Call for comments on romanization

The Taiwan News is calling for comments on the romanization debate (see below). I encourage people to respond, here as well as to the newspapers.

Romanization issue is open to comments

2001-06-29 / Taiwan News /
The Taiwan News has a long-term interest in the romanization issue that determines the way we internationalize our native tongues and culture. We are closely observing the debate over whether Tongyong Pinyin (

I’ve stayed largely out of this argument because I don’t feel I have much to offer on the subject and because its not something I care particularly about as I don’t study Chinese. As for road signs, which is what most of this issue has concentrated on, I’ve been here for around 13 years and while poor romanization has occasionally given me a chuckle (d’you know there’s a little town near Kaohsiung called Putz? I want to live there), it has never given me any problems finding my way around or giving directions to other people. (Poor signposting obviously erected by untrained monkeys yes, but that’s another issue entirely.)

I do, however, admire the enormous amount of work and research that has been done by the likes of Cranky, Maoman, et al.

That said, I can’t help feeling that they are somehow missing the point to a certain degree. As an academic debate, its been done to death – between them, Cranky, Maoman and the rest have comprehensively trashed any possible notion that anything dreamed up by the respected local “scholars” can in any way compete with Hanyu Pinyin as a logical and sensible form of Romanization. Further argument seems to me to be thrashing a dead horse. There’s no real argument any more and I’ve yet to see any convincing arguments as to the benefits of Tongyong Pinyin, etc.

Maoman says in his excellent opinion piece that Tzeng and Ma already know that Hanyu is the only way to go. I’d go further and guess that almost all those involved agree (albeit secretly, perhaps).

The thing is, this does not appear to be an argument that will be decided from an academic standpoint but will rather be resolved from an emotional point of view, especially since the logical, sensible arguments are coming from members of the foreign community. Take a look at yesterday’s quotes in the Taipei Times from the Kinmen Deputy County Commissioner. According to this gentleman, “we Chinese are smarter than foreigners” – said in the presence of reporters, yet, how smart is THAT, azzhole?

It would be nice to think his is a view shared by no more than a handful of fossilized officials in Taiwan, but I don’t think that is the case and a great many of these fossils still have very powerful voices.

I don’t feel this issue has ever really given more than a passing nod to academic research or discourse and involving foreigners in the process is no more than paying lip service. Sure, there are a few enlightened souls such as Ma, etc., but for most of the people who make the decisions here, the idea of adopting a “mainland Chinese” system is still absolutely taboo under any circumstances, even though they are totally aware of the value and logic of using an international standard.

On this note, I wonder why the Taiwan News chose to describe Hanyu Pinyin as “the People’s Republic of China system” (see Cranky’s post above) rather than the (to me) more accurate “the Romanization system recognized and used exclusively throughout the entire international community around the world, apart from Taiwan… but sometimes used in Taiwan also.” Coupled with the op ed piece in the same paper that prompted Maoman’s rebuttal, I think that says it all.

The argument needs to get past the academic stage and address squarely why the Hanyu opponents continue to tout Tongyong as a “home-brewed” system to replace the “mainland system” rather than facing facts – Tongyong and the other even more far-fetched ideas are hacked and slashed local alternatives to a globally recognized international standard.

Sorry, I made a mistake in my last post. The Kinmen quote I mentioned can be found in Wednesday’s Taipei Times on p.3 – a story about a Cambodian anti-landmine activist’s shabby treatment at the hands of the Taiwan authorities – not Thursday’s edition.

Let’s forget about road signs and let’s talking about mail delivery! I’ve had letters returned more than once when addressed using roman characters. I printed the address clearly using what I was given by the intended recipient. The mail rattled around the postal system and finally came back to me.

If we feel perplexed by the whole issue imagine working in the Post Office!

I think the case for having a standard system in Taiwan is uncontestable… well, there’s no debate about that! And the case for making that system hanyu pinyin almost so. As for being a “mainland chinese system” well… just where did Mandarin Chinese come from anyway? I’m all for using traditional characters for writing Chinese but when you romanise it who cares who wrote the system as long as it works tolerably well and is an international standard.

Originally posted by mac1: but when you romanise it who cares who wrote the system as long as it works tolerably well and is an international standard.

The people who will eventually make the decision, unfortunately, that’s who.

