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Imagine that I know nothing about the language. I open a book and look at some Chinese text.

What’s the easiest (and deterministic) way to tell if I'm looking at simplified or traditional Chinese?

Are there any common radicals that appear in one and not the other?

  • 6
    common radicals,as left half 訁->讠,飠->饣,車->车,金->钅,right/bottom half 見->见, top 艸 ->艹 – user6065 Mar 5 '18 at 18:53
  • No way, as long as you don’t know the style applied (kaishu, xingshu, caoshu...). But assuming regular script, kaishu, an amazingly common and easy to remember character is 个。 If you see this, it is simplified. You might of course have a rare or short passage not containing that. An obvious advantage is that you can search for the character, if using digital accessories. – Ludi Mar 12 '18 at 21:48
  • I am speaking according to my experience. I think most people from mainland China can tell simplified and traditional Chinese apart easily (I don't about Taiwan), simply because we learn simplified Chinese since we were kids and we know most of the words written in simplicied Chinese. The moment we see a word, we know if it is a word written in a way we are familiar with. It yes, then it's simplified Chinese; if not, then it's probably traditional Chinese. I don't know if it's helpful to you, but that's our way. – Steve Yang Mar 13 '18 at 20:56
  • If you know nothing about the language, the easiest way probably is to use an app or web service that take advantage of OCR(Optical Character Recognition) or writing input. Then you can search it on Wiktionary – zypA13510 Mar 14 '18 at 15:34
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Some regular simplification rules:

釒(金)→钅: 針→针, 鈴→铃
飠(食)→饣: 飲→饮, 飯→饭
糹(糸)→纟: 紅→红, 絲→丝
訁(言)→讠: 計→计, 語→语

貝→贝: 貨→货, 貴→贵
見→见: 視→视, 現→现
頁→页: 項→项, 題→题
東→东: 陳→陈, 棟→栋
車→车: 軟→软, 輩→辈
門→门: 問→问, 閑→闲
烏→乌: 鎢→钨, 塢→坞
魚→鱼: 漁→渔, 魯→鲁
鳥→鸟: 鴨→鸭, 鷹→鹰
馬→马: 媽→妈, 騰→腾

There are also some simplified examples of complex components:

爿→丬: 壯→壮, 將→将
豐→丰: 灃→沣, 艷→艳
風→风: 瘋→疯, 諷→讽
長→长: 張→张, 帳→帐
堯→尧: 燒→烧, 饒→饶
䜌→亦: 戀→恋, 彎→弯
睪→𠬤: 澤→泽, 驛→驿
炏→艹: 營→营, 榮→荣
蘭→兰: 欄→栏, 爛→烂
羅→罗: 蘿→萝, 邏→逻
買→买: 買→买, 賣→卖
產→产: 鏟→铲, 滻→浐
齊→齐: 擠→挤, 濟→济
幾→几: 機→机, 譏→讥
柬→拣(the right part): 煉→炼, 練→练
盧→户: 廬(广+~)→庐(广+户), 驢(馬+~)→驴(马+户)
盧→卢: 鱸(魚+~)→鲈(鱼+卢), 顱(~+頁)→颅(卢+页)
戔→戋: 錢→钱, 棧→栈
咼→呙: 鍋→锅, 窩→窝
樂→乐: 爍→烁, 櫟→栎
豈→岂: 鎧→铠, 凱→凯
肅→肃: 蕭→萧, 嘯→啸

There are also many irrational simplifications, such as cursive writing, or homophonic substitution, and some characters are combined by these simplified components. If you see Chinese characters with a lot of these parts, you can be sure that this is traditional Chinese.

  • imho, these characters appear quite frequent normally. we can simply search for these 2 rules first: 釒→钅 (針→针, 鈴→铃) and 訁→讠 (計→计, 語→语) – wilson Mar 14 '18 at 7:25
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Many words are shared among Simplified and Traditional Chinese. Some easiest way to tell them apart:

1) Where it is published - e.g. China vs Hong Kong vs Taiwan
2) Strokes - Most simplified Chinese has less strokes. So if the words looks like a complex symbol to you (in case you know nothing about the language), chances are it is traditional Chinese.

Here's a paragraph i borrowed in SE, where one is Traditional and the other is Simplified. See if you can tell the differences:

1)總有一條蜿蜒在童話鎮裡七彩的河
沾染魔法的乖張氣息
卻又在愛里曲折
川流不息揚起水花
又捲入一簾時光入水
讓所有很久很久以前
都走到幸福結局的時刻

2)总有一条蜿蜒在童话镇里七彩的河
沾染魔法的乖张气息
却又在爱里曲折
川流不息扬起水花
又卷入一帘时光入水
让所有很久很久以前
都走到幸福结局的时刻
  • Could you expand on point 2? There are plenty of characters in simplified Chinese that look very complex to me (e.g. 跳舞 = 28 strokes total) – Marsellus Wallace Mar 10 '18 at 17:02
  • @Gevorg with your example there are no difference between Traditional or Simplified Chinese (in terms of written form). So if you're reading this in a book, there's no way to tell. I've edited the answer to give you an idea – Alex Mar 12 '18 at 21:27
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No way.

But if it was published in mainland China, it would be 99% simplified.

If the pages was flipped from left to right, it might be traditional, except comic books.

If you can know the text are reading from top to bottom, it is probably traditional, (vertical text usually don't have common punctuations).

If you found the text is more black, it may be traditional. :)

  • Haha, that's true – Steve Yang Mar 13 '18 at 20:57

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