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ABOUT CHINESE continued


 

CHINESE CHARACTERS


Chinese characters are becoming quite computer-friendly as computer operating systems around the world prepare for localization. Chinese is what is called a "2-byte" language. That means, that each Chinese character uses two letter-spaces (example: takes the space for "ab" rather than just "a"). To create new text in Chinese requires special operating system and Chinese-compatible software, although most computers can read-only if they have certain elements installed that are found on the user's system installation CD. @International Services assists clients to become Chinese-compatible, or delivers documents and translations as PDF files that can be read on any computer or used by any professional printer without having the Chinese fonts or 2-byte capability.

SIMPLIFIED - TRADITIONAL CHINESE WRITING

Although all Chinese characters may look alike to Westerners, there are two very distinct and important writing styles in Chinese: Simplified and Traditional.

Basically, original Chinese characters (called "Traditional") were an artistic attempt to "draw" the subject the word represented. Thus, the character for "mountain" tried to look like a mountain in written Traditional Chinese language. As the number of characters grew into the thousands, the drawings became more and more complex, with the average words taking 12 to 24 strokes just to make one word. The effect of this writing style, though attractive to the eye, meant that writing correspondence, a business receipt or a contract took an enormous amount of time and effort. One of the major hindrances to progress in that region can actually be laid at the door of the lengthy communication process.

With the revolution in China, it was a determined by the government that the writing process was simply too long and arduous, holding back economic development. Therefore, the government of Mainland China organized a "simplification" of the Chinese character set. In doing so, a word that required 24 strokes to write was pared down to 8 or 12 strokes. This process affected thousands of characters ... the entire written language was "simplified" - and is now called Simplified Chinese.

These days, of course, computers have removed the effort formerly devoted to handwriting, relieving much of the time pressure. But by the time that computers came into vogue, Mainland China had switched to Simplified. But Hong Kong, Taiwan and expatriates had not. While Mainland China began learning a new way of reading and writing, Hong Kong, Taiwan and expatriates in other countries remained with the Traditional characters of their ancestors. These groups, in general, cannot read Simplified Chinese. And even though they can read each other's Traditional written language, they will pronounce different sounds for each word, and there are characters in one language that do not exist in the other. Plus, the grammatical order of the sentences vary somewhat from Cantonese to Taiwanese. Therefore, a Cantonese is aware when reading a Taiwanese document, and vice versa.

About half of the expatriates in the United States, Britain and other English language countries left China a decade or two ago, and brought Traditional characters with them, which they passed on to their children. The Chinese people in America therefore, grew apart in dialect, adding a smattering of English words written in ABC letters. They were also separated from the Simplified process, as well as behind in the changes technology brought to the Cantonese and Mandarin languages.

WHICH CHARACTER SET TO USE

The "simplification" of Chinese characters has had an enormous effect on business. If a company wishes to write correspondence, marketing materials or a website ... which character set should be used? And, isn't it possible to have one single Chinese character set only? The answer is, unfortunately, that if a company wishes to attract clients from all of these markets - Mainland, Taiwan, Cantonese and the United States - then both character sets, Simplified and Traditional, are needed. If only one group of marketing materials will be translated, then choose the character set of the largest target market for the product.

And, equally unfortunately, these two character sets are not just "fonts", like "Times" or "Arial". A document cannot be hilited, and a new Chinese character set chosen. Rather, the entire Chinese system is different, and a serious document conversion must take place. The conversion process will produce a high error rate of incorrect characters. Following conversion, the document must be lengthily and seriously reviewed, and the high numbers of computerized errors detected and corrected. Thus, converting documents into the second set of Chinese characters is less expensive than the first, usually by about 50%, but must nonetheless be considered when budgeting.

IN SUMMARY

Slowly, Simplified is filtering into Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States. Until then, two sets of characters may be the best way to go for a broader audience and higher revenue generation.

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