Character Sets and Customers

For my very first Sinoglot post, I thought I’d ask a couple of questions.

Who is this advert for?

Who is this advertisement aimed at? How do you know?

At first glance there’s nothing too unusual about it (it’s certainly nice to have such a price guarantee, as opposed to Pudong International’s 20 RMB cans of Coke), but then I noticed the big 区, a very recognizable result of the simplification process. Clearly HKG is hoping to catch a few more mainland tourists’ 人民幣 as they head home, but I thought it was interesting the way that the use of a certain character set could so clearly indicate who the advertisement was aimed at. Has anyone seen other examples of this (in Chinese or other languages)?

It also makes me think a bit about the status that Simplified denotes in Hong Kong (and elsewhere in the Traditional world). In China, Traditional is often used when a sense of … erhm … tradition or class is desired. What does Simplified say to the rest of the Chinese world? And how is that changing?

10 responses to “Character Sets and Customers”

  1. Carl says:

    I suppose the English language equivalent would be something like spelling a word like color/colour the opposite way from the local standard in order to signal to tourists, but I can’t say as I’ve ever seen something like that.

  2. Traditional is often used when a sense of … erhm … tradition or class is desired.

    Um, kind of like an American using “ehrm”?

  3. Dave says:

    Sometimes it’s not necessarily who the text is aimed at, but who wrote it. For instance, in Taiwan American spellings are most commonly used, though HSBC Banks prominently display ‘Premier Centre’ on signs, as HSBC is a British company and so naturally uses the British spelling of ‘centre’. Likewise if the person translating the Chinese had learnt English in the UK/Aus and not the US, that would also determine their word usage/spelling.

    To come back to your point about Chinese, I have in fact seen signs in Taiwan at tourist spots that are purposely written in Simplified Chinese. No doubt trying to take advantage of the influx of tourists from the mainland – so people are well aware of the subtleties of language use. I also think that if Chinese tourists saw the Simplified signs they might be more likely to think the establishment was ‘mainlander friendly’ and so be more likely to eat/spend money there.

  4. Brendan says:

    I remember noticing that all of the “high roller” signs at the Venetian casino in Macau were in Simplified characters, while signage everywhere was mixed but mostly traditional (IIRC; this was years ago). At the time, my read on it was that the casino was actively trying to get bent officials and other rat-bastards gambling with other people’s money to congregate in designated areas where they could be rooked, photographed, or arrested, depending on what the situation might call for.

  5. Lina says:

    Obviously it’s targetted toward mainland tourists. It’s easiest to tell when there’re simplified characters and luxury items being represented.

    There’s a chain of chocolate stores around To Kwa Wan (and probably other areas) called “Chocolate” or something along those lines, but rather than being called “朱古力” (the HK/MO/Cantoese way), it’s called “巧克力”. It’s obviously targetting mainland tourists (they’re near the places where tour buses bring them for meals, to restaurants with no menus outside or actual Hong Kongers eating in them, or near “duty free” jewellery and perfume shops). We wandered in once out of curiosity and confirmed such: Ordinary “European” chocolates that aren’t actually decent at all; prices just high enough to connote “luxury”, but not so high that few would purchase; staff with perfectly standard Mandarin and a tolerance for the habits of mainland clientele. In other words, no place that an actual Hong Konger would shop for chocolates, certainly not in To Kwa Wan. And that’s the connotation of simplified characters here in HK: Unless it’s for books banned in the mainland, why would one shop there? It’s not for us.

  6. Tim says:

    The only non-Chinese example i can think of is in Serbia, where to use latin has a bit of an international, cosmopolitan, anti-establishment feel vs traditional nationalist Cyrillic.

  7. I thought of another possible Chinese-related example — when the pinyin (without tones, natch) is spelled out below the characters. I’ve never quite understood why that was done, and have long assumed that it was to add the cachet of English without actually, ya’ know, knowing any English.

  8. Peter Nelson says:

    I came across an example just a couple days ago: I’m in Kunshan, a city with a large number of Taiwanese. Many businesses have traditional rather than simplified characters, presumably based on where the owner is from. The interesting example I ran into was a restaurant whose menu was in traditional, but the owners were very likely mainlanders trying to appeal to the Taiwanese. How do I know?

    面類 鹵類


    • James says:

      Not to mention that they’re the demon spawn of Simplified and Traditional. Although it perhaps reaches a balance that allows both parties to easily understand?

      In Taiwan, 面類 and 鹵類 would written as 麵類 and 滷類, respectively, as opposed to the simplified 面类 and 卤类.

      The halfway characters seem like they might be easily understood by native-users of each character set, so if traditional characters were ever to be reinstated in China, I guess such a gradual approach might be optimal!

  9. Kellen says:

    Sorry John. Looks like you’re Randy’s new target to eliminate Britishism. I’m free of his watchful gaze at last!

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