The other day, just before going through security at the international terminal at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, I noticed a second sign beside the sign of instructions on what you couldn't take onto the airplane. The second sign was (I assume) the same set of instructions in Chinese, and it was headed "Chinese – Traditional".
This, I assume, meant that the Chinese characters on the sign were the traditional characters now used mainly in Taiwan, as opposed to the simplified characters used in mainland China. (If I hadn't already turned my cell phone off, I could've taken a picture to show to a knowledgeable colleague or incorporate into this post, but as it was…) The choice of traditional characters seemed a bit puzzling. The fact that there was a Chinese-language sign suggests that lots of Chinese-speaking visitors pass through that airport; but are they all from Taiwan or one of the few other places where people still learn the old characters? That seems surprising, but then, I have zero knowledge of the tourism patterns in southern Australia. I have assumed (in my equally vast ignorance of Chinese) that someone trained to read only the simplified characters would not be able to read the traditional ones easily, but that someone trained to read the complex characters might be able to read the simplified ones. Have other readers of Language Log seen similar signs?
[Update -- Irene Wong writes:
I took this photo in HK in November 2009 at the entrance to Ocean World. I don't know how to send a photo in the comments to the blog.
HK locals would need the traditional version. But their are so many tourists from China who visit HK now, often only on day trips.
These day visitors would be from that part of china around HK where cantonese is still spoken. Such visitors probably speak Mandarin as well. All but the very old ones would only read simplified. And most of the very old ones are probably illiterate anyway because the majority of Chinese didn't get any or much schooling before the revolution in 1949.
In Australia there are many residents originally from HK , Malaya and Singapore. They would only read traditional.
Older people from Malaya and Singapore would only read traditional. But many cantonese speakers form Malaya do not read any chinese because they attended "english" schools concentrating on that language.. These people are almost all Cantonese speaking. Younger people from Singpore know Mandarin.
But now Australia has many Mandarin residents from China. Their families from China visit them and many many tourists to Aust come from China. They need simplified. We also have many thousands of Chinese students studying here. They should read English but no doubt would read simplified.
The number of Australian residents or tourists from Taiwan is not significant compared with the other countries I have mentioned.
A few of the comments assumed the people from China were poor. Believe me there is a middle class who have so much money to travel and spend massive amounts. Look at the size of and buyers in jewellery shops in HK.