When you need a translation from or into the written Chinese language, it’s important to specify which of the two character sets will be used. Are you using traditional or simplified Chinese?
These two writing systems are related but not interchangeable, so you need to make sure the proper one is utilized.
By doing so, you can receive the best translation possible from a translator well-versed in the appropriate type of Chinese script.
Traditional Chinese Characters
The traditional characters used in written Chinese consist of old symbols that have been developed and passed down over thousands of years. Modifications have been made over time, with new symbols being added or old ones revived, but traditional written Chinese still finds its roots in this ancient symbol system.
Traditional written Chinese can be extremely beautiful and is often considered an art form. That beauty comes with a price — it can be very difficult to learn the complex system of characters that constitutes traditional written Chinese, especially for non-native speakers.
Part of the difficulty of learning traditional characters stems from the fact that they often share similar elements. The basis of each character, known as the radical, often points to a certain broader theme, like earth or fire. Several characters may have the same radical, so the character only takes on a more specific meaning when combined with additional marks. Consequently, a traditional character may require dozens of strokes, making traditional characters time-consuming to form, as well as to read.
Plus, each stroke needs to be just right, as making a mistake in only one stroke of the character can alter its meaning! The sheer number of characters and strokes that need to be memorized and mastered makes the learning of traditional Chinese characters quite difficult.
Simplified Chinese Characters
In the interest of making the writing system more accessible, the Chinese government undertook the creation of a less complicated system of written Chinese, known as Pinyin, in the mid-20th century. The reforms focused on drastically reducing the number of strokes needed to form certain characters.
With the simplified system, one new character element could be used to represent multiple individual character elements of the traditional writing system, for instance. This simplifies both the process of writing characters and of learning Chinese writing, since students must memorize fewer character components.
Based on the Mandarin dialect spoken in and around the city of Beijing, Pinyin was designed to make written Chinese easier to learn and to promote literacy. Pinyin was never meant to fully replace the traditional Chinese characters, and it hasn’t — traditional written Chinese is still popular today. At the same time, however, simplified written Chinese is widely used throughout China, in accordance with Pinyin’s original goals.
Clarification of Details Is Key for Chinese Translation
Attention to detail plays a huge role in translation, and written Chinese has its fair share of unique concerns. In addition to specifying the type of written Chinese to be used (traditional or simplified), it’s also important to know whether the text is in Mandarin, Cantonese or some other Chinese dialect.
The standard for written Chinese is Mandarin, and while nearly every Chinese dialect uses the traditional or simplified characters, they use them in different ways. Therefore, knowing the dialect is just as important as knowing which script to use. These specifics also need to be dealt with in the interpretation of spoken Chinese, which has a large number of different (and not always mutually intelligible) dialects.
Whether it’s for a translation or an interpreting project, providing the details regarding the type of Chinese to be used is a must. In addition, translators should verify the type of written Chinese their clients need translated. By specifying the details of written Chinese, both translation companies and their clients can avoid frustration.