Hanyu Pin Yin (including tone marks, please) would be nice at the bottom of street signs.

If Taiwan wants to make a slight difference like American “color” and British “colour”, then they could delete the superfluous “i” at the end of consonants like “shi, si, chi, ci”.

Inconsistent romanization, though, is really silly in a place so advanced like Taiwan. Taiwan is so chaotic.

Please write the tone marks when you make the street signs!

Big DOrk

I think Sandman has hit the nail on the head!

The whole Romanization issue is being resolved from an emotional standpoint, not an academic standpoint.

The very fact that Hanyu pinyin was “invented” by “the ‘enemy’ over there” puts it out of the race.

Sandman says:
“the idea of adopting a “mainland Chinese” system is still absolutely taboo under any circumstances, even though they are totally aware of the value and logic of using an international standard.”

And I think that sums it up.

For the record, as someone who started learning Chinese in England and in Beijing, I am totally for the Hanyu Pinyin system (with tones), as that is what I am most familiar with, like most other foreign students of Chinese.

But having lived here for 10+ years, I can see that chaos will most likely continue to reign for a few more years (decades?), yet. Afterall, whatever system they ultimately decide on has to be taught to everyone here, not just the foreigners, for it to make any sense. Otherwise, when a non-Chinese speaking foreigner proffers a Romanized address to his/her taxi/bus/etc. driver, it will be totally useless unless the driver is fluent in the Romanization system too!

By the way, I too hope that the Kinmen Deputy County Commissioner’s opinion that “we Chinese are smarter than foreigners” was just a one-off and not an opinion generally held by other officials, but I have my doubts about that too…

Certainly, I have heard friends, colleagues, associates, officials, etc. making similar statements and totally believing them to be true. I think this has something to do with textbooks and the way Chinese history is taught in schools here (and in China, by the way)–5,000 years of glorious culture and stunning inventions–everything, everywhere was invented by the Chinese, after all…

Just ask anyone here why the Italians eat noodles–of course it is because Marco Polo brought the recipe back from CHINA!!! The thought that a relatively simple (but delicious) food like noodles (flour and a bit of water, in their simplest form, cooked in boiling water) could have been discovered simultaneously in two parts of the world is totally incomprehensible to many people here!!

I agree with sandman and tig1sie that this isn’t really about which is the best of the available systems. I was being a bit rhetorical when I wrote “who cares who wrote the system”. And I agree that chaos will continue for a good few years yet.

It wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a cost to shunning the international standard. But there is, in all kinds of ways. For a country that is paying millions and millions of dollars to get some kind of international profile it’s just crazy to erect unnecessary barriers between it and the rest of the world. This is the linguistic equivalent of the post-1949 Guomindang claim to be the legitimate government of China.

I think the only reason we are having this debate is because of Taiwan’s comparative international isolation. If Taiwan was in the UN and a slew of other international organisations it would be romanising with pinyin. And if/when Taiwan ever breaks out of this situation I bet it will start to switch to hanyu pinyin.

I really wish Taiwan would save it’s energy for battles worth fighting and that can be won!

But, hey! I’m just a stupid foreigner… what do I know?

John -

Big Dork wrote:

quote[quote]Please write the tone marks when you make the street signs![/quote]

As much as I am in favor of tone marks, I’m not sure that they belong on street signs. The problem is that street signs – even more than most other examples of the written word – must be able to be read quickly and accurately; I fear that tone marks could interfere with the rapid recognition of the name of the street.

I favor tone marks on street signs as long as their presence doesn’t interfere with the necessary function of the signs. Have there been any legibility studies on this?

I made a new page on my site, demonstrating a few different styles for street signs:

I’m glad Big Dork and Tig1Sie brought up the issue of Tone Marks in Hanyu Pinyin, because this is something I’ve been mulling over, too. I’m basically in agreement with Cranky. I think that tone marks belong in the academic world - on street signs, they’re just too didactic. They’re indispensable for language learners, but since tones are a feature unique to only a few languages worldwide, I don’t think most visitors to the city would be able to utilize them, even if they had taken a course to understand them properly. It takes many, many hours to make the correct intonations and, aesthetically speaking, tone marks DO clutter up the signs.

On another note, I can think of one reason to capitalize every character, even in compound words. The city XiAn, if spelled Xian could be pronounced in two possible ways: “Shyen” or “Shee-an”. I believe that China gets around this problem by hyphenating the words. Cranky, am I right on this? This having been said, I still prefer the look of “Xian” - It looks much simpler to the eye.

