Brevity: Twtr

30. March 2012

 Date: 30-03-2012
Source: The Economist

Which tongues work best for microblogs?

THIS 78-character tweet in English would be only 24 characters long in Chinese:
That makes Chinese ideal for micro-blogs, which typically restrict messages to 140 symbols. Though Twitter, with 140m active users the world’s best-known microblogging service, is blocked in China, Sina Weibo, a local variant, has over 250m users. Chinese is so succinct that most messages never reach that limit, says Shuo Tang, who studies social media at the University of Indiana.

Japanese is concise too: fans of haiku, poems in 17 syllables, can tweet them readily. Though Korean and Arabic require a little more space, tweeters routinely omit syllables in Korean words; written Arabic routinely omits vowels anyway. Arabic tweets mushroomed last year, though thanks to the uprisings across the Middle East rather than any linguistic features. It is now the eighth most-used language on Twitter with over 2m public tweets every day, according to Semiocast, a Paris-based company that analyses social-media trends.

Romance tongues, among others, generally tend to be more verbose (see chart). So Spanish and Portuguese, the two most frequent European languages in the Twitterverse after English, have tricks to reduce the number of characters. Brazilians use “abs” for abraços (hugs) and “bjs” for beijos (kisses); Spanish speakers need never use personal pronouns (“I go” is denoted by the verb alone: voy). But informal English is even handier. It allows personal pronouns to be dropped, has no fiddly accents and enjoys a well developed culture of abbreviation. “English is unmatched in its acronyms, such as DoD for department of defence,” says Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesman for the Yemeni government, who tweets in English and Arabic. Read the rest of this entry »