Simplified & Traditional Chinese subtitle differences

by Knockhundred Admin

Sometimes our clients contact us to ask for “Chinese” subtitles. What they don’t perhaps realise is that Chinese isn’t a language, but a family of languages.

When we are talking about Traditional versus Simplified Chinese, we are talking about the characters, and not the accent or dialect. Traditional Chinese refer to the Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. Traditional Chinese is most commonly used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Simplified Chinese is most commonly used in mainland China where the government has promoted their use since the 1950s in an attempt to boost literacy. Simplified Chinese characters are made up of fewer strokes - some of the characters were simplified by applying regular rules - for example, by replacing all occurrences of a certain component with a simplified version of the component.

If we take away any political reasons for adopting the traditional or simplified character set, there is a linguistic argument detailed by Paul Stapleton. “Clearly, the more strokes a character has, the less possibility there is for ambiguity. A crude parallel for the English language would be to eliminate a certain number of the 26 letters in the alphabet. When there are fewer letters, there is more potential for ambiguity.”

Stapleton writes, “But the strongest argument in favour of adopting simplified characters is a statistical one. Just north of our population of seven million live 1.3 billion people who learn and use simplified characters. And even by adding Taiwan’s 23 million people who also use traditional characters, only about 2% of the world’s Chinese are not writing in simplified characters. This means, with all things being equal, about 98 per cent of all new Chinese publications worldwide are in simplified characters. And as the mainland continues to grow in influence, being able to read and write fluently using simplified characters simply makes sense.” You can read his fascinating article here.

To complicate matters further, the most commonly spoken language in Hong Kong and Macau is Cantonese, whereas the most commonly spoken language in mainland China is Mandarin.

So when clients approach us about our Chinese” subtitling service, we need to establish exactly what they’re after. Will the video material be shown in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and/or mainland China? Are the speakers speaking Mandarin or Cantonese? Do the subtitles need to be in Simplified or Traditional Chinese?

If you would be interested in finding out more about our ”Chinese” subtitling service, then do please get in touch and one of our project managers would be happy to help.