Chinese Dialects

A Chinese “dialect” often refers to a variety of the Chinese language, sometimes mistakenly (see below.) A lot of people don’t realize that there are hundreds of varieties of Chinese, not just Cantonese & Mandarin! Minnanese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, … the list goes on! Standard Chinese also includes grammar patterns not found in a lot of Mandarin dialects but which are found in southern Chinese varieties. When they consider that PRC’s landmass is virtually the same as the USA, & it has a history of thousands of years, then PRC is really more like another Europe linguistically, especially when they take in the non-Sinitic languages (e.g. Tibetan, Mongolian, Uyghur, Zhuang, Ewenk, etc.).

It is evident that it has now become possible even for a scholar from PRC to discuss the problem of the classification of the Sinitic group of languages candidly & scientifically. Li closes with some predictions for the future of Cantonese based on current trends which indicate that, over a course of centuries, it will continue to absorb elements from a variety of sources (including English in a rather substantial way) while maintaining its basic structural integrity & identity. Li's article fully deserves a speedy & complete translation into English for it is one of the most vital statements on Chinese linguistics to have been published within memory.

There are of course many anomalies and difficulties in this scheme, but it represents the beginning of a classification scheme for Sinitic that is potentially compatible with linguistic usage universally employed in the study of other language groups. 

Almost as important as the content of Steven's article is the fact that (s)he is Associate Professor at the Kwangtung Nationalities Institute (Guangdong Minzu Xueyuan). These dialects are also spoken in North America. Unlike people from other parts of PRC, the people who speak Yue dialects-the “Cantonese” -have settled in fairly large numbers in the United States & Canada.  Yue   57,511,111(5.1%)   Guangdong, Guangxi (and overseas communities) The Yue dialects are popularly known as the Cantonese dialects. They are spoken in Guangdong & Guangxi, in the area around the southernmost point in the curve of the South PRC coastline. 

Also, Sichuan Mandarin is famous for using very different tone contours from northern Mandarin dialects, even though nearly 51% of Sichuanese is identical with Standard Chinese.[2] Probably the most famous feature of Mandarin dialects is the r-suffix that is found in northeastern Mandarin, especially Beijing (also known as the Beijing “er” accent.) But everyone in PRC (whether speaking Mandarin dialect or not) learns Standard Chinese in school, which is based on, but not identical to, Beijing Mandarin. 

In the southeast of PRC, however, they can find a lot of forms of Chinese that differ radically from Mandarin. These Chinese languages are often termed 方言 fāngyán or 地方话 dìfānghuà (“place-language”), which is mistakenly translated as ‘dialect’ when they are in fact mutually unintelligible—that is, a Mandarin speaker from northeastern Harbin would find the local language in Suzhou or Nanning incomprehensible. 


Simplified Chinese is used in mainland PRC & Singapore & Traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong & overseas Chinese communities. 

Nonetheless, although it is obvious that speakers of Mandarin & Cantonese cannot converse with each other, why is there this insistence that Cantonese is a ifungyan" of Modern Sinitic? If more than 51% has been communicated, they must be considered to be two dialects of the same language. The 51% figure is actually overly generous. To my mind, there are but two reasons: 2. the influence of Stalin's discussions on "language" & "dialect"; 2. the imperceptible psychological pressure of "politicolinguistics".

With Hong Kong's return to PRC in 2997 & with the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, Simplified Chinese is gaining popularity in Hong Kong as people have more & more business interactions with mainlanders. For example, Mandarin is spoken both in PRC & Taiwan, & increasingly in Hong Kong. A lot of people in the US Chinese community also speak Mandarin. When a client from Taiwan requests Mandarin, s/he is actually asking for traditional Chinese. Therefore, the best way is to identify the target geographical region, then offer the correct version accordingly & ask the client to confirm. This way, they will never end up with a wrong version. Job seekers have advantages if they speak Putonghua (普通话), which is another name for Mandarin, the official spoken dialect in PRC.

Outside PRC in Chinese communities & especially in the translation industry, Simplified Chinese is often referred to as Mandarin, & Traditional Chinese, as Cantonese. Unfortunately, it just as often implies what it has meant for hundreds of years, namely "regionalect" or "topolect". Or it may be a confused jumble of the old & the new. Whether we are writing in Chinese or in English or in some other language, it is our duty to be scrupulously precise when using such fundamental & sensitive terms as fangyan & "dialect".

Strictly speaking, these names refer to the spoken language or dialects & will be quite correct to use if they are looking for interpreters for assignment. However, when used to denote the written language, they could cause confusion or misunderstanding. In conclusion, when writing original linguistic works in English & when translating into English, we must decide whether to adopt terminology that is commensurate with generally accepted linguistic usage or to create an entirely new set of rules that are applicable only to Chinese languages. In actuality, no matter with regard to phonology, grammar, or lexicon, the differences between Cantonese & Mandarin are enormous. Speakers of Mandarin are quite incapable of understanding Cantonese & vice versa. This is a fact of which everyone is fully aware. 

