Translations from English into traditional Chinese

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There is a lot to take note of during the translation from English into Chinese. In this case, it has to do with translating into traditional Chinese characters. In order for your translation to be translated from English into traditional Chinese characters with accuracy and care, we work exclusively with native speaking translators who possess many years of experience. They have been raised with the traditional Chinese characters and are familiar with the characteristics of the Chinese language and culture. They will always translate your documents with the right tone. Our project managers are happy to assist you regarding this topic. Give us a call or email us!

Why traditional Chinese?

As the name suggests, it is an older writing system used to express the Chinese language. In modern-day China, they use something called simplified Chinese, which consists of simpler versions of the traditional characters, which were either newly developed or based off of historical forms - like 万 instead of 萬, both of which mean "ten thousand" and were used even before our era. Newly developed characters can be distinguished by shortened forms of the classifier characters, or "radicals", and typical abbreviations for certain character combinations. This simplification was necessary because the traditional Chinese characters were very complicated and difficult to learn. An example of this: The word "zhe" meaning "much too talkative" consists of the character for "Dragon" 龍 - but four times. Because many people were incapable of remembering such complex characters and access to education was difficult, from the 1956-1986 the simplified form was introduced with several reform waves in an effort to improve literacy in China. These reforms were then used in Singapore and Malaysia as well.

Why are the traditional characters still used today?

Some call the traditional characters “zhengtizi” because countries that still use them often have a political reason for doing so: that's why the traditional characters are referred to as the "correct" or "right" script. Taiwan in particular is a user of the traditional characters, but Hong Kong and Macau still use them as well. Clearly, this has a lot to do with political entities wanting to differentiate themselves from the People’s Republic of China, since their government is not recognized as legitimate. After the Second World War and a long Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists, which the latter won, the Nationalist government established itself in Taiwan. Taiwan and its supporters see themselves as the only legitimate keepers of Chinese culture, therefore they insist that the traditional characters continue to be used.

These politics should be in the back of one’s mind when translating, as both the Taiwanese and Cantonese (in Hong Kong) languages tend to express their local dialects with newly created characters. In simplified Chinese, this is not exactly possible, because are introduced by the Chinese government. These dialectical characters have become a huge challenge in the computer age and for translators, as they are hardly known outside of Hong Kong or Taiwan.

Similarities between English and Chinese

In addition to these aspects, traditional characters have many variations and the same word can be written with different radicals without changing in emphasis or meaning. Chinese has a non-phonetic script. This means that the pronunciation of a character cannot be determined from the way it is written. For this reason, many different dialects and even languages can be written with Chinese characters. Herein lies the first similarity to English: In England, spelling became finalized with the printing press even though the language was in the process of a sound change: therefore, some believe that English possesses a historical orthography, as the way many words are spelled does not reflect how they are pronounced.

Another similarity is that Chinese does not have grammatical gender for the most part. There are only a few words that are used to denote gender, such as the character for the third person, which can be differentiated as man or woman by using a classifier, but this is a relatively new development. English also avoids having to assign gender by using "the". There is no conjugation or declension in Chinese; its grammar is quite simple as complex situations are expressed with particles, making sentence structure that much more important and especially more restrictive. Sentences are formed, with very few exceptions, using the subject-verb-object structure. This is also true for English, however Chinese has fewer opportunities for creative variations. Time and place in English are mostly placed at the end of the sentence, while in Chinese, they are primarily at the beginning. It can generally be said that all of the modifying information in Chinese sentences is stated before the actual thing being modified.

Translation pitfalls

Translating from English into Chinese is generally not a big problem; it is just important to note that Chinese characters don’t have to be equivalent to the English translation - many are situation-specific. The correct application is usually not in the dictionary - the translator has to learn them and gain experience. There is no definite difference between traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese translations - a difference would come about when deciding whether or not to translate into Standard Chinese or into local dialects, or slang, used in Taiwan or Hong Kong. Whatever the case may be, we have the right translator for your project. Let our project managers assist you by phone. We would be happy to provide you with an individual quote. Simply email us the text you would like to have translated. We look forward to hearing from you!


Nicolette van Neer
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