The Chinese (Non-)Conundrum
Almost daily, Tembua receives requests for translation into Chinese. There are two questions we always ask:
- Do you need Simplified or Traditional Chinese?
Written Chinese originated during the sixth and seventh centuries B.C. Each written character represents a word or a unit of meaning called a morpheme. This is an important piece of information for Westerners, whose languages use alphabets from which words can be spelled phonetically. This is not the case with Chinese. An educated Chinese reader knows between 4,000 and 6,000 characters. Even a simple newspaper requires knowledge of roughly 3,000 characters.
The Traditional writing system comes from forms used during the Han dynasty, 206 B.C. to 220 A.D., and is used in Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and in other Chinese-speaking groups outside China. Before increased immigration from the People's Republic of China (PRC), Traditional Chinese was the language produced for immigrant communities in the U.S. Today, we need to define our audience more clearly to identify the Chinese system they need. Traditional Chinese can be very complex, each character having many strokes.
After the revolution in 1949, the new Chinese government determined that the writing system should be revised to improve education and commerce. They simplified many of the Traditional characters. Today, this writing system is referred to as Simplified Chinese and is used not only in the PRC but also in Singapore and Malaysia.
At the beginning of a project, Tembua asks where the translation will be used. What group will be reading it? Knowing that, we can assign the appropriate translation team.
The use of Simplified versus Traditional Chinese also comes with overtones for government officials traveling. It is important to ask the right questions.