kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake

One issue that I've only really mentioned in passing, and not yet covered in its own post, is the vexed question of traditional vs. simplified Chinese characters.

Character simplification was a project undertaken from the mid-20th century by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC), with the aim of promoting literacy. While the simplified characters resulting from this project are now the official forms used in the PRC and in Singapore, the traditional forms are still used elsewhere, for example in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Overseas Chinese communities, such as those in the UK, may use either or both.

In all my posts here, I've stuck to using traditional characters. This is partly because I prefer the way they look; partly because I don't want people to be scared off by seeing an overwhelming number of characters in the posts; and partly because even without including two forms of a character, I sometimes already find it hard to include the character, its pinyin, and its meaning(s) in a sentence without it looking awkward.

However, at least going by my experience in London, if you want to learn to read a Chinese menu then you're eventually going to have to learn both systems. While most of the menus I've seen in London's Chinatown use traditional characters, restaurants elsewhere in the city often use simplified characters. Some even use a mixture!

Simplified characters can look very different from their traditional forms. Some examples:

lóngdragon (used on menus as e.g. 龍蝦/龙虾/lóng xiā/lobster)
tóuhead (used on menus as e.g. 魚頭/鱼头/yú tóu/fish head)
lánorchid (used on menus as e.g 芥蘭/芥兰/jiè lán/Chinese broccoli)

There are a number of patterns that can help you identify a simplified character that you're already familiar with in its traditional form. Wikipedia has an overview of methods used in the simplification project, which may be of some help. In many cases, characters are simplified component by component, so once you've learned the simplification for a given component, you can apply that knowledge elsewhere. For example, 魚 (yú/fish) is simplified to 鱼, and this is carried through to the characters that use 魚 as a radical: 鮮 (xiān/fresh) becomes 鲜, 魷 (yóu/squid) becomes 鱿, 鱔 (shàn/eel) becomes 鳝, and so on.

The distinction between character systems also comes into play when searching through information stored electronically. At the time of writing, Google and YouTube searches appear to be at least mostly traditional-simplified insensitive, whereas Flickr, Blogspot, and Wordpress searches will return different results depending on whether you search using traditional or simplified characters. (Dreamwidth search still doesn't work at all with Chinese characters, sadly.)

So it's probably always worth trying both systems if you're having trouble finding something. Finally, I'll mention again the commandline utility dets that I wrote to help me grep through the notes and menus I have stored on my laptop; full details at that link.

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.

Date: 2011-03-14 04:14 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ex_pinetree696
I prefer Simplified to Traditional. Traditional does look better, but I see the goal of promoting literacy as more important than anyting else. So, I'm sticking up for Simplified! If you want to see a big difference between the two look at 让 and its traditional form.

You seem so knowledgeable about Chinese that I sometimes find it hard to believe that you don't speak Mandarin.

Date: 2011-03-14 07:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eatlovenoodles.blogspot.com
Not sure about the use of 魷 (you) as cuttlefish - I understand cuttlefish to be 墨魚 (mo yu) i.e. inky fish.

Squid on the other hand is seen on menus as 魷魚 (you yu) or 鮮魷 (xian you) i.e. fresh squid.

To extend on your point on which restaurants use which characters; Chinatown restaurants tend to use traditional as most are Cantonese places run by Hong Kong, whilst the non-Cantonese restaurants run by recent mainland Chinese immigrants use simplified.


December 2012


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