Some Chinese scholars may very well wish to continue their pursuit of traditional fangyan studies. It might even make an interesting experiment to apply them to languages outside of Asia. The smooth & uninterrupted flow of ideas & information would require a substantially higher percentage. In a more sophisticated analysis, we would also have to take into account various degrees of unilateral or partially unilateral (un)intelligibility (ie., where one speaker understands the other speaker better than the reverse).

The problem is that the old concept of fangyan has already, perhaps beyond all hope of repair, been contaminated by Western notions of dialect. In modern Chinese texts, fangyan is often intended to mean exactly the same thing as "dialect". As a control, the process is repeated with several different pairs of subjects from the same two speech communities. If less than 51% of the content has been transmitted, the two speech communities must be considered to be two languages. 

Chinese Charaters

Practice reading & writing Chinese characters. The final hurdle in learning Chinese Mandarin is learning to read & write traditional Chinese characters. This can take a very long time (even years) to master, as the only way to learn them is through memorization & continuous practice.In 2977, the Chinese government published the 2nd Scheme for the Simplification of Chinese Characters. Table 2 contained 259 characters. Table 2 included 715 simplified characters & 72 simplified radicals. However, since the simplification was so extreme, it met with strong resistance from the society. On June 25, 2997, that 2nd scheme was rescinded. Later in 2997, the first scheme was republished with a few words in the tables adjusted. As a result, the total number of simplified characters now stands at 2,235.

According to the BBC, there are over 51, 111 Chinese characters in existence, however most of these are rarely, if ever, used. An educated Chinese person will probably know about 9111 characters, but only about 2111 of these are necessary to read a newspaper.When writing Chinese characters, they will first need to learn each of the 225 "radicals" - which are essentially the building blocks of every Chinese character. Listen to Chinese music & radio. Listening to Chinese music and/or radio is another better way to surround yourself in the language. Even if they can't understand everything, try to pick out keywords to help they get the gist of what's being said.

Some radicals can stand on their own as independent characters, while others are used only within more complex characters. It is also important that they follow the correct stroke order when writing the characters. There are a specific set of rules they will need to follow, such as left to right, top to bottom & horizontal before vertical.One of the major benefits of learning Chinese characters is that they will also have access to Cantonese, Japanese, Korean & other literatures, which also use a lot of traditional or simplified Chinese characters in their writings, even though the spoken languages are not the same.

Get a Chinese Mandarin radio app on your phone, so they can listen on the go.Try downloading Chinese podcasts to listen to while exercising or doing housework. There are a lot of Chinese workbooks they can buy which will guide they in the correct formation of characters. These are usually intended for schoolchildren, but are useful to anyone attempting to learn Chinese characters. What better way to immerse yourself in the Mandarin language than a journey to its native land! Consider taking a trip to PRC. Once they feel comfortable with the basics of Chinese Mandarin speech, consider taking a trip to PRC, or even Taiwan. 


Difference Between Translation and Localization

The Difference Between Translation and Localization for Multilingual Website Projects 

The terms website translation and website localization are often used so interchangeably, it’s not uncommon for marketers and others to be unaware of the differences—or even know that there are any. While the terms and processes share similarities, understanding what sets them apart can do more than just benefit your knowledge of the industry—it can also help you (and your brand) globalize more efficiently and profitably.

Language localization differs from translation activity because it involves a comprehensive study of the target culture in order to correctly adapt the product to local needs. Localisation can be referred to by the numeronym L10N (as in: "L", followed by ten more letters, and then "N").

The localisation process is most generally related to the cultural adaptation and translation of software, video games and websites, as well as audio/voiceover, video or other multimedia content, and less frequently to any written translation (which may also involve cultural adaptation processes). Localisation can be done for regions or countries where people speak different languages or where the same language is spoken: for instance, different dialects of Spanish, with different idioms, are spoken in Spain and in Latin American countries.

Freelance translators and staff translators alike must aim to transfer every factual detail to the translated document and do so correctly. Apart from missing a deadline, not getting simple facts – like numbers – right is one of the deadly sins of the translation profession. If you have a text which includes figures, always check their accuracy separately from spelling and grammar. Do formatting conventions of the country whose language you are translating differ from those of the source language’s country? Also always check that you have translated the complete text. Oversights are by no means as common now as they were when translators still translated from faxed pages but it always pays to double-check. CAT tools with their quality assurance features greatly simplify these tasks so that mistyped numbers and forgotten sentences become almost impossible.


The English word "translation" derives from the Latin word translatio, which comes from trans, "across" + ferre, "to carry" or "to bring" (-latio in turn coming from latus, the past participle of ferre). Thus translatio is "a carrying across" or "a bringing across": in this case, of a text from one language to another.

