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You want this translated into what?
The way some translation requests are worded really makes people wonder. “I want this translated into Mandarin”… “I want this translated into Cantonese”… I mean, you want this translated into what? You see, saying “I want this translated into Mandarin” is, generally speaking, quite meaningless. Standard written Chinese is a form of Mandarin, so telling someone to translate something into “Mandarin” really is no different from just saying you want it translated into Chinese. Unless you are talking about radio/TV ads, play scripts, or really informal or colloquial writing, it is understood that you want the standard written language, which is Mandarin. Yes, even in Cantonese-speaking areas people write in Mandarin. In fact we have to go to school to learn how to write — but not necessarily speak — in Mandarin, because that is the way things are written down. No matter how proud we Cantonese speakers are of our linguistic heritage, Cantonese is a second-class citizen; things are just not written in it, not normally anyway. So what do people really want? Do they mean “simplified Chinese” when they say “Mandarin”, and “traditional Chinese” when they say “Cantonese”? You see, this makes no sense either. Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that the standard written language is a form of Mandarin. Can we even reasonably say “simplified Chinese” when we mention “Mandarin”? No, because Mandarin is spoken in Taiwan too, and they use the traditional Chinese writing system there. It is unreasonable to equate Mandarin with simplified Chinese. How about the other side of the coin? Can we reasonably say “traditional Chinese” when we mention “Cantonese”? Again, no. You see, Cantonese is spoken in — where else? — Canton, known today as the province of Guangdong. It specifically refers to “the language of the provincial capital of Guangzhou”. Since Guangzhou is part of the Chinese mainland, of course people there write in simplified Chinese. Cantonese is not equal to traditional Chinese. So okay, you say, are we supposed to say “we want this translated into simplified Chinese” or “we want this translated into traditional Chinese”? Sure, it helps, but it still depends. Consider traditional Chinese. It is used in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, despite the written language essentially being the same, the spoken language has an influence nonetheless, and the vocabulary used in the two regions are not identical. Although you can get by with the same text most of the time, this will not be true if you are dealing with specialized vocabulary. What really matters? The spoken languages, the writing systems, or the regional differences? Of course the writing system matters, but of course it is the regional differences that matter the most. When people want something translated into French, they know they have to distinguish between continental and Canadian French. Why do people not understand that when something needs to be translated into Chinese, they also need to distinguish not between Cantonese and Mandarin, but between Chinese as used in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan?
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