but this latest piece has a few interesting bits.
He recalls a Mandarin class for non-native speakers (but not really intended for foreigners) in the 90's.
I still remember the first sentence that we had to chant from our children’s reading books: 我起來了。媽媽早，爸爸早！我拿我的書包 (“I’m up. Good morning, mom, good morning, dad. I’m taking my school bag”).
The traditional characters were glossed with “bopomofo” (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) and the theory was that, as beginners, we were like children. The teacher told us she spoke Beijinghua (Beijing dialect) and was, therefore, a good model for pronunciation as she exhorted everyone to “curl your tongue.”
Many local people denigrated their own Taiwan-accented Mandarin in front of foreigners and my own students recommended waishengren (外省人, Mainlander) students as good models for Mandarin pronunciation. Our little group of teachers — English, German, French and Spanish speakers — sat at tiny desks on tiny children’s stools and nodded respectfully along with the local taxi drivers and betel nut sellers, absorbing this subtext of Chinese power and identity.
To support their first claim, that Tongyong pinyin is closer to Taiwan-accented Mandarin and therefore easier for foreigners, the legislators cite the combination “si” as being closer to the Taiwanese pronunciation of 西 than “xi.” Fair enough, but why should one cause the other?
This is the part that always makes me scratch my head. Are we talking about "Taiwanese" (regional) pronunciation or Minnan pronunciation?
I have no opinion on Minnan romanization. But if "Taiwanese pronuncation" means Minnan pronunciation, what relevance does it have for a Mandarin romanization system?
There are cross-strait differences in the correct pronunciation of Mandarin, i.e. not a matter of accent but variant readings of characters that somehow stuck in Taiwan and didn't stick in the mainland e.g. Shenzhen and Shenjun, xing1qi1 and xing1qi2, and so on. Other zhen's remain zhen. Other qi1's remain qi1, and the variants can be written in HP without any difficulty.
(For an English parallel, consider "lieutenant": American "l(y)ootenant" and British "leftenant". It would be a matter of accent if it were a matter of rhotacism (r) or intervocalic flapping (t), but these are different readings of the same word that can't be explained by accent, so a good dictionary notes both readings.)
Variant readings also occur without the cross-strait element, e.g. Bai and Bo for 白. Both readings are Mandarin and do not depend on any reading in Minnan, Cantonese, Hakka, etc. So where does this "we need a whole pinyin system to reflect local pronunciation of Mandarin" idea come from? From people who didn't pay attention in school?*
And who says s is better than x for 西 and so on? If you pronounce it with a true s, you're not pronouncing it the standard way. The same thing is true in the mainland. If you have a critical mass of the population making the same error, it makes sense to adjust the standard accordingly, but I'm not aware of any study suggesting a critical mass has been reached in mispronouncing Mandarin x.
Back to our British commentator:
the purpose of a standard script is to present an ideal type, not to cover all regional possibilities. After all, the DPP legislators do not claim that the sound radicals in traditional Chinese characters should be changed to reflect Taiwanese pronunciation.
Shh, don't give them ideas!
In hindsight, I know that the reaction to Hanyu pinyin in Hsinchu/Xinzhu/Sinjhu in 1993 was the tail end of a Chinese Nationalist identity, yet there must have been an awareness among Taiwanese educators at the time that Hanyu pinyin actually worked.
However, Taiwan’s identity shift meant that there was always going to be a strong localization influence in language policy.
The result is Tongyong pinyin and it seems that the Tongyong pinyin lobby’s reaction to Hanyu pinyin is the same as that of the old Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, only this time it is driven by Taiwanese and not Chinese nationalist feelings about how the world perceives Taiwan.
*Yes, I know, there's an academic argument in favor of this kind of thing. It's the same kind of argument that says we should teach "gonna" and "shoulda" and so on as perfectly good, respectable words in English because some people want to set the bar for change awfully low. Make of it what you will.