Also, last night on my way to the movies, I noticed a new sign - Zhong Xiao East Road - spelled in Hanyu Pinyin! My eyes got all misty…

Whatever system is adopted it’s unlikely that tone marks will always be used whatever the advantages in terms of pronunciation, even in academic situations.

In academic journals where Chinese language sources are cited it’s usually done by giving pinyin and then a translation in the language of the article. That would almost always be enough for someone to work back to characters if they wanted to. When Wade-Giles or some other system is used tones aren’t usually given either.

I wouldn’t be too worried about tone marks on road signs. By the time they mean anything to a learner of Mandarin the person is likely to be able to recognise some of the common characters anyway. It’s not as if most Taiwanese streets carry unusual, unexpected and imaginative names! :slight_smile:

John -

Maoman wrote:

quote[quote]I can think of one reason to capitalize every character, even in compound words. The city XiAn, if spelled Xian could be pronounced in two possible ways: "Shyen" or "Shee-an". I believe that China gets around this problem by hyphenating the words. Cranky, am I right on this?[/quote]

Close. China (hanyu pinyin) uses Xi’an, while Wade-Giles uses (ignoring spelling here) Xi-an. There really aren’t many street names that need the apostrophe to guarantee correct parsing: Xi’an (not Xian), Chang’an (not Chan’gan), and Min’an (not Mi’nan) are all that come to mind at the moment. So never fear, even with strict adherence to the rules of hanyu pinyin, Taipei’s street signs are in no danger of being overwhelmed by apostrophes .

Of course, the omission of the common and absolutely essential apostrophes in Wade-Giles (thus the needless “P pronunciation” of T’ai-pei (Taibei))so common here is a large source of confusion on signs. (“To P or not to P?” eh, Maoman?)

I’d also be tempted to toss in an apostrophe in a few long strings of vowels (e.g. Bei’an Rd. and Zhao’an St.). But that’s just a handful of streets, compared to several hundred that need no extra marks.

Also, last night on my way to the movies, I noticed a new sign - Zhong Xiao East Road - spelled in Hanyu Pinyin! My eyes got all misty...

Ah, the fair letter X. And the lovely zh, which was part of the tongyong world until its expulsion. Generally, the zh’s found on Taipei’s street signs are there because of outdated tongyong. Again, I marvel at how Taipei got roped into accepting a system that wasn’t finished (and still isn’t)! So if tongyong is adopted, most of the city’s signs in tongyong will have to be taken down and replaced. The mind boggles that the ideologues behind tongyong are still receiving support from many in the government instead of the ridicule they deserve for having pushed a system that they made obsolete soon thereafter.

Have you seen the nicknumbering maps in city buses? They’re in hanyu pinyin (well, aside from the usual high number of mistakes). Curiouser and curiouser.

Just to add my vote for capitalisation of the words, since I live near Dean Rd, obviously confusing to foreigners new to the area.

As for dropping superfluous characters (Big Dork, for “color”), we could drop the “h” and give it a truely Taiwanese flavour

All I know is that the city maps, MRT maps and other travel books that I have make no sense whatsoever. There is no consistency and I almost don’t care which system they choose as long as it is standardized.

I was told that the street names of old Taipei (southwest) and in other cities of Taiwan were named by the KMT according to the map of China.

So if you look at the positioning of say Kweilin Road, Chengtu Road, Tien Chin Street, Hsuchou and HangChou Roads, and so forth, you can get an idea of where these places are located in China.

My Mandarin teacher taught me how to remember the order of the streets of Chung Hsiao, Jen-Ai, Hsin-Yi and Ho-Ping Roads because they are the eight principles (thus Pa-Teh Road which is just north of Chung-Hsiao) of some famous person. Does anyone know where/whom these principles originated? My friend says it came from Vice Premier GUAN CHUNG who is even older than Confucius but I can’t seem to find further information.

Well, just when you think you’ve seen everything for romanisation of street names…

I was in Su Ao the other day and I thought they were using some really fucked up romanisation, until I realised they were romanising the Taiwanese pronounciation of the words!!! So 中山 (what would be zhongshan) Rd was written Diong San etc etc.

Seen this anywhere else???


