Reaching Chinese Speakers: The Chinese Language and the Chinese Script - Trans World Radio Canada

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    • Apr20Wed

      Reaching Chinese Speakers: The Chinese Language and the Chinese Script

      April 20, 2022 By the TWR Canada Team
      Filed Under:
      Asia, China

      Today, April 20, is the United Nations Chinese Language Day. The United Nations celebrates six language days, one for each of their official languages, throughout the year. The goal of these days is to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity and TWR Canada is joining in celebrating Chinese Language Day today. We asked our Chinese Ministry team to share with us more about the Chinese language and how they reach Chinese-speakers with the hope of the gospel. We pray you are encouraged as you learn more about the Chinese language today!

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      Language is a very important tool in human life as well as in missions. In order to communicate, we need both spoken and written languages. China is a very big country with over 1.4 billion people and over 3,500 years of history. The official language used in China is Mandarin (Guanhua, meaning official language), also known as Putonghua (Putong means common, Hua means language). The official script is the simplified script, in contrast to the traditional script. The basic difference is that the simplified script has less strokes than the traditional script.

      The Spoken Chinese Language

      Besides the official language Putonghua, there are also many dialects. According to an article written by Scott Norris on November 12, 2020, called “How many dialects are there in Chinese?”, there are as many as 386 Chinese dialects.

      Others state differently. For example, in 1987, 46 field workers spent 8 years studying 930 sites. They created a Linguistic Atlas of Chinese, which includes 510 maps and a list of 141 dialects. Wikipedia  states that there are 266 dialects. The major dialects of the Chinese language are Cantonese (also known as Yue, spoken by more than 70 million), Min Nan (spoken by 48 million), Jinyu (spoken by 46 million), Hakka (spoken by 47 million), and Hunanese (spoken by 36 million). Different dialects have different pronunciations, which include different tones. For example, Mandarin has 4 tones, Cantonese has 6 and 9 tones, and Taiwanese has 7 tones.

      (Photo credit: Scott Norris, “How many dialects are there in Chinese?”)

      The Written Chinese Script

      Proposed in 1909, the Simplified script became the official script of the People’s Republic of China at it’s formation in 1949. The government wanted to make a system of reading that was easier to learn and use, and so the “simplified script” was adopted.

      Chinese script characters are logograms. Instead of using an alphabet like English, logograms consist of characters or “pictures” that represent a word. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Japanese and Korean also use logograms. Chinese characters are split into six different categories: pictograms, phono-semantic characters, simple ideograms, compound ideograms, transfer characters, and loan characters. The easiest one to understand is the pictograms, as seen in the following image that includes  fire, wood, sun, moon, man, mouth, door and hill:

      (Photo Credit: studycli.org)

      Besides the characters, Chinese can also be written in different fonts, just like in other languages. Below is “One Hundred Blessings,” where the word “blessing” is written in one hundred different fonts:

      (Photo Credit: siaoyin.com)

      Each Chinese character is unique, not only in their pronunciation, but also in how the strokes are written. Each word has a proper order of strokes. Below are two words: stand and eat. The first one has five strokes and the second one has six. Not only can there not be one more or one less stroke, but they also must be written in the correct order.

      (Photo credit: www.digmandarin.com)

      (Photo credit: digmandarin.com)

      The Chinese Language and the Chinese Script in Reaching Chinese-Speakers

      There are only two main scripts, but hundreds of dialects. Language is a very important tool for communicating in general, but also in missions. In order to reach out to the Chinese, we need to use the most common language and script in order to reach the majority. At the same time, we want to reach minority groups as well. 

      There are Chinese speakers all over the world. The official script in China is the simplified script, which is also used in Singapore. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, the common script is the traditional script. Since there are only two scripts, and software that can convert from one script to another, it is easy to use written Chinese to reach the Chinese people with the gospel. 

      But for spoken Chinese, translation is needed. TWR Canada’s Chinese ministry uses the most common spoken language, which is Mandarin. One way to reach out to the minorities who speak different dialects is to bring those from the minorities who understand Mandarin to Christ, build them up and then send them back to their own people. They have the written Chinese resources and they know the local dialect. They are the most effective missionaries for their people group. TWR’s Son-Lift program is a media series specifically produced for these minority groups.

      China is a very big country with a lot of people, and we must use the most effective way to reach out to them. Simplified script and Mandarin are what we are using now to build up the church and to train up the believers, so that they can go and reach out to those in their ‘life circles’ or to their people group, using their own dialects. We are doing our best to train them well and then send them out, because every Chinese person needs Christ, and every Chinese Christian is a missionary for Christ.

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      To learn more about how our Chinese ministry is sharing the gospel with Chinese speakers around the world, please visit our website, or to access Chinese-language Christian resources, visit TWR360.org.