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Dec 25, 2007

Major misperceptions about traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese

(Edited by freelance Chinese translator li – English to Chinese translation or Chinese to English translation services)

The differences between the traditional Chinese and the simplified version are far more complicated than at a first glance. By presenting real life examples, first, I will try to compare the differences between traditional Chinese used by Taiwanese and the one used by Hong Kong residents; then I will move on to compare the traditional Chinese with the simplified system used by mainlanders. Because I have only stayed in Singapore for no more than 2 weeks in my entire life, I guess I am not in an ideal position to say anything on their behalf, therefore I prefer to leave the Singaporean part to anyone who has the first hand knowledge.

The differences between the traditional Chinese (Taiwan) and the traditional Chinese (HK)

To begin with, one big misperception shared by many is that the traditional Chinese used by Taiwanese and the one used by Hong Kong residents are the same. This can't be farther from the truth. The two are just asymmetrically cognate. Those who happen to have that misperception better prepare themselves for some little surprises. More often than not, outsourcers post jobs by simply saying that they just want the job done in "traditional Chinese", period.

For them, here are some wake-up calls:
1.Chinese language, in Taiwan it's 國文/國語, while in Hong Kong it's 中文. 2.Mobile phone, in Taiwan it's 行動電話 while in Hong Kong it's 手提電話/移動電話.
3.Salary, in Taiwan it's 薪資/薪水, while in Hong Kong it's 人工/薪金.
4.Internet, in Taiwan it's 網際網絡, while in Hong Kong it's 互聯網.
5.Compact disc, in Taiwan it's 雷射光牒/雷射光盤, while in Hong Kong it's 鐳射光牒.
6.Bus, in Taiwan it's 公車, while in Hong Kong it's just 巴士.
7.Corn, in Taiwan it's 玉米, while in Hong Kong it's 粟米.
8.Office, in Taiwan it's 辦公室, while in Hong Kong it's 寫字樓.
9.Boss, in Taiwan it's 老闆/上司, while in Hong Kong it's 老闆/波士/上司.
10.Travel, in Taiwan it's 旅行, while in Hong Kong it's 遊埠 as well as 旅行.

Big difference, eh? This is merely the tip of iceberg. And the story isn't over yet, for none of the above said examples is from spoken language. If spoken Cantonese is put into black and white, I am pretty sure that most of the Taiwanese as well as mainlanders, when asked to read it, would be deeply puzzled as if they were asked to read Japanese. I hope these examples would help to serve the purpose of making people realize how mistaken they used to be.

The traditional Chinese used by Taiwanese, as these examples have demonstrated, is not the same as the one used by Hong Kong people, so next time when an outsourcer tries to find a right translator, for the outsourcer's own good, please be more specific than just "I want to translate something into traditional Chinese". Please take a look at these sites.

There are currently 4,941 supplementary Chinese characters exclusively used by the public and the Hong Kong Government in electronic communication and data exchange. And these special Chinese characters used in Hong Kong, if not separately installed, are not even included in Taiwan's traditional Chinese character set, not to mention the PRC system. Does anyone know how many Chinese characters an average Chinese would use in his/her daily life? The answer is "no more than 6,000-7,000". Knowing that and with the fact that Hong Kong has 4,941 supplementary characters specific to its own environment in mind, I guess readers should be able to realize the sheer scope of that difference by now.

The differences between traditional Chinese and the simplified Chinese I believe this particular topic has been discussed by many. To cut to the chase, I am going to use just two examples to unveil yet another misperception --- even when the translator knows, character by character, the differences between these two systems, the translator could still make serious mistakes.

Since Hong Kong used to be ruled by Her Majesty the Queen, so I will try to make this writing more accessible by using the word "Queen" as one of the following illustrations.

1.Queen, in simplified Chinese is 皇后, and interestingly enough in traditional Chinese it is still 皇后 not 皇後, despite the fact that the character 後 could indeed be the traditional version of the simplified character 后.
2.Taiwan, in simplified Chinese is 台湾. Note, here comes the tricky part, although 台灣 is very much accepted in Hong Kong, on the other hand I believe 臺灣 instead of 台灣 is more common in Taiwan. Even when armed with the knowledge that 臺 is the traditional character of 台, a translator from a wrong background is still likely to make such a mistake.

It is my hope that this article could help those ill-informed who happen to carry such misperceptions in their mind that there are only two Chinese language systems (one is the traditional one and the other is the simplified one) and these two systems, with the help of some software, can be easily converted into the other to realize that these are just seemingly plausible notions of misunderstanding in the truth's stead. If in any way that this article could be of any assistant to those who wish to learn more of the Chinese language, then please spread the word that there is more to the Chinese language than meets the eye.

(written by Angus Woo)

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