What is the main difference in translation of Chinese, Japanese and Korean?

Posted on Apr 3, 2013 in Linguistics

In the language service industry, Chinese, Japanese and Korean are often grouped together and treated equally as an Asian language, however the translation of Chinese is in reality much more demanding than that of Japanese and Korean. The main difference is in the translation or transliteration of technical terminology.

Transliteration is the general process of converting characters from one script to another, where the result is roughly phonetic for languages in the target script. In other words, translation preserves meaning across different languages, and transliteration preserves pronunciation across different languages.
In Japanese and Korean, all technical terms are transliterated using Katakana and Hangul. For example, “computer” will be phonetically spelled out as ‘con’ ‘pu’ ‘ta’ using Katakana (not conceptually translated) and it takes only seconds.

In Chinese, each term is conceptually translated into a specific word, and that word in Chinese usually has no phonetic resemblance to the English word. To make things more complicated, for the same English term, different translations are used in different scientific and engineering disciplines. You need to know the Chinese equivalent in a particular field before you can translate an English term.

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