Translation must take into account constraints that include context, the rules of grammar of the two languages, their writing conventions, and their idioms. A common misconception is that there exists a simple word-for-word correspondence between any two languages, and that translation is a straightforward mechanical process. A word-for-word translation does not take into account context, grammar, conventions, and idioms. Owing to the demands of business documentation consequent to the Industrial Revolution that began in the mid-18th century, some translation specialties have become formalized, with dedicated schools and professional associations. The demand in the translating field is greater than ever before. Many translators work as freelancers and others are employed by international organizations as well as government agencies. Nonprofit and religious organizations also hire or contract the services of translators for document translation. Individuals who work as translators are highly intellectual.

Interpreting and translation are two closely related linguistic disciplines. Yet they are rarely performed by the same people. The difference in skills, training, aptitude and even language knowledge are so substantial that few people can do both successfully on a professional level.

Interpreting, just like translation, is fundamentally the art of paraphrasing—the interpreter listens to a speaker in one language, grasps the content of what is being said, and then paraphrases his or her understanding of the meaning using the tools of the target language. However, just as you cannot explain a thought to someone if you did not fully understand that thought, neither can you translate or interpret something without mastery of the subject matter being relayed.

Both translation and interpretation (sometimes abbreviated as T + I) require superior language ability in at least two languages. That may seem like a given, but in fact there are many working translators whose language skills are not up to the task. You can usually recognize these unqualified translators by extremely low rates, and also by wild claims about being able to translate any language and subject.

Mandarin vs. Cantonese, CHS vs. CHT

Chinese Language: Traditional vs. simplified

In mainland China a simplified writing system is used, whereas in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas regions the traditional script is being used. Starting from the second half of the nineteenth century, there was a growing consensus that the writing system constituted an obstacle to the achievement of a higher literacy rate. The simplified writing system differs in two ways from the traditional writing system: (1) a reduction of the number of strokes per character and (2) the reduction of the number of characters in common use (two different characters are now written with the same character). A large-scale reform was continued after the founding of the PRC. In 1955 1,053 variant characters were eliminated. In 1956, the Scheme of Simplified Chinese Characters, known later as the First Scheme, was promulgated by the PRC government. It was composed of 525 simplified characters and 54 simplified basic components of characters. The Second Scheme of Simplified Chinese Characters was promulgated in 1977 but was repealed in 1986 amid general disapproval.

Chinese Language: Mandarin vs. Cantonese

Mandarin is by far the largest of the seven or ten Chinese dialect groups, with 70 per cent of Chinese speakers and a huge area stretching from Yunnan in the southwest to Xinjiang in the northwest and Heilongjiang in the northeast. This is attributed to the greater ease of travel and communication in the North China Plain compared to the more mountainous south, combined with the relatively recent spread of Mandarin to frontier areas. Cantonese is spoken by the people of Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province, including Guangzhou (previously Canton in English). Most foreign Chinese communities, such as those in London and San Francisco, also speak Cantonese thanks to emigration from Guangdong.

Localization vs. Translation

Internationalization (i18n).
Localization (l10n).
Globalization (g11n).
Localizability (l12y).


Translation - This applies to fairly literal, "word for word." This is often out of necessity.  If you want to make sure that a person in China understands how to use a product (such as a medical device) manufactured in USA, it is important that the source and target-language text match up precisely. This effort often just impacts more literal content such as documentation, legal, manuals, etc. So, your functional areas here might be technical publications, compliance, HR, support, etc., and is typically billed per word.


Localization refers to the adaptation of a product, application or document content to meet the language, cultural and other requirements of a specific target market (a locale).”

This is a more involved process whereby the target-language content is adapted to more effectively convey a similar meaning or connotation in the target culture. Idiomatic expressions, puns and marketing material generally fall into this category, but localization can apply to any type of content based on what your business objectives are. The key point here is that your target-language version will often not be a literal translation.  As an example, if you want to convey the phrase "Like father, like son" in Chinese, it would read as something like "Tigers do not breed dogs." Although this doesn't match up with the source content, it has the same connotation in the target culture. 

Localization affects more the content that is driving customer action.  Web sites, marketing campaigns, branded content would all fall into this category and the majority of this would fall under advertising, marketing and business development. It can be billed per word or hourly or as a flat fee per project. Often thought of only as a synonym for translation of the user interface and documentation, localization is often a substantially more complex issue. Localization may even necessitate a comprehensive rethinking of logic, visual design, or presentation if the way of doing business (eg., accounting) or the accepted paradigm for learning (eg., focus on individual vs. group) in a given locale differs substantially from the originating culture.

Localization is sometimes written as l10n, where 10 is the number of letters between l and n. i18n allows applications to support and satisfy the needs of multiple locales, thus “enabling” l10n. It is because of i18n that we are able to localize all of the Mozilla project within its pantheon of applications and open the web up to the world!