Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese - The Two Types of Chinese Characters

Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese? The Two Types of Chinese Characters

April 13, 2015

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Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Chinese characters

Chinese characters are a type of script originating in ancient China. Japanese people can somehow grasp the meaning of Chinese characters because they are commonly used in written Japanese too. However, Chinese characters presently used in Japan have been adapted for use in the Japanese language, and the Chinese language constantly changes with trends and demand.

China has a long history and Chinese characters have their own history too. Did you know there are two types of Chinese characters?

Why There Are Two Types of Chinese Characters

The Chinese language has two types of Chinese characters - Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. Originally, everything was written in Traditional Chinese. However, when the People's Republic of China was established in the mid-twentieth century, China had to spread literacy throughout the country to its people. Chinese people also found Traditional Chinese characters difficult to understand and to memorize.

Simplified Chinese characters were then created. New simpler characters were devised from the conventional characters to help the spread of literacy. In English, the old type, which are difficult to understand yet are traditional, became known as Traditional Chinese while the new type, which are easy to memorize and simple, became known as Simplified Chinese.

What To Be Careful About When Translating Chinese

When translating into Chinese, the translator needs to confirm whether the translated text should be in Traditional or Simplified Chinese. Even within Chinese, if text that has been translated into Traditional Chinese is converted into Simplified Chinese, some parts may look unnatural. Simplified Chinese is used mostly in mainland China and Singapore while Traditional Chinese is used in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

Some examples showing differences between the two

歓迎 ⇒ Simplified: 欢迎 Traditional: 歡迎
馬 ⇒ Simplified: 马 Traditional: 馬
愛 ⇒ Simplified: 爱 Traditional: 愛

You can see that Traditional Chinese characters have more strokes and are more complex. Chinese characters used in written Japanese look similar to Traditional Chinese characters.

Whether to use Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese depends on where the translated text will be used, so it is extremely important to check this when translating into Chinese.

Characters That Are Similar Yet Different

Even if an in-flight movie only has subtitles in Chinese and not in Japanese, Japanese people may still be able to use the Chinese subtitles to follow the storyline if it is not too difficult. This is because Japanese people have studied Chinese characters from when they were in elementary school. Being used to the composition of characters is an advantage Japanese people can enjoy.

Sometimes however, the same characters may take on a completely different meaning. The two characters that mean "letter" in Japanese mean "toilet paper" in Chinese. Even if the characters are the same, you still need to be careful. For Japanese people to properly understand Chinese, care must be taken to properly identify and distinguish between the three different types of Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and Chinese characters used in Japan.

Language Is Alive and Changes With The Times!

Language is constantly changing even though there are certain rules for grammar and usage, etc. Convenient and widely-used buzzwords periodically get entered into dictionaries while other once-popular words become outmoded and obsolete. In Japanese such words are called shigo (dead words). As can be perceived from that expression, language is alive and some words are destined to die. Language lives on together with mankind such as in the way that easier Simplified Chinese was created from the more difficult Traditional Chinese.

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