simplified vs. traditional characters

Most of the recent remarks on the Web about China’s recent discussion on the use of traditional Chinese characters have been, predictably, waaaay off-target. I’ve been trying to ignore them for the most part and not jump up and down while shouting irate things about this. But, still, the topic deserves some remarks.

Fortunately, Zhang Liqing, one of the associate editors of the much-beloved ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary, has generously contributed an essay that addresses some of the basics of the matter: “Jiǎntǐ” duì “Fántǐ” — “Yǔ” hé “Wén” Bù Yíyàng. It’s now available here on in both Mandarin (both Pinyin and Hanzi) and English versions.

Here’s the opening paragraph in Mandarin:

Jiǎntǐzì hé fántǐzì shì shǔyú wénzì fànchóu de wèntí. Dànshi xiànzài wǎng shàng guānyú zhè gè wèntí de yǒuxiē shuōfa chángcháng bǎ yǔyán hé wénzì hùn zài yīqǐ, yě yǒu rén bǎ wénhuà, chuántǒng děngděng dà màozi kòu zài zhè gè wèntí shàng, jiéguǒ líkāi tímù hěn yuǎn, yě déchū yīxiē bù zhèngquè de jiélùn.

And the same paragraph in English:

The question of simplified and complicated characters belongs to the scope of script. However, some recent discussions on the Internet often confuse script with language, and there are also people who cover up the question with heavy topics such as culture and tradition. The result is that the discussion becomes far removed from the question itself, and, at the same time, arrives at erroneous conclusions.

The complete essay is available in four versions:

11 thoughts on “simplified vs. traditional characters

  1. Pingback: Timely Snow » Blog Archive » Writing has two mommies

  2. “some recent discussions on the Internet often confuse script with language”

    “recent”? “on the Internet”? This confusion is not new, or I have completely misunderstood what DeFrancis’ CL:FF is about …

  3. The article asks in my opinion the wrong questions. It isn’t wrong, but the problem is that it misses the point.

    The question should be, do/did simplified characters really lead to a higher literacy rate compared to traditional characters and do they provide significant benefits for the people?

    Historically, the assumption that simplifying the characters or even exclusively using Pinyin would be the best, possibly only, way to allow widespread literacy is understandable, but ultimately proved to be wrong.

  4. Ji?nt?zì hé fánt?zì

    Ji?nt?zì hàn fánt?zì is what every traditional character user I know would say when reading ???????.

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  6. First of all, “Here’s the opening paragraph in Mandarin:”, don’t cheapen any Sinitic language by writing it in pinyin. Any learner or speaker of Mandarin should be writing it in characters; the only exception I believe should be allowed is completely beginners. That being said, while the change of a script does not immediately change the language itself, it does in the long run. The Chinese culture has been changed and even based on its written language. While not all changes to the characters produces this, many do. A very simple example that comes to mind is the character ? which is now also the character ?(ugly) in simplified characters. This is bad news for those born in the year of the Ox, we are now all ugly. ; ;

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