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Variant Characters and modern technology


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So, I wanted to share an answer to something that has been puzzling me on occasion over the last couple of years, why on occasion I get different variations on characters appearing, or characters not being recognised by handwriting recognition software, even when I am faithfully copying them stroke for stroke from the screen in front of me. In short, I've realised that modern phones and PCs are trying to intelligently guess what variant of a character I expect to see based on locale and language settings, and this can vary depending on settings that I'm not aware of, so I might be looking at a HK variant vs a PRC variant (or presumably KR or JP variants too). I may be the last person to realize this, but I couldn't find any google-able explanation, so I'm going to post this on what seems to be most well known chinese language learning forum in the hope it might be useful for anyone else searching. If you already knew this, you can laugh at my ignorance and move on :-)


Note, I'm talking about different allographs of the same character, not simplified vs traditional characters. The wikipedia article explains this in detail with some fairly well know examples but what got me investigating was this distinction:


(望 from 希望)

I was reviewing flashcards in Anki and suddenly the left hand variant popped up. I had never seen it before and I knew for a fact I've reviewed that card before many times, and it was always the right hand variant. So I did a bit of digging and I get two different variations appearing on the same app on two different android phones:



Yes - the picture is the same, but look at the character in the definition. The left hand one is a new phone that I had recently had to wipe and reinstall, it was purchased in Hong Kong and has a Hong Kong sim. The second one is also purchased in Hong Kong but doesn't have a sim card in it.


I compared my work iphone with my wife's iphone:


Again ,the big image is the same, but if you squint at the text, you can see the two variants. Both have HK sim cards. My phone is setup by an HK company, presumably with HK chinese - traditional characters first. Hers is setup with only simplified chinese as a language.


And I could get the different variants in the same browser by using a VPN



VPN on is Singapore (my VPN doesn't have a China exit point, for fairly obvious reasons, but Singapore seems to use PRC character variants. Off is Hong Kong, where I'm physically located. This is firefox, but I imagine other browsers do something similar. The windows 10 chinese IME is not affected, which can lead to pretty strange behaviour as the characters appear one way when typing and flip on entry:



So why am I writing this? Well, mainly for those who might be confused by suddenly getting strange character variations appearing. I guess this will be anyone who studies PRC simplified characters and visits HK, Macao, Taiwan, Japan, or Korea (or anywhere else?) or vice versa. I'm not quite sure what you have to change - with phones it probably has to do with the default languages and which one you setup first, frankly I expect it's hard to pin down or change back. Windows you can probably force by using a VPN (although that might be overkill) or by playing around with your locale settings. Hopefully this will be helpful if anyone is trying to diagnose the issue though.


I'm guess this is done with the best intentions by the various programmers, but it could be quite annoying if you don't understand what is happening...... I'm not aware of any similar behaviour for other languages - does google change fonts in english depending on your IP address?



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Google recently made the change that it'll change language and give you search results based on (its best guess of) your location rather than the domain. i.e. www.google.co.jp used to give you results in Japanese and websites in Japan mostly, now it just acts the same as www.google.com, which is very annoying for me and I'd think other users who want to switch their search country often, but hey they'll have to cater for the common denominator right?


Anyway, part of that language switching must be affecting the font google choose too, and that's why you're seeing that.


Sometimes operating systems update their fonts to conform to newer national standards too, and you'll get a different variant even if you view the same file with same language settings in the same application, if you upgrade your OS.


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I looked into this a bit more, and I think it's possible in some cases to select a specific font variant that has the characters you want, and override the default - I think this will work for Anki, at least, which is where I started this whole thread... I'll experiment a bit more and if I find it works, I'll post an update here in case it's useful for anyone!

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