English is the preferred language in many fields of study and in international communications, it has more vowel sounds than many languages, but a compact alphabet, which in my opinion is why English words and sentences are short, compared to other languages.

So my question is if there could be a correlation between the wide acceptance of English and its compact alphabet and relative high number of vowel sounds?

As per comments:

What I mean for compact alphabet is a small number of symbols to construct words and sentences, thus chinese would have much more written symbols than english. So written english would be much easier to learn that written chinese, due a fewer number of symbols.

Regarding to vowel sounds, chinese would have much less vowel sounds than english. Thus spoken chinese would be much easier to learn than spoken english due to its fewer vowel phonemes.

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    What do you mean by a compact alphabet? German and Spanish use basically the same alphabet as English. The reason English words seem to be on average shorter than German ones is mostly that German compounds are spelled as one word, while many English compounds aren't. As for Spanish, it has fewer monosyllabic words than English because it doesn't allow as many types of complex syllables. Nothing to do with the alphabet in either case. As for the high number of vowels, that should make English harder to learn, not easier. The success of English is mainly due to historical reasons.
    – TKR
    Nov 13, 2013 at 3:37
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    There's an inverse correlation between the length of the code (i. e. the number of letters in an alphabet) and the length of texts in this code - the less different letters a writing system has, the more symbols are needed to write a text. The sentence "I love you" consists of 10 symbols and only 6 phonemes, while the same sentence in Chinese, (我爱你), consists of only 3 symbols and 5 phonemes, Chinese is so compact because has more symbols and more vowels than English.
    – Yellow Sky
    Nov 14, 2013 at 1:20
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    @YellowSky Chinese has fewer vowels than English. Most varieties of English have over 14 vowel phonemes, while Standard Chinese (i.e. Mandarin) is usually analysed as having around 5 vowel phonemes. Nov 14, 2013 at 2:03
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    But we still don't know what the OP means by a 'compact alphabet'. Nov 14, 2013 at 2:08
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    Polynesian languages such as Hawaiian or Maori have both more compact alphabets and fewer vowels than either English or Chinese. Nov 17, 2013 at 4:08

1 Answer 1



Yes I agree you need to know a lower number of symbols in order to read English than you need to know in order to read Chinese. For English you need to know 26 symbols, out of which 5 are vowel symbols. As far as I know you need to know hundreds of Chinese symbols, in order to read quite simple texts in Chinese.

No I dont agree that the spoken vowels of Chinese would be easier to learn than than vowels of the English

English has about a dozen phonemic vowel qualities, and maybe half a dozen more if you count the diphthongs. Chinese may have fewer vowel qualities than English, but it also has phonemic tone, which English does not have.

The number of vowels in Chinese is at least the number of distinct vowel qualities X the the number of tones.

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    Welcome to the site Mario! Do you think you could point out more clearly how these two points relate to the question at hand? I think I roughly get what you mean, but making it explicit would certainly help.
    – robert
    Nov 16, 2013 at 12:42
  • @robert Thank you! Yes, you are right. I have revised my answer accordingly. Nov 16, 2013 at 17:14
  • Chinese also has diphthongs. You certainly can't communicate in English or Chinese without mastering their diphthongs as well as their simple vowels. This also results in 'the number of vowels in Chinese' being rather higher than 'the number of distinct vowel qualities X the the number of tones'. Nov 17, 2013 at 3:45

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