English to Cantonese
Is the translation from English to Cantonese and vice versa important? If Mandarin is the official dialect and the most widely spoken in China, and if many consider Cantonese to be more difficult to translate, we might think that Cantonese would be in the background. However, it will not be that much.
China is currently the second largest economy in the world, home to about 18.5% of the world’s population. In this giant market, Cantonese is the second official language and is also, in some places, a prestigious language. This language is the first language for almost 74 million people. In addition to these factors, the language assumes a distinct importance in the field of business.
Where is Cantonese spoken?
The story of the development of Cantonese relates to the city of Guangzhou, a port city in the southeastern part of China that used to be called Canton. This city has long been an important vital center of culture. This fact gave prestige to the Cantonese language, which extended to the provinces of Guangxi and Guangdong.
In Hong Kong and Macau, Cantonese is dominant in the region. It is used in everyday speech, in the courts and in the government. It is also widely used in countries in Southeast Asia and the West. The language spoken in these regions outside of China is very similar to the version spoken in Guangzhou, except for slight differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation.
Specificities of Cantonese
Written Chinese dialects are commonly referred to as pictorial, but in reality and being more rigorous they are formed by logograms. A logogram, technically corresponds to an illustration, which in turn represents a word or morpheme. Although the Mandarin script is visually very similar to Cantonese, the first is written in “Simplified Chinese” and the second in “Traditional Chinese”. Therefore, each of these variations, has its own character set and a dash made outside the site, can significantly change the meaning of word or idea.
The differences are also such that, between Mandarin and Cantonese, the conversation is incomprehensible to both. This difference is because Chinese languages are tonal. The intonation is part of the semantic structure and the same word can take on different meanings, depending on the tone of its syllables.
Mandarin has four tones, while Cantonese has nine. Intonation, type of writing (simplified Chinese vs. traditional), but also lexical and grammatical differences, give some reason to those who argue that Cantonese is a more difficult language to learn and translate.
The importance of translation
As is factual, Cantonese is a very important language, with high expression in tourism, finance, business and justice. For business activity to and from the markets in that geographic area, it is a window of opportunity for great business.
If we think of Hong Kong, for example, it will undoubtedly be easier to establish business relationships if the language used is Cantonese. Although English is also an official language in Hong Kong, familiarity and cultural adaptation itself add value to an effective translation from English to Cantonese and vice versa.
For companies looking to expand to south-east China and south-east Asia, Cantonese will be the key to successfully entering these markets.
As always, the automatic translation of specific documentation will not be a reliable solution, especially when what is sought is an effective communication and adapted to the cultural reality. In this case, we are also talking about pictorial writing, whose automatic character translation is particularly prone to inaccuracies.