Translating in Chinese Mandarin, Chinese Cantonese, Simplified Chinese , or Traditional Chinese

August 27th, 2009

Every language poses its respective quirks, idiosyncrasies, and difficulties to translators whenever they're being translated into another language. On that note, the Chinese language can present itself to be quite a nightmare to any professional translation company or solo translation service. As such, there have been deficiencies and failures in the way human translation firms handle Chinese translation that's rooted from lack of awareness of the significance of context. More to the point, in order to be able to translate context, a professional translation service needs to have a firm grasp at the different variations of Chinese. There isn't just one Chinese language; you can pick from four types of Chinese, in fact. You have Chinese Mandarin or Chinese Cantonese speakers and simplified or traditional writers. It's understandably difficult for any translator to have to shift between these four variations when trying to interpret the meaning of a given speech, text, or message. The Four Chinese Language Variations Actually, translation services will probably not be able to reach the context of their given work without first understanding, interpreting, and translating the variations contained within the Chinese tongue. To be true, many different misunderstandings have occurred in this particular realm of Chinese translation, which is why this article will provide simple explanations of each of these variants.

  • Spoken Chinese: There isn't only one kind of Chinese spoken in China. Just as English has several variations (American English, Australian English, and British English), so too does this particular Asian language. The two most common Chinese dialects that human translation agencies will encounter when translating the language are Mandarin and Cantonese. If you can tell the difference between the two dialects, then you're off to a good start. Mandarin is the main dialect used in China and is the language most people designate as "Chinese". It's the official language of mainland China (also known as the People's Republic of China) and it's spoken in Taiwan as well. Cantonese is distinct from its counterpart dialect save for the fact that's it's also commonly used in Chinese-populated territories. It's mostly spoken in the Guangdong or Canton province in mainland China, Macao, and Hong Kong.
  • Written Chinese: Nowadays, in order to balance out the past complexity of old Chinese writings so that it can be understood by more people, it currently has two forms: simplified and traditional. This came about when simplified Chinese was developed by the Chinese Government in 1949 in order to improve the literacy rates of its populace. At this point, the population of mainland China is mostly using the newer version of the Chinese script while other Chinese territories outside the continent—Macao, Hong Kong, and Taiwan—continues to employ the traditional way of writing Chinese. The difference between the two can be seen in their names: Simplified Chinese exercises a simpler way of creating complex characters, while the traditional form in based on earlier symbols that utilize more strokes.

By keeping in mind that the Chinese language has a lot more complexities and variations than meets the eye, a translator can avoid overspecializing on just one particular variety of Chinese and can become a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to translating this Asiatic tongue. On the other hand, by knowing that there are deviations in the Chinese language, translation services can determine which variant to focus on depending on the nature of their project (e.g., Taiwan writes with traditional Chinese characters and speaks Mandarin Chinese for the most part, so translators should take note of that when doing translation work for a Taiwanese company).

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