“Diong” - Jilong is full of it

Check out rare photos of the Tongyong perpertrator, the evil Dr. Yu Boquan
only available at my website. I even have one with me & him together.

I am responding to the following quote in a post above.

“Maoman says in his excellent opinion piece that Tzeng and Ma already know that Hanyu is the only way to go. I’d go further and guess that almost all those involved agree (albeit secretly, perhaps).”

Anyone named (Chairman) Maoman, you should be skeptical regarding their allegiance to Taiwan! I think that is the real issue here. Not the convienence of foreigners. From what I have read the Taiwanese do not want to have any resemblance to the Communist PRC, as they will trumpet any small move as more proof that Taiwan is part of the PRC, therefore justifying their right to invade or shoot missles at Taipei killing us all, if for example, the President of Taiwan finally wins respect and is allowed to have such basic rights as being able to visit the White House (like the dictators of North Korea did under Clinton) or attend the APEC meeting.

Finally, Mayor Ma is also someone with his alligences seemingly screwed up as he seems aligned with Lien and Soong on their PRO CHINA views. Regarding Ovid Tzeng I do not know much about other than he is the Educational minister and I saw in an article on TAS in the TaipeiTimes that Ovid, the educational minister of Taiwan, sends his kids to the Taipei AMERICAN School!!!

Do not be so selfish and only consider yourselves and what is most convienient to you in this romanization debate. They do need to standardize into one type to solve the problem of three different spelling for the same street, however, I disagree that it should be Hanyu Pinyin which is also what is easiest for me as this is what I learned in college in the USA.

Yo, Ho - wash your mouth out with soap, m’boy… I hate Godless commie pinkos as much as the next guy! Look at my face… :bluemad: Yeah! Kill 'em all - let God sort them out! Yeah! :bluemad: Arrrrggggh!

The reason behind my name actually has nothing to do with the chunky Chairman, just as you being called Ho-bart, probably has nothing to do with being a “ho”. Or a bart. I was so named because of the curly, golden locks I possessed some 12 years ago when I lived in the deep south (Chiayi). My country bumpkin friends felt that my hair was just like “Yang mao” (fleece), and so I became “Da Mao”, or alternately, “Maoman”. I DID once own a cigarette lighter that had a picture of Mr. Mao and played a tinny version of “The East Is Red”, which I thought was kinda cool. Now I’m all paranoid. Was I being disloyal to Taiwan? Should I turn myself in? (Nervously wrings hands) :frowning:

As for the rest of your post, well it needs to be better argued. First of all, your facts are wrong. I don’t believe “Dear Leader” or his son, “Dear Leader’s Son” have ever set foot in the US, never mind the White House. Second, your political prattle isn’t particularly perspicacious. Darling, what have you been reading? It’s good that at least you’re online, however. You can probably learn a lot just from reading the other posters here on Forumosa.

Regarding Ovid Tseng’s decision to keep his kid in TAS, well I say good for him. He may not care much about appearances, but at least he wants his kid to get a good education. I sure as heck wouldn’t put any kids of mine through the high school system in Taiwan. Anyway, his kid has an American passport, so he’s entitled.

Hobart, you feel that Hanyu Pinyin is easiest for you to use because that’s what you studied in the US. Bear in mind that you’re not alone - Hanyu Pinyin is what everyone who has studied Mandarin has studied, whether they be from France, South Africa, L.A. or Mexico. I don’t want Hanyu Pinyin to be implemented because it is my selfish will, I want it to be implemented because it is the logical choice. The problem with the only alternative being offered to Hanyu Pinyin - the Tongyong Pinyin system - is that all of the arguments supporting it are based on fallacies, buzz words, and a jingoistic, almost xenophobic nationalism.

Thanks for writing though, Hobart. At least you care enough about the issue to post. I hope that through public discourse more people will be able to familiarize themselves with all the issues involved in the romanization decision, and with the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the two systems.


You say the system of romanisation chosen for Chinese should be something other than Hanyu pinyin. Do you mean Tongyong? What are your reasons? Do you mean this should become a world standard or just a Taiwanese standard (which would mean that there was no single world standard).

I’m really interested in hearing your arguments, because so far the arguments been pretty one-sided and I haven’t heard any good arguments at all ont he other side. Of course everyone will disagree with you, but you can handle that can’t you?