Simplified Characters in Taiwan

We’ve written at length about different stages of character simplification on the mainland. What we haven’t talked about is simplification on Taiwan. It’s definitely around, and chances are in just one day in Taipei you’re bound to see it. Possibly the most common simplification is Taiwan itself, able to be written 臺灣 but in reality it usually appears as 台灣. Not too long ago, Taiwan Beer began using a logo with full simplification, 台湾啤酒. Not everyone was thrilled. The company’s explanation was that it’s not simplified, it’s just a logo. Indeed other companies use the 湾 form in their logos, Taiwan Mobile 台湾大哥大 being one of them. Note that on the site itself, when text is used, the name of the company is 台灣大哥大.

Of course, others have touched on this topic before. What’s interesting to me is that it isn’t really that the Taiwanese are embracing Mainland writing, but are instead doing what people have done for ages with the writing system and creating local simplifications. Or if not simplifications, then variations. For example at a produce shop a seller has written 花蒲仔 on a sign for the fruit, but 蒲 is written 氵莆.

I’d worried about this a lot when I’d first visited Taiwan. I thought I’d get called out for writing 号 in an address or 双 for 雙. It’s not that I’m lazy in this regard. I just feel like I should be getting things written out a little more quickly when people are watching. Since I can’t open my mouth without giving away the Mainland origins of my Chinese, maybe it’s not worth hiding in writing either. Now I know I don’t really need to worry about it.

Were this a contest, the winning character would have to be among the few that mix simplified and traditional aspects to result in something completely legible yet outside the realm of any current official set. So far my favourites in this category are 开/開 and 关/關, written as 门 around 开 and 门 around [the inside of 關. WordPress keeps eating that part of the post. This is my third time fixing it]. I half expected to find the sinjitai form of 門, but alas. Japanese forms seem mostly limited to の.

雙 as 双 seems particularly prevalent as well. Shoe stores have hand-written signs advertising that each pair (每双) in the store is under a certain price. It even shows up in printed characters such as the 双喜 brand of drywall joint compound seen in the picture above. You’ll notice the rest of the label is in traditional characters, or 正體字, correct characters, as they’re sometimes called. However 雙喜 doesn’t always get this treatment, as a number of businesses have the traditional form in their names.

Maybe that’s what I really like about it; while 仃 and 歺 are only rare occurrences in China and even then only limited to a specific age group, the Taiwanese simplifications seem a lot more free. I don’t really feel like I’m going to get shit for writing 蓝 because 臣 sucks to write and 刂 is a cake walk. Everyone will still understand I mean 藍. I’ve stopped trying to remember to write 號 instead of 号. Is 虎 really contributing anything to that character anyway? I’m joking here, a little bit.

11 responses to “Simplified Characters in Taiwan”

  1. Aaron says:

    The shinjitai form of 門? 門 is the shinjitai form; perhaps you’re thinking of this:

    That is an unofficial “abbreviated” style (略字 ryakuji) that doesn’t exist in any standard. The wiki article has a nice list of examples; I’ve only seen 1, 2, 12 and 13 in the “wild”.

    Also, small typo(?): I think you meant to use 藍 for that last instance of 蓝.

  2. Zrv says:

    It’s helpful to remember that when the PRC government was developing its character simplification proposals in the 1950s and 1960s (many of them based on earlier proposals dating to the beginning of the century), one of the major sources of simplified forms of characters were handwritten abbreviated forms that were already in common use. The PRC simplification didn’t create these characters, it merely shifted their status from informal to official. Today we may look at a form like 双 in Taiwan and think of it as arising later than, or even being inspired by, the mainland simplified character. But this may be historically inaccurate. For many characters it is simply the case that the “simplified” forms have been in common use for centuries, so we should hardly be surprised to see them still in use in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan. [A very rough analogy in American English is the use of spellings like “lite” or “nite”, which are extremely common in informal handwriting, but lack official status. Even so, you may well see them in commercials, brand names, cartoons, and so on.]

    Other PRC simplified characters are officialized versions of archaic character forms, calligraphic/handwritten forms, or obscure forms from old texts and dictionaries. The intellectuals behind the simplification movement were very deliberate in trying to make use of familiar and/or historically attested character forms, to make the official simplifications seem more culturally familiar and to head off criticisms about turning their backs on thousands of years of Chinese tradition. (One reason the “second round” simplification proposals of 1977 failed is said to be that they lacked the same historical underpinnings of the first round forms.)

    Kellen is of course correct that “it isn’t really that the Taiwanese are embracing Mainland writing, but are instead doing what people have done for ages with the writing system and creating local simplifications.” But this is a bit misleading in that it implies that these simplifications are all new. Many are not; what may be new is rather their social-use context, leading them to appear in more “official” or “formal” settings such as in product branding.

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