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English & Chinese: What Sets Them Apart?
PART 1 – Reading, Writing, and…Sentence Structure?

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PART 1 – Reading, Writing, and…Sentence Structure?
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With China’s rise as a global economic power, Chinese is fast gaining importance worldwide. The number of speakers of the Chinese language is growing daily to rival that of the English language. As businesses increasingly target the Chinese market, being able to produce quality texts in both English and Chinese is becoming more important ever.

In this series of articles, we will give you a glimpse of the characteristics of both the English and the Chinese language, and see how they measure up against each other. At the same time, we will also take a look at what professional translators have to take note of when rendering effective translations between the two languages.

Reading, Writing, and…Sentence Structure?

The first step to effective translations between English and Chinese is to understand the characteristics of both languages as well as know how different they are from each other. In part 1 of this series, we will take a look at the main differences between these two languages, specifically in terms of the way they are spoken and written, and how sentences in English and Chinese are formed in general.

Speaking and Writing

The most obvious difference between the two languages would be in the way that they are written and spoken.

English words are written in Roman script by combining the different alphabets and these words can be pronounced with a basic understanding of how each alphabet sounds.

In contrast, Chinese script is made up of characters, which evolved from visual representations of elements and ideas. More often than not, each character conveys a certain meaning even though it may not be able to convey how the character is pronounced.

While some characters have been constructed by combining a radical with a phonetic component (形声字, xíng shēng zì), knowing the pronunciation of the phonetic component does not guarantee that you will be able to pronounce the actual word. Take the character 河 (hé; River) for example, while the phonetic component (可; kě) shares a vowel sound, the actual consonant sound and tone are both changed.

Using the above example:

River

If you have never seen the English word before, you might still have been able to hazard a best guess as to how to pronounce it, although its meaning might not be immediately obvious. With the Chinese character河 (hé; River), although there is no clear indication of how the word is pronounced, the radical (氵) conveys the meaning that the word is related to water.

Sentence Structure

English has strict grammatical rules when it comes to sentence structure. Generally, an English sentence requires a subject, verb, and object (SVO) to form a complete sentence. The absence of any of the above will result in an incomplete sentence.

Take for example, the following sentence:

Do you like it? 喜欢吗?

In English, the subject “you” must be included, as must the object “it”. Removing either of the words will render the sentence meaningless and incomplete.

In comparison, Chinese sentences are less strict on sentence structure but have a greater focus on word order within the sentence. In the Chinese example, neither “you” nor “it” are found in the sentence, but the meaning would still be understood by Chinese readers.

Similarly, in the English language, when joining clauses, conjunctions or other grammatical devices must be used, whereas this rule does not strictly apply in Chinese.

I did not go to school because I was sick. 我病了,今天没去上学。(lit. I was sick, Today did not go to school)

In the English sentence, the conjunction “because” is required to show the relationship between the two clauses (I did not go to school + I was sick). Conversely, in the Chinese sentence, there is no need to use a conjunction to link the two clauses. Instead, the meaning is derived simply from the logical connection between them. From the examples above, it is clear that the structure of a sentence might have to be changed in the process of translation.

Stay tuned to our next article to learn what are the considerations for a translator to strike the perfect balance between conveying the meaning of the source language accurately and rendering a translation that sounds natural in the target language.

Find out more about how Lingua Technologies International can better support your translation requirements not just in English and Chinese, but also in a wide range of languages ranging from Asian, European to Middle Eastern and Nordic languages. Visit https://www.translationsingapore.com/ or send your enquiries to inquiry@translationsingapore.com.

 

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