Background and status
Taiwanese Hokkien , or ‘Taiwanese’ for short, is spoken mostly by native Taiwanese (aboriginals) and understood by almost 70% of the population (15 million speakers). In general anyone born after the early 1950s in Taiwan speak Traditional Chinese which has been the official language and the medium of instruction in the schools for more than four decades. The main differences between Traditional Chinese (spoken in Taiwan) and Simplified Chinese (also referred to as Mandarin) lies in the number of characters each languages has – Traditional has about 2,000 characters more than Simplified Chinese. In Taiwan Traditional Chinese is used in more formal situations and Taiwanese in more informal situations. Taiwanese tends to get used more in rural areas, while Mandarin is used more in urban settings. Older people tend to use Taiwanese, while younger people tend to use Mandarin.
Growth and use
Until the 1980s the usage of Taiwanese was banned in schools and the number of Taiwanese programmes on the radio and television was restricted. These restrictions have now been lifted and Taiwanese is taught as a subject in some schools and used as a medium of instruction in others. Political news is broadcast in both Taiwanese and Mandarin. ‘Taiwanisation’ developed into a ‘mother tongue movement’ aiming to save, preserve, and develop the local ethnic culture and language of Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and aborigines. By the year 2001, Taiwanese was taught in all Taiwanese schools.
Background and status
‘Chinese’ is not really a language at all. It’s a group of languages that share certain characteristics, but that can also be different to the point of being mutually unintelligible (much like romance languages). These days, when people talk about ‘Chinese’, they’re almost always referring to either Mandarin or Cantonese, two of the most widely-spoken sub-languages in the Chinese language family, but there are hundreds of dialects of Chinese that are spoken by smaller groups of people across the globe.
Mandarin is the most widely-spoken variety of Chinese, and in fact the most widely-spoken language on earth (at least in terms of native speakers – nearly a billion). It is the official language of both the People’s Republic of China, one of the four official languages of Singapore and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. In everyday English, ‘Mandarin’ refers to Standard Chinese, which is often also called ‘Simplified Chinese’. It is also one of the most frequently used varieties of Chinese among Chinese diaspora communities internationally.
Although there are other Chinese languages such as Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong) that are very distinct from Mandarin, many of these languages use Chinese characters for their written form, so that Mandarin speakers and Cantonese speakers (for example) can understand each other through writing, even though the spoken languages are mutually too complex.
Growth and usage
Given China’s rise as a world power and its role in the world economy, business ties between China and the rest of the world are developing rapidly. An understanding of Mandarin has therefore become a key to commercial ventures based in China. As it stands, Mandarin is the language of government, commerce and pop songs in China and usage of the language is growing at a breakneck pace. Just seven years ago, state media reported only about half of China’s population spoke Mandarin, compared with about 70 percent today. China’s staggering economic growth is playing a big role in Mandarin’s expansion. Increasingly, Mandarin is the language of survival, and opportunity.
China’s economy has grown rapidly over the last few years with many companies making the Country of the Dragon their focus for marketing and selling of products.
If you’re planning to have your products, documents and international websites translated into Chinese, the first step is to identify which Chinese you require, Simplified or Traditional, the two written forms of Chinese. They are not to be confused with Mandarin and Cantonese, which are spoken variants of Chinese.
It is a little bit confusing because most people think of Chinese as being just one language. Moreover, while all Cantonese speakers write in Traditional Chinese characters, not all Mandarin speakers use Simplified Chinese. Taiwan people who speak a dialect of Mandarin write in Traditional characters
From a translation perspective, the most important difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese is that they are used in different target markets:
- Simplified Chinese is the more widely used version, as the written form of Chinese employed by a population of over 1 billion people in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore.
- Traditional Chinese, although less widespread, is the written form of Chinese used by some 30 million people in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Simplified Chinese was introduced in the 1950s in the People’s Republic of China as part of language reforms to increase literacy. As the name suggests, it’s a simplified version of Traditional Chinese: the reforms decreased the number of strokes by an average of one half and simplified the forms of a sizable proportion of traditional Chinese characters. This simplified character set appears in all print media in Mainland China and Singapore. Over time, the two language versions have also diverged in terms of vocabulary and grammar. You may associate it with the difference between the written styles of US English and British English.
To make things simple, let’s put it this way:
|Country/Region||Written Language||Spoken Language|
|Mainland China||Simplified Chinese||Mandarin (Putonghua)|
|Taiwan||Traditional Chinese||Mandarin (Putonghua)|
|Hong Kong||Traditional Chinese||Cantonese|
|Singapore||Simplified Chinese||Mandarin (Putonghua)|
If you need to translate your website/documents/marketing material into Chinese – ask us as we have the skills to assist you.