shaped symbol to represent some meaning, so it's very compat ), spoken ancient Chinese can vary and is not similar with the written form. Apr 1, 2019 at 5:55
  • Modern standard Chinese written form still use hanzi, but becomes much more 言同书 with modern Mandarin, and use much more multiple-syllable words, which is written as multiple square-shaped symbols. Apr 1, 2019 at 6:00
  • Spoken modern Chinese itself is not short at all. Apr 1, 2019 at 6:03

2 Answers 2


it depends on the topic; style of writing, and translation.

[for alphabetic language, one word might contain numerous characters, while for ideographic language, one word = one character]

when classical chinese is longer

"traduttore, traditore" (to translate is to betray) - 迻譯即背叛 ⋯ 2 vs 5 words

nautical terms, such as cutter, ketch, schooner; in which, one can grep its meaning and form an mental image directly.

in classical chinese, the word is longer

cutter - 雙頭帆小船 ⋯ 1 vs 5 words

ketch - 高前桅雙桅帆船 ⋯ 1 vs 7 words

schooner - 高後桅雙桅帆船 ⋯ 1 vs 7 words

or, buddhism terms, such as:

अनुत्तरा सम्यक् सम्बोधि (anuttarā samyak sambodhi) - 阿耨多羅三藐三菩提 ⋯ 3 vs 9 words

bhūtânityatā - 諸行無常 ⋯ 1 vs 4 words

bhūtânātmatā - 諸法無我 ⋯ 1 vs 4 words

śāntaṃnirvâṇam - 涅槃寂靜 ⋯ 1 vs 4 words



when classical chinese is shorter

well, chinese poem should be the shortest, amongst any languages.

taoism related text is, also. e.g. in 周易參同契:


cutting down by metal, the wood prosperous; three, five and one. (frankly, i don't think this book is "translatable"; i just give a word-to-word translation here, omitting background knowledges, assumptions; and implications)


now, 8 classical chinese word vs 11 english words.

when a lengthy document or a book is translated into different languages, will the classical Chinese be the shortest translation

imo, again, it depends on the topic; style of writing, and translation.

have fun :)

  • You are confusing words with characters. For instance, cutter - 雙頭帆小船 is 1 vs 1 word, 6 vs 5 characters.
    – Betty
    Mar 29, 2021 at 1:38
  • interesting interpretation, think again what’s “character” & “word” in english, and chinese; please 😸 Mar 29, 2021 at 1:45
  • I think the comparison is unfair. For example, one that has not heard of cutter cannot infer what a cutter is, but in the Chinese version 雙頭帆小船, I can at least guess that it is a small boat with a double sail. Feb 22, 2023 at 7:48
  • “nautical terms” is mentioned beforehand 😼 Feb 22, 2023 at 8:13

yes,Classical Chinese is the shortest language(in my memory).

classical chinese:


modern Chinese:



merrily the ospreys cry, on the islet in the stream.gentle and graceful is the girl,a fit wife foe the gentleman.

if you read the 《山海经》(Classic of Mountains and Seas or Shan Hai Jing),pre-Qin China book.you will know it.

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