Traditional v Simplified Characters (繁體或简体)

This morning not long after I switched on my computer two people were wanting to chat to me on MSN messenger, one from China and one from Taiwan. I had to keep on changing from writing in simplified to traditional characters but occasionally forgot, much to their confusion. At the same time I was also writing email in English – multitaskingtastic! (now that’s a bit of a tonguetwister) I use pinyin input for both types of characters, so it’s easy for me switch between them.

This got me thinking about whether those familiar with simplified characters and read traditional characters, and vice versa. My impression is that it’s easier for traditional character users to read simplified characters than the other way round, but I may be wrong.

Which do you prefer, traditional of simplified characters? I can read and write both kinds and prefer the traditional ones. The traditional characters just look more elegant to me and preserve the semantic and phonetic clues that have been lost in many of the simplified characters.

如果你是用简体字的,你会不会看得懂繁体字?你觉得哪一种字比较好看?

如果你使用繁體子的,你會不會看得懂簡體字?你覺得哪一種字比較好看?

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This entry was posted in Chinese, Language, Writing.

11 Responses to Traditional v Simplified Characters (繁體或简体)

  1. Weili says:

    I know both traditional and simplified Chinese and can easily switch between the two. I knew traditional Chinese first and picked up simplified Chinese in matter of weeks, if not days.

    From my experience, majority of Chinese can more or less understand both when reading even if they don’t really know the other as most characters are the same, as you can notice from the two lines of text above. Some people might be caught surprised seeing one when expecting the other, but I don’t see any problem understanding (most of the time) without really knowing it.

    As far as preference goes, bottomline is, SOME traditional characters are indeed too complicated and need to be simplified while SOME simplified characters are too simplified and have either lost their meaning and/or attractiveness. Ideal situation is compromise and combine the both. However, because the distinction between traditional & simplified Chinese was created out of political reasons, I doubt we’ll see a compromised system any time soon…

  2. Weili says:

    BTW, countary to many’s beliefs, simplified characters have been around for quite a while. They have always been used for writing quick notes or anything “unofficial”. It’s also been used to write the “cursive” calligraphy style of 草書 / 草书. Even today, many people in regions where traditional Chinese is used, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, still occasionally write a few simplified characters here and there on personal letters or notes.

  3. gee says:

    I agree with your impression that mainland Chinese seem to have more problems with traditional chracters rather than the other way round. I have relatives both in the PRC and Hong Kong and made the same experience.

    On one occasion my aunt was surprised to hear that for a particular simplified character there were two traditional ones which have similiar meanings (while in simplified Chinese no such distinction is made).

    Apart from semantic and phonetic clues characters may also have “etymologic” information that is lost in simplified Chinese. Let’s take 龍 for example, the character is ultimately derived from a pictogram decipting a dragon. While the traditional character hints at this fact the simplified character 龙 cannot really be compared with the likeness of a dragon.

    As for my personal preference, actually I do not read Chinese but I am struggling to learn to. Traditional characters are certainly more elegant, afaik even simplified users agree to that if it it comes to caligraphy.

  4. Zachary R. says:

    Well, from my experience with Japanese, I tend to prefer by far simplified characters. I agree, the traditional ones are nicer looking, but some of them have way too many strokes for writing that cause me to make a lot of mistakes. But when using a computer to type things out, it doesn’t bother me using the different characters there.

  5. Weili says:

    Zachary R. has a good point, I can’t even remember the last time I wrote Chinese (or English for that matter) instead of typing.

  6. Adam says:

    Where does Japanese fit into the Simplified vs. Traditional issue? Which do they use, and do they simplify in a different way?

  7. Simon says:

    Japanese kanji are mainly traditional characters, but some have been simplified in a different way. For example, dragon is 竜 (ryū/tatsu) in Japanese, 龍 (lóng) in traditional Chinese and 龙 in simplified Chinese

  8. 王翀 says:

    其实,繁简之间的差别并不如大家想像的那么大,大多数汉语使用者能同时看懂这两种文字,中国有一句俗话:”中国人尖,认字认半边.”也许能说明this difference is nothing serious

  9. Kyle Delta says:

    I was born on the mainland of China and I have been used Simplified Characters since I was born. Now I am studying in the Traditional Characters and of course I can understand Traditional Characters. I think this is not a serious problem since most of Chinese can understand both of the two characters. But from my opinion, Simplified Characters are really more convenient than Traditional Characters.

  10. Dan says:

    Can someone please tell me how to write in traditional characters using pinyin?? that would be so greatly appreciated :)

  11. epingchris says:

    From my experience in Taiwan (which of course uses all traditional Chinese), people who made a little effort into getting used to the simplified system can understand it with little difficulties. I don’t know about vice versa but according to previous replies it seems to be the case as well……as for personal preference I think traditional is more beautiful, and not less convenient either.

    >>As far as preference goes, bottomline is, SOME traditional characters are indeed too complicated and need to be simplified while SOME simplified characters are too simplified and have either lost their meaning and/or attractiveness. Ideal situation is compromise and combine the both. However, because the distinction between traditional & simplified Chinese was created out of political reasons, I doubt we’ll see a compromised system any time soon…

    I can’t agree more with you.

    >>BTW, countary to many’s beliefs, simplified characters have been around for quite a while. They have always been used for writing quick notes or anything “unofficial”. It’s also been used to write the “cursive” calligraphy style of 草書 / 草书. Even today, many people in regions where traditional Chinese is used, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong, still occasionally write a few simplified characters here and there on personal letters or notes.

    However, those are not usually the same as the simplified characters in China: Take salt (yan2) for example: it’s written in traditional “鹽”, unofficial writing “塩”, and simplified “盐”. Japanese’s simplified characters are examples of them: take wide (guang3) for example: 廣 in traditional, 広 in Japanese, 广 in simplified. From my impression most simplified characters in China are invented recently rather than previously used in unofficial writing.

    >>On one occasion my aunt was surprised to hear that for a particular simplified character there were two traditional ones which have similiar meanings (while in simplified Chinese no such distinction is made).

    Often the meanings aren’t even similar: 發(fa1, to give out) and 髮(fa3, hair) mean completely different things, so do 乾 (gan1, dry) and 幹 (gan4, stem). Besides, even their pronunciations are not the same, so “hair” is “tou2 fa1″ in China but “tou2 fa3″ in Taiwan?? At least that’s my impression……