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Basic Facts about the Chinese Language

1. The Chinese script is a logographic script in which each character represents a single concept:

金= metal
木= wood
水= water
火= fire
土= earth

2. Characters are combined to form compound words.A Chinese character may carry multiple meanings when combined with other characters:

如果= if
如何= how to
例如= for example
如意= as you wish

3. Some characters have very similar pronunciation—the only difference being the tone. Therefore the tones are very important in spoken Chinese as they can change the meanings of words.
4. Although there are several distinct languages (or dialects) spoken in China, including Mandarin and Cantonese, they can all be read the with the same written words since characters represent a meaning, rather than just a sound.
5. Chinese has less morphological changes than European languages. There is no grammatical distinction between singular or plural, and no conjugation of verbs according to tense, mood or aspect. The basic syntax of the modern Chinese language is “subject-verb-object”.

Versions of Spoken Chinese

• Many dialects exist, but they can all be roughly classified into seven major groups, i.e., Putonghua (Mandarin), Gan, Kejia (Hakka), Min, Wu, Xiang and Yue (Cantonese).
• Putonghua (Mandarin) is the most widely used spoken language for all Chinese—a “common” language.
• Mandarin and Cantonese are dialects of the Chinese language, and not written languages. They should not therefore be specified when requesting a written translation.

Chinese Translation Peculiarities

• Professional Chinese translators usually work with only ONE of the two versions of written Chinese—Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese.
• Many companies treat them as two separate languages and have separate teams.
• Although it is relatively easy to convert from Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese, the reverse is not always true.
• The Traditional Chinese used in Taiwan is different from that used in Hong Kong, and also from that in Chinese communities in Europe and America.
• Chinese is not a one-size-fits-all language. It can be difficult to determine which version to use when requesting a translation.
• If you use Cantonese or Mandarin when requesting a written translation, you would risk getting the wrong version. The best way is to verify the target region, pick the correct version from the list above and ask the client to confirm.Always check with clients to identify their target market.