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Which Chinese Dialect Should You Translate To?

How Many Chinese Dialects Are There?

China is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world with over 300 languages being used across the country.  While these languages are classified as Chinese dialects, they are so linguistically distinct from each other that many consider them completely separate languages. These dialects can be divided into 10 groups, each of which encompasses a group of dialects:

  1. Mandarin (also known as Putonghua) – This is China’s most commonly spoken language, with 65.7% of the population identifying Mandarin as their native language.
  2. Min Chinese – A group of dialects spoken in the province of Fujian.
  3. Wu Chinese – A group of dialects spoken in the province of Shanghai.
  4. Cantonese (Yue) – A group of dialects spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong and Macau. It is more widely known outside of China due to its use in Hong Kong films and by Chinese migrants.
  5. Jin Chinese – A group of dialects spoken in Shanxi Province, Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Henan and Shaanxi.
  6. Gan Chinese – A group of dialects spoken in Jiangxi Province, Hunan, Hubei, Fujian and Anhui.
  7. Hakka (Kejia) Chinese – Spoken in Guangdong, Fujian, Guangxi, Hainan, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.
  8. Xiang Chinese – Spoken in Hunan province, Guangxi, Guizhou and Hubei.
  9. Huizhou Chinese- A group of dialects spoken by communities in Anhui Zhejiang and Jiangxi.
  10. Pinghua Chinese – Pinghua is spoken mainly in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

 

The Difference Between The Chinese Dialects

Diverse Spoken Languages

The differences between Chinese dialects are comparable to the differences between European languages such as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. While these languages are written using the same characters and may have some similarities, they are so different that a speaker of one language would not be able to communicate with a speaker of another without a translator. Even within one dialect group, there can be noticeable differences. For example, Chinese Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin may be essentially the same language, but their usage, written characters, tones, grammar and vocabulary differ greatly.

 

Written Characters

While each dialect differs greatly, all Chinese languages are written using either traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese. Traditional Chinese was used prior to the 1950s and is still used predominantly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. While simplified Chinese is used predominantly in Mainland China, Malaysia and overseas.

 

Tones

Chinese languages are tonal, which means that the same word can have various different meanings depending on the pitch used to pronounce a certain syllable. For example in Chinese Mandarin, the word “ma” can have four completely different meanings (hemp, scold, horse or mother), depending on the tone. For example, Mandarin has four tones and one neutral tone and while Cantonese has six.

 

Vocabulary

Vocabulary can differ greatly even within one dialect group, depending on the location. While Chinese Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin are technically the same languages, they have evolved differently, resulting in different vocabularies. For example, the word for peanut in Taiwan means potato in mainland China.

 

Which Chinese Language Should You Translate To?

Chinese dialects are extremely diverse and speakers of one dialect may have no comprehension of another. If you are translating a document for a Chinese audience, choosing the right dialect is absolutely essential. You will need to consider the purpose of the document and the intended audience in order to choose the correct dialect.

 

If you are targeting a Mainland China or Singaporean audience, the most appropriate written translation is simplified Chinese. As most people from Mainland China will be able to read and understand it. Simplified Chinese is the most popular choice for most business applications and all official and legal documents used in China should be translated into Simplified Chinese.  If you’re targeting a Taiwanese or Hong Kong audience, traditional Chinese is the most appropriate choice.

 

If you’re targeting a Singaporean audience, although Chinese is the official language, you’re better off having your content translated into Singaporean English as it is more widely understood.

 

China has some of the most diverse and complex languages in the world, which can be difficult to translate accurately. If you require Chinese language translation services, contact Speak Your Language for our Chinese translation services, to ensure your content is translated correctly.