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In our dealings with our clients and potential clients, we found they have some frequently asked questions. We have collected some questions and answers here for easy reference.

Q1) What is the difference between "translation" and "interpreting"?

Clients may say "We would like to have an English-Spanish translator for a business meeting" while they actually need an interpreter. The terms "translation" and "interpreting" both refer to the transfer of meaning between two languages, but they are distinguished in the profession of translation and interpreting. "Translation" refers to a transfer from text to text in writing and it is usually done in the translator's office with tools such as a computer, software and dictionaries at his/her disposal. Interpreting, on the other hand, deals with utterances and usually takes place "on the spot" with the clients present.

Q2) What is the "target language" and "target region"?

Clients may say "Please translate this document into Chinese" and may be a bit confused when asked what type of Chinese they need. We usually ask the client to specify the target language, i.e., the language to be translated into, and the target region, i.e., the region where the readers of the translated documents are located. This is because some languages have regional differences which should be taken into consideration in the process of translation. For example, French for France vs. French for Quebec, Portuguese for Portugal vs. Portuguese for Brazil, Simplified Chinese for Mainland China vs. Traditional Chinese for Taiwan.

Q3) What is "Traditional Chinese" and what is "Simplified Chinese"?

The terms "Traditional Chinese" and "Simplified Chinese" are actually misnomers. They refer to "Traditional Chinese characters" and "Simplified Chinese characters" respectively. Traditional Chinese characters are more complicated in writing while Simplified Chinese characters have fewer strokes. Traditional Chinese characters are officially used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao while Simplified Chinese characters are officially used in Mainland China and Singapore. In other countries where there are Chinese communities, most Chinese publications are printed in Traditional Chinese characters, but Simplified Chinese characters are now gaining popularity because, in recent years, much more immigrants are coming from Mainland China than from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Q4) Is there written Mandarin or written Cantonese?

Clients may say "Please translate this document into Mandarin and Cantonese" and may be confused when asked what they mean by Mandarin and Cantonese. "Mandarin" and "Cantonese" are two of the spoken, not written, varieties or regional dialects of the Chinese language. (Linguists say that the Chinese language has more than eight regional dialects and each regional dialect includes some or many local dialects.) Standard Mandarin is based on the Beijing local dialect with its vocabulary and grammar drawn from the entire Mandarin group of dialects. Standard Mandarin is regarded as the official spoken language in Mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore, where it is taught in school and so most educated people speak Standard Mandarin in additional to their local dialect.

Written Chinese, in either Traditional or Simplified Chinese characters, is mostly based on the Mandarin group of dialects. In this sense, Written Chinese is Standard Mandarin as written. This seems natural in Mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore where students learn to speak Standard Mandarin and write Written Chinese. In Hong Kong and Macao, however, Cantonese is the official spoken language. Although Standard Mandarin is gaining popularity, school classes are mostly conducted in Cantonese. But students there are not taught how to write Cantonese as they speak, but how to write Written Chinese which is based on Standard Mandarin. Therefore, educated Hong Kong/Macao people write the same Written Chinese as educated people in Mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore, using Traditional Chinese characters as in Taiwan. But Written Chinese in Hong Kong and Macao does have regional flavours in terms of vocabulary because of influence from spoken Cantonese.

There is indeed a writing system in Hong Kong called "Written Cantonese", which writes spoken Cantonese using standard Chinese characters plus some special Cantonese characters. This local writing system is however not used in formal publications and is even frowned upon by more conservative people. Therefore, our clients are advised not to have their documents translated into Written Cantonese unless they know what they are requesting.

Q5) What is Taiwanese and is there written Taiwanese?

Taiwanese is a spoken dialect in Taiwan and linguistically belongs to the Southern Min dialect of the Chinese language. There is no standardized writing system for Taiwanese. The written language used in Taiwan is Written Chinese in traditional characters and is based on Standard Mandarin. Written Chinese in Taiwan has some uniqueness in terms of vocabulary and style either because of influence from spoken Taiwanese or due to its social background independent of Mainland China for many years. However, such differences are minor and have not been an issue in communication across the Taiwan Straits. With the massive economic and cultural exchange across the Straits in more recent years, such differences are greatly reducing and many words originated on one side have become known, accepted or popular on the other side.


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