STAR FAQ: General
Question
What is the difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese?

Answer
What is the difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese?
The official spoken languages in the Republic of China (Taiwan, with its capital in Taipei) and the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China with its capital in Beijing) are more or less the same.
The term “Mandarin” however only refers to standard SPOKEN Chinese which is basically the same and mutually understandable in Greater China. If translation into Mandarin is needed, the target market should be clarified first. “Traditional” Chinese is the script used in Taiwan whereas Mainland China uses “Simplified” Chinese.
Due to their different political positions, both countries have received different cultural influences. As a communist country, the PRC was very close to the Sowjet Union at times while the more or less democratic ROC was strongly supported by the USA.
These opposing supports have caused differences in the way of thinking as well as the modern language. Especially during the 1970s and 80s, language took a separate development in both countries, and there are numerous terms that rely on completely different concepts. Remember, Chinese has a pictorial script; terms are displayed with characters that embody a distinct meaning rather than with letters that form words. For every new concept or term (and due to the technical development in the those years, there were many new terms), appropriate characters have to be assigned and put together in groups of two or three to form a new word.
One example: In Mainland China, computer is translated as “calculator” 計算機 whereas the term used in Taiwan means “electronic brain” 電腦.
Thus, a Taiwanese might be able to recognise the characters in a Mainland Chinese text but does not necessarily understand the term and vice versa.
Apart from the spoken language, a difference in the written language also exists since the 1950s. At that time, the communist government in the PRC promoted a “simplified” version of the traditional Chinese characters.
The reduction of strokes in many characters improved the readability and made the script easier to learn (Example: leaf CHT葉;CHS叶). This new script has been in use ever since in Mainland China and Singapore while Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and the Overseas Chinese communities stuck to the use of traditional Chinese script.
Even though Taiwanese usually cannot read Simplified characters very well (and many Mainlanders might have difficulties reading Traditional characters), this doesn’t really pose a problem in the age of computers.
Modern software tools allow us to automatically convert Simplified Chinese to Traditional and vice-versa. However it’s just not enough to convert the fonts!
Using texts translated in one country for customers in the other country at least requires thorough adaptation (which exceeds the effort of simple proof-reading by far). High-profile end-consumer oriented material like glossy catalogues, user interfaces, very specific manuals etc. should preferably be independently translated in both languages.
 

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