Call for comments on romanization

A new opinion piece on romanization in the Taiwan News:

It is silly, but not quite as much as the earlier one.
I love the bio for the author: “The writer is a certificated Chinese-English translator in Canada.” It’s even better in the printed version of the paper, because everything after “English” was omitted.

For those who are wondering, yes, I’m still working on a response.

Although “China Hanyu Pinyin” has been used for many years, it also has it’s flaws, and is not that international. In Canada, there are not many people who know Chinese, and even less who understand Hanyu Pinyin. Most