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Can anyone help me clarify the difference between 佈 and 布? If I'm not mistaken, this is only relevant for traditional characters since 佈 has been simplified to 布. A dictionary lookup for 佈 shows that it has the same meaning as 布:

(1) 遍及、散滿。通「布」。如:「佈滿」、「遍佈」、「散佈」。
(2) 宣布、宣告。通「布」。如:「公佈」、「頒佈」、「發佈」、「佈告欄」、「佈道大會」。
(3) 安排、設置。通「布」。如:「佈置」、「佈陣」、「佈防」、「佈地雷」。

When searching for pages in traditional Chinese on Google, it seems like "公佈" and "公布" are both commonly used, but in other cases, the difference is quite big; 布置 is much less common than 佈置.

So, what's the difference? Is it a matter of habit and common usage or is there a pattern I fail to see?

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I wouldn't trust numbers by google.. especially on trad/simp issues like this. There are too many places where it could go wrong. –  stevendaniels Mar 18 '12 at 13:52
    
I don't trust Google, but all the pages I looked at manually used traditional characters and used 公布, for instance. I think Google is very useful when it comes to telling me whether an expression exists or not. If I trusted Google, I wouldn't have posted here. :) –  Olle Linge Mar 19 '12 at 6:35
    
My own thought, is a verb while is a noun. –  Mike Manilone Nov 17 '12 at 15:49
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2 Answers

This doesn't exactly match the usage you observed, but《现代汉语词典》 differentiates between 布 and 佈 as follows:

布: 1. 用棉、麻等织成的,可以做衣服或其他物件的材料, 2. 古代的一种钱币, 3. 姓
佈: 1. 宣告;宣布, 2. 散布;分布, 3. 布置

This would lead me to believe that the traditional character 布 is only acceptable in cloth-related compounds and that 佈 is correct in both 公佈 and 佈置 (and all related verbs). This doesn't account for the prevalence of 公布; perhaps that's a simplification that's been in use so long that it's now commonly accepted.

(Of course, as you said, in situations where simplified characters are used, the distinction is irrelevant.)

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This isn't correct, see my own answer below. The answer is that 布 can be used for both meanings, whereas 佈 can't be used for cloth-related meanings. –  Olle Linge Nov 13 '12 at 5:30
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

After having checked this with a few dictionaries, some native speakers and after doing some basic corpus research, I've got an explanation which looks fairly solid. In essence, there are two meanings we need to care about:

  1. “cloth” and related meanings.
  2. "to spread, to announce".

布 can be used in both cases, so both 宣佈 and 宣布 are acceptable. 佈, however, can only be used in meaning 2), so 公佈, 宣佈 are all okay, but *佈料 is not.

Sort of frustrating how clear it looks once a hypothesis has been found and has proved to be at least mostly correct. Ah, the joys of language learning.

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This is just another big bug in simplifying characters. Like and , and etc. The simplification should not combine two chars of two meanings into one. So pity it is. –  halfelf Nov 20 '12 at 5:19
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