Green Crescent is a professional language provider specializing in Chinese translation. We offer document translation services in such diverse areas as business, legal, medical, technical, financial, scientific, government, engineering, software, gaming, and IT just to name a few. We also perform related services in desk top publishing, graphic design, transcription, copywriting, as well as website localization. We can also perform translations in non-English language pairs.
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken form of all Chinese dialects. Mandarin is spoken in all of China north of the Yangtze River and in much of the rest of the country. China's seven main language groups are Mandarin, Wu, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Cantonese, and Min which linguists have divided into between 5 and 7 sub-dialects, all of which are mutually unintelligible.
Despite these divisions, Standard Mandarin, based on the Beijing dialect, is the official standard used in the People's Republic of China, the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Singapore. It is the language of government, media, and of instruction in schools making it by far the best language for wider communication.
Mandarin Chinese has roughly 70,000 characters and phonetic sounds. For reference, one needs to know about 3,000 characters to read a newspaper. Though the Chinese writing system has been standardized only relatively recently, its principles remain essentially the same as they did 3000 years ago.
One of the things our clients find most confusing is understanding the differences between spoken Mandarin and Cantonese and the different writing systems, Simplified and Traditional, when deciding which is most appropriate for their target market. In order to assist you, we have created this little chart for quick reference:
Major Chinese Varieties, Dialects and Writing Systems
Mandarin Chinese Translation
Mandarin Mandarin Chinese is the name of the most common form of Mandarin Chinese used today. However, after the Maoist revolution, two distinct forms have emerged. On mainland China, the simplified Mandarin Chinese writing system is used while on the island of Taiwan, the traditional writing system is used.
Simplified Chinese Translation
Simplified Chinese is the writing system used in mainland China. The Traditional Chinese writing system is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Traditional Chinese Translation
Traditional Chinese is the writing system used today in Taiwan, where Mandarin is the primary language, and Hong Kong, where it is Cantonese. On mainland China, the simplified Chinese writing system is used.
Taiwanese is spoken fluently by 60 percent of the people of Taiwan. Taiwanese is considered a native language of the subethnic group known as Holo or Hoklo. It is the variant of the Min-nan spoken in Taiwan for which there is both a colloquial and a literary version. The literary version, based on Middle Chinese, originally developed in Fujian during the 10th century and was later brought to Taiwan by migrants. Though today nearly extinct, literary Taiwanese was once used in formal writing.
Taiwanese is sometimes regarded as a dialect of the wider Chinese language. Most Taiwanese are able to speak Mandarin Chinese as well as Taiwanese with varying degrees of fluency. Though Taiwanese is based on Mandarin as on the mainland, it is written in Traditional Chinese while Mandarin Chinese on the mainland is written in Simplified Chinese. There are some 23 million speakers of Taiwanese living around the world today.
Wu is one of China’s major languages, spoken by approximately 90 million people in the area around Shanghai. This includes the provinces of Zhejiang, parts of Jiangsu, and areas in Anhui, Jiangxi and Fujian. In modern times, the version spoken in Shanghai has come to be the prestige dialect. Speakers of Chinese refer to Wu as a soft, flowing language. Modern Wu traces its origins to the Wu and Yue peoples of northern Zhejiang and southern Jiangsu, dating back 2,600 years to the “Spring and Autumn Period.” Wu comes from Middle Chinese, with influences from Mandarin. Written Wu is legible to readers of other Chinese languages, though the spoken word is not.
What is Chinese Simplification?
The simplification movement is generally thought of as a reform brought about by the Chinese Communists during the 1950s. However, some simplified forms go back to the Qin Dynasty in 200 BCE. Earlier 20th century reform efforts arose largely in connection with teaching children how to write. In the May Fourth Movement of 1919, anti-imperialist Chinese nationalists, unhappy at the result of the Versailles Treaty which was dominated by Western interests and Japan, made many demands including a change in the writing system. They alleged that the old approach was preventing China's modernization. A contemporary Chinese author, Lu Xun, was often quoted when he said that if Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China dies. Simplification efforts continued under the Kuomintang throughout the thirties and forties, and an initial set of simplification principles came to be announced, but they did not take hold.
In 1956, the PRC government promulgated the first set of simplifications, followed by a second version of the First Round document in 1964. The Cultural Revolution brought about additional pressure for change, modernization, and rejection of the past. The Second Round of Simplified Characters was announced in 1977, but it did not catch on. The combination of the counter-reform against the Cultural Revolution and the death of Chairman Mao led eventually to a retraction of the Second Round in 1986 and the substitution of a final list, which is identical to the 1964 list with minor exceptions. A few school children learned Second Round in school only to have it revoked a decade later, and occasionally Second Round characters pop up in informal writing by these people.
The 1986 document, the "Complete List of Simplified Characters," consists of a number of charts, and an appendix. Chart 1 is a list of 350 characters whose simplification can not be applied to any others. They are sui generis. Chart 2 is a list of 132 simple characters and 14 simplified radicals that are designed to affect all other characters of which they are a part. Chart 3 is an illustrative (but not exhaustive) list of 1,753 characters in which the reforms in Chart 2 have been applied. The appendix abolishes 39 complex characters that already had simpler, acceptable variants. It also renames 35 places, getting rid of very rare characters that were virtually out of use.
A similar publication, the "Series One Organization List of Variant Characters" of 1993 casts off 1,027 older variants of characters and establishes their variant forms as official.
Singapore and Malaysia, two countries that also use Chinese characters as an official language, have adopted the simplifications of the People's Republic of China. Singapore's simplification came in two rounds. The first was in 1969 (affecting 502 traditional characters), and the second was completed in 1974 (affecting 2,287 characters). Two years later a few dozen differences from China's reform were removed, and in 1993 Singapore adopted the 1986 list of the People's Republic of China. Malaysia simplified in 1981, in accordance with the 1964 second document of China's First Round.
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