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What's the difference between Mandarin, Cantonese, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese

2013-08-23

I found that some of the clients and production companies don't know how Chinese languages system is like. They always confused by Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Mandarin, Pu Tong Hua, Cantonese, Taiwanese etc. It is not their fault because Chinese language system is really complicated. Here, I'd like to do a brief introduction to help you understand it. Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese refer to Chinese characters which are used to write and print. The Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese characters were both used in ancient China. Simplified Chinese characters were more used in common people. Along with the era development, people found it was necessary to simplify the characters to help people learn them. Especially when most of the Chinese people were analphabetic. From 1949 to 1964, the government of the People's Republic of China started a series of character reforms to simplify the complicated strokes of Traditional Chinese characters. A new character list was finalized in the end. Thus, the most used words have a standard list from that time. Compared to the Traditional Chinese, the Simplified Chinese characters have less strokes and are easier to remember and write but the balance of framework of some characters was broken. Now China, Singapore and Malaysia are using Simplified Chinese Characters officially. Taiwan, Hong Kong are still using Traditional Chinese Characters officially. In daily life, these two character sets were both used in Chinese communities in different occasions more or less. So notice, when we're talking about Traditional and Simplified Chinese, we mean the characters not the accent or dialect. People speaking different dialects can both read Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. (please check below picture for reference. The upper line is simplified Chinese, the lower line is Traditional Chinese) Now let's take a look at the Chinese language system. Being a very big language system, China languages include 7 sub-language systems. They are North region dialect, Wu dialect, Min dialect, Xiang dialect, Gan dialect, Yue dialect(Cantonese), Ke Jia dialect. Besides the North region dialects, people can’t understand each other because North region dialect is the base of Mandarin which was popularized by government for centuries. The terrible thing is, in some Wu and Min dialects region, people can’t understand each other even they lived in two villages 20 miles away. Here, We are not going to introduce these 7 sub-language system in detail because it is not practical to our work. I’m going to introduce the mainly popular Chinese dialects we often deal with.
  1. Mandarin
Mandarin is formed on the basis of China North region dialects and is used mainly in China mainland. Some people in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are also using Mandarin. Depending on the regions, people always speak Mandarin with local accent. China government established a standard for pronunciation and intonation which called Pu Tong Hua. Only the well trained voice can be used on radio, TV and publishing. There will be no any accent. Be sure to use well trained voiceover in China because the accent will directly related to your commercial image. Taiwan and Hong Kong are not so strict on the standard.
  1. Cantonese
Lots of people assume Cantonese is Chinese. Actually, it is one of Chinese dialect. It is used in Guangdong province of China and Hong Kong. Along with the Hong Kong business man spread in the world, Cantonese becomes very popular.
  1. Taiwanese\Hokkien\Min
Taiwanese, Hokkien and Min are all referred to the dialect used in Taiwan Island, South of Fujian province of China and south east asia. The official language of Taiwan is still Mandarin. People always confuse the Taiwanese with Taiwanese Mandarin (slightly different with mainland China). Be sure to confirm with your client when they asked for Taiwanese voiceover, if they need Min Nan dialect or Taiwanese Mandarin. If you have any questions on Chinese languages, please feel free to contact me. Zhenyu Tan Mail: tan@voicetalent.cn Mobile: +8613910694042 Website: www.voicetalent.cn