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A linguistically realistic solution for Twitter’s character-count dilemma

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Twitter is testing a 280-character restriction for English tweets, and people have been excited about this. The topic naturally shifts to linguistic differences. For example, according to this article in the Washington Post, the different versions of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have radically different character counts, as shown in the chart. The English version contains 170 characters, while the Chinese version only uses 43 characters.

According to Twitter’s algorithm, one Chinese character is counted as one character equivalent to a letter in an English word. This of course leads to more limitations on English than on Chinese. The Washington Post article summarizes this dilemma quite well, and I am going to quote it here (I’ll leave aside some of the linguistically inaccurate statements since they are not really pertinent to the topic in my post here):