It takes X seconds for the average English user to send an average-length text message via phone.

What language is the most effort-intensive to text? How about to write? Is there one language that is best adapted to "the keyboard" or the touchpad or other means of technologically-assisted expression?

  • 3
    Maybe you want to split these into distinct questions? Texting and typing seem like different enough mediums that we should address them separately. – mollyocr Dec 14 '11 at 22:08
  • Since Twitter enforces analogous limits on the maximum length, perhaps someone (here) can show statistics for language and text length. I haven't worked on Twitter corpora, so I can't provide the data myself. – prash Dec 15 '11 at 2:29
  • 4
    The most effort-intensive languages for texting are without a doubt those languages that lack writing systems. Think of all the time involved in establishing a writing system before you can even send a single text message! – James C. Jan 11 '12 at 1:43
  • Can someone create the tag textspeak and apply it? (I'm new and don't have the rep yet.) By the way, this is definitely on-topic, +1. There is a consensus that textspeak exists, as far back as 1828 – smci May 14 '12 at 10:40
  • You are presumably assuming predictive text is turned off? (And are there yet any speaker-specific entrained predictive text systems?) – smci May 14 '12 at 10:45

Sounds like a great research opportunity!

No matter how orthographically long a language may be, one can assume that if you're texting it, there will be a shortened/abbreviated version of it. I mean, who really texts in English? I don't. I use

  • abbreviations for phrases (wtf, lol, omw, ty),
  • shortened words (srsly, tmr, nm, thx),
  • replacements for words (2, 4, u, yr, y, n)
  • and other linguistic adulterations.

There are estimates for text expansion/contraction in translation to give you an idea of how languages compare typographically. I don't know where these numbers come from, but they're on a zillion translation companies' websites, and they seem pretty accurate to me.

So -- let's look at French, a language that I happen to have stumbled on some cool texting information about. French text expansion is about 15-20% -- that is, it takes 15-20% more space to write the same thing that English does. But just like in English, French speakers have abbreviated their way to the shortest SMS conversation possible using

  • abbreviations for phrases (JTM = je t'aime = I love you, ily; MDR = mort(e) de rire = dying of laughter, lol; ),
  • shortened words (bjr = bonjour = hello; C = C'est = It is),
  • and replacements for words (p2k = pas de quoi = you're welcome, urw; A12C4 = À un de ces quatre = See you one of these days, c u l8r).

EDIT: Add into the mix that there are a number of ways to text these days with the variety of phones available: keypad, sliding qwerty keyboard, touchscreen qwerty, swipe texting. And other factors like T9 and autocorrect. /END EDIT

As far as the best language for "the keyboard": My guess would be English since that's the language it was designed for. Of course there actually exist many different keyboard layouts to rival the standard QWERTY arrangement, most notably for English the Dvorak keyboard.

Changing your computer's keyboard layout can make it really easy to type almost any language. Maybe the same way perceived speech speed varies with informational content of lexemes, languages using "native" or adapted electronic input methods could probably type at the same speed as we can in English. Srsly, have u ever seen some1 type in ZH??

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    Great answer! But with the aid of T9 I sometimes find it easier to text in the "real language" than using abbreviations. – Otavio Macedo Dec 14 '11 at 23:15
  • Yes! I haven't used T9 in a while but I know even my old old phone had T9 in three or four languages in addition to English. – mollyocr Dec 15 '11 at 15:17
  • @OtavioMacedo Totally agreed! – Alenanno May 14 '12 at 11:22
  • Right on, "all" written languages have developed their shortcuts for social media and texting so the question must be altered a bit for proper answering. Keyboard input support can limit typing rates to add. I would argue choose one of the many languages which are predominantly spoken and have little written development and that would be a good answer to the question. – demongolem Dec 20 '12 at 18:18
  • I don't use any of these. I text in standard English, more or less. But then, I'm in my 60s. – Colin Fine Mar 29 '17 at 15:26

Any language that is using a character per word is sending a much higher quantity of information per symbol. I'm envious of how much the Japanese and Chinese speakers in my twitter stream can pack into 140 characters.

On the otherhand, I learned to type in a single semester in Highschool and learned to read in probably a years worth of instruction. Chinese and Japanese writing on the other hand is a life long task of acquisition and maintenance that requires daily practice to remain good at using it.

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    Rendering a single character per word does not mean the number of keystrokes required per word would be less, right? – blunders May 14 '12 at 14:48
  • 1
    Most people use pinyin input methods with autocomplete. For instance, nzjzmy? -> 你最近怎么样? In fairness, when using autocomplete for English, typing is also very keystroke-efficient. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jun 24 '12 at 4:24
  • It is a bit unfair that Twitter counts 'visual' chars, while it sends UTF-8 bytes that may exceed 140. – amI Mar 29 '17 at 21:02
  • A comment from the future: Twitter now allows 280 character tweets for Latin and, I think, other alphabets, but kept the limit at 140 for Chinese and Japanese. Possibly more nuanced than that, I don't really know the specifics. Anyway, the point being your envy was ultimately recognized and judged to be justified. – LjL Nov 20 '19 at 21:05

Good question. The answer is going to depend hugely on several factors:

1a. Are we texting textspeak, or is it grammatically correct, punctuated, capitalized (and for foreign languages, accented) sentences (which imply lots of extra keystrokes, modifier keys, possible error and correction keystrokes)? Or something <100% proper spelling? What character error rate is considered acceptable? Is this an email to the boss, or just chat or directions? Must German nouns be capitalized or French past tenses accented? (We can predictively learn and add those, from a lexicon. We can also learn the proper nouns you use and add them to lexicon. We could even infer the first and last name of the message recipient - how much use of message 'context' is allowed, exactly?)

1b. Can we use predictive text? like the world-record-smashing Swiftkey X (And are there yet any speaker-specific-entrained predictive text systems?) For textspeak, we could expand hlo, l8r, LMAO, BRB, 'I <3 U' (or the French textspeak mentioned below). Do those common abbreviations give English o romanized languages an unfair advantage? The current world record (and English-language) is 160 characters/26 words in 10.7 sec, without errors, by Rachael Loncar, as of 10/2011. Predictive text can make you >2x faster.

2 Is there one language that is best adapted to "the keyboard"

2a. You know that there are alternatives to QWERTY, right? And most of these improve the typing speed for both English- and non-English-language users. QWERTY is only fast because we grew up with it, no other reason. QWERTY discriminates against non-English users.

2b. Did you mean 'thumb keyboard' as distinct to 'touchscreen'?

2c. Texting speed will depend on the size ratio between your fingers and the keyboard. There are gender and racial differences on this.

2d. My friend points out that Europeans and Asians are in general faster at texting than Americans, simply because they get more practise, since in the US cellphone calls are free (assuming a monthly contract). Whereas many Americans, if they text at all, tend to text when they're in a meeting or unable to pick up, or e.g. if they know you are / or are driving.

My point is, all these factors will prevent you from making a language-neutral comparison.

| improve this answer | |
  • The answer is not well-defined, but I suspect something like 'Vietnamese, with the accents' or 'Chinese, using a Western texting application' – smci May 15 '12 at 16:02

I think that the longest sentences are for example in Finno-Ugric and Eskimo-Aleut languages, like Finnish, Estonian or Inuktitut. I think they are agglutinative languages but I think it might take some minutes to type something.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Hello Sebastian and welcome to Lingustics.SE. Please take a minute to proofread your answer so it was more readable. Also consider expanding it by providing more background for your answer. Some authoritative links could also be useful. – bytebuster Dec 20 '12 at 1:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.