Difference between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese Language
By: Maria Harley
From the outside, Chinese seems like a vast singular language. At a closer look, however, it can be observed that it is extremely diverse all over the country. If you are thinking about learning or translating something, it is essential to know the difference between simplified and traditional Chinese.
Chinese doesn’t stand as one individual language, rather it is a family of languages. It very similar to the family of roman languages in that regard, meaning that many different versions have evolved from a single language, each one having its own unique features.
Mandarin was evolved from Beijing, often known as Guoyu or Putonghua - standard or common language - is spoken by a vast majority of 900 million Chinese people. This also includes many of the Chinese communities that live in other parts of the world including South America, Hawaii, and Europe.
Classification of Different Versions of Chinese
Over the course of many years, Chinese has evolved into many different dialects. These dialects have been classified into seven groups. These groups are as follows:
- Mandarin: Around 900 Million Chinese people speak Mandarin, which includes Pekinese, Schiuanese, Standard Chinese, and the Dungan languages that are spoken by the Central Asian people.
- Wu: This version is spoken by almost 80 Million Chinese speakers and includes Wenzhounese, Shanghainese, and Suzhounese.
- Gan: Gan is spoken by more than 50 Million Chinese speakers.
- Xiang: Chinese speakers that prefer speaking Xiang are up to 37 Million.
- Min: With about 80 Million speakers, Min includes Hainanese, Fuzhounese, Taiwanese, Hokkien, and Teochew.
- Hakka: 45 Million of all the Chinese speaking people use Hakka to communicate.
- Yue: Yue has about 60 Million Chinese speakers while including Taishanese and Cantonese.
Chinese - or some form of Chinese - is spoken by almost 1200 Million people (16% of World population) as a first language. A significant number can also be found throughout Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia.
In fact, Chinese is the official language of Singapore, where it is simply known as Chinese and not by its version. It is also the official language of China (obviously), as well as Taiwan. Macau and Hong Kong have Cantonese as their official language.
Interestingly, Chinese people have a trend of bilingualism especially found in Taiwan and China. For example, a Shanghainese may speak Standard Chinese in addition to Shanghainese. Or if they moved there from another native region, they might also be fluent in that particular dialect.
Cantonese and Standard Chinese is spoken by the natives of Guangzhou, while Taiwanese people are also known to speak Hakka or Minnan. Taiwanese is a relatively relaxed group of languages. While the writing remains formal, a lot of mixtures from other Taiwanese languages can be seen in spoken Chinese.
Classification of Writing Dialects
Chinese writing is one of the oldest writing systems in the world. There are different dialects spoken throughout the Chinese community, however, the version of writing are different entirely. These are divided into two classes:
- Traditional Chinese
- Simplified Chinese
This classification was the result of efforts being made by China to increase the literacy rate sometime around the end of the 19th century. Chinese writing was simplified in order to make it easier for people to read and write. As you had to learn about 4,000 characters to be a Chinese literate, and most of those characters are very complex.
Simplified Chinese is the preferred, as well as, the standard method of writing. However, in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the traditional way of writing is preferred.
The Difference between Simplified and Traditional Chinese
To a person who is a non-Chinese speaker, all this classification may seem very confusing. Because let's face it, simplified Chinese is no way simple. There are many versions of spoken Chinese, the writing style, however, is the same.
But if you are someone who is looking for a translation or just simply wants to learn, here are a few major difference between the traditional and the simplified Chinese.
Number of Characters
During the simplification of the Chinese language, around 1,027 characters were discarded. The reformers concluded that they had the same meaning. Other characters were discarded on the basis that they had the same sounds.
Reformers employed a number of strategies to simplify the shapes of the characters. For instance, using simpler characters and symbols to replace cursive characters. It also included removing some of the characters entirely, and also creating new ones from scratch. Somehow creating a milder version of the traditional characters while somehow conserving the original shape.
Pronunciation and Distinction
Due to the simplification o of the shape of the characters, simplified Chinese doesn’t have the distinction in its characters. Traditional Chinese, while extremely complex, holds a distinction in every character and also provides better pronunciation.
This is the reason why the traditional way of writing is used in Hong Kong for commercials and signboards.
The use of the type of writing style often depends on the age group. People who grew up with the traditional format find themselves more comfortable using it, even if it is more complex. Especially, if under some circumstances they missed out on learning the simplified script.
However, the younger age group feels more comfortable with the easier simplified writing version of the language.
There is also a geographical factor in play when it comes to the two different scripts. The use of simplified Chinese is abundant in mainland China, Malaysia, and Singapore. Yet, Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan still use traditional Chinese.
Learning the Chinese Language
Evidently, it is quite a task to learn the Chinese language. If you are thinking about doing it then it is better that you start by speaking and listening. As for the writing script, it depends on the location that you are targeting. If you are learning it to move to Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau then you should learn traditional Chinese. But you can opt for simplified Chinese if you are moving to China, Singapore or Malaysia.