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  Wikipedia: Simplified Chinese character

Wikipedia: Simplified Chinese character
Simplified Chinese character
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Simplified Chinese characters (简体字 or less frequently 简化字), as opposed to Traditional Chinese characters, make up one of the two standard character sets used in contemporary Chinese written language.

Distribution and Use

Mainland China (where simplified characters originated) and Singapore generally use this character set. It appears very sparingly in printed text produced in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and by overseas Chinese communities outside of Southeast Asia. Persons learning Chinese as a foreign language, (for example in the United States) will generally begin instruction with the Simplified Set (as it goes with the Hanyu Pinyin system) and become exposed to the Traditional Set later. For Chinese language schools designed for overseas Chinese, those associated with overseas Taiwanese or Hong Kongers will usually teach traditional, while those associated with overseas Mainland Chinese will usually teach simplified.

In all areas, most handwritten text will include informal character simplifications, and some characters (such as the "Tai" in Taiwan) have informal simplified forms that appear more commonly than the official forms, even in print.

Origins and History

Although associated with the People's Republic of China (PRC), character simplification predates 1949. Simplified forms used in print and handwriting have always existed (they date back to as early as the Qin dynasty (221 - 206 BC), though early attempts at simplification actually resulted in more characters being added to the lexicon), and in the 1930s and 1940s discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government.

Advocates of simplification believed that the majority would learn to read, write and study more readily with Simplified Chinese. The People's Republic of China issued official character simplifications in two phases, one in 1956 and the second in 1964. Within the PRC, character simplication became associated with the leftists of the Cultural Revolution. Partly because of this association, a third round of character simplications, drafted in 1977, never reached the public: the authorities formally rescinded it in 1986. This simplification initiative had aimed at eradicating the ideographic system and establishing Hanyu Pinyin as the official written system of the PRC, but the reform never gained quite as much popularity as the leftists hoped.

As of 2003, the PRC does not appear either to intend to simplify characters further or to reverse the simplications already approved. The People's Republic of China tends to print material intended for Taiwanese and overseas Chinese in traditional characters. Also, as part of the one country, two systems model, the PRC has not attempted to convert Hong Kong or Macau into using simplified characters after their reversion.

Simplified Chinese characters develop through one of the three methods:

  1. Reducing the number of brush strokes of a character by either logical revision or the importing of ancient variant or obscure forms. (e.g. 葉 maps to 叶; 萬 maps to 万). In some instances, simplified characters actually became one or two strokes more complex than its traditional counterpart due to logical revision.
  2. Combining some complicated characters into one simpler character (known in technical terms as "Character Conflation"). (e.g. 隻(a measure word for animals) and 衹(variant form of "only") conflate to 只. Note that the Traditional character 只 merely replaces two lesser used characters in Simplified.
  3. Giving a new meaning to a traditional character with small number of strokes. (e.g 丰(beauty) becomes used as 豐(richly) and 余(I) becomes used as 餘(remain)).

Historically, characters which represented an object often appeared instead as a character for an abstract idea, while the original meaning was re-formed by making the idea even more concrete. An example of this is 然 which originally had the meaning "to burn", but its meaning changed to the prepositional "thus" while "to burn" gained the additional semantic unit of 火 -- 燃.

Pros and Cons

The effect of Simplified Characters on the language remains controversial decades after their introduction:

Proponents such as John Defrancis praise the simplification because it allowed lesser-educated people to read. Literacy rates since simplification have risen steadily in the rural and urban areas. Opponents argue that the literacy rates of Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan compare favorably, so simplification may not correlate with the improvement.

Opponents complain that by merging many characters into one, the effect "complicates" rather than simplifying the character system. Proponents point out that most handwritten Chinese uses individualized simplifications and to read handwritten Chinese one must deal with informal simplifications anyhow.

Opponents say that by offering a new meaning to a traditional character, Simplified Characters jeopardise the study of ancient literature by creating a discontinuity between modern text and the literal text. Proponents argue that the amount of both spoken and written deviation between Classical Chinese and the modern vernacular has overridden compatibility with ancient texts.

Opponents complain about difficulties in translating an entire document written using simplified characters to traditional characters, because one simplified character may equate to many traditional characters. Proponents deny the difficulty of this task, believing it merely involves some guesswork.

Since the simplification by pronunciation depends on Mandarin pronunciation, Simplified Chinese characters become incompatible with some other Chinese dialects, Japanese or Korean. The Chinese characters used in modern Japanese have also undergone simplification, but generally to a lesser extent than with Simplified Chinese. Reconciling these different character sets in Unicode became part of the controversial process of Han unification.

Computer Encoding

In computer text applications, the GB encoding scheme most often renders Simplified Chinese, while Big5 most often renders traditional characters. Although neither encoding has an explicit connection with a specific character set, the lack of a one-to-one mapping between simplified and traditional sets sets up a de facto linkage.

See also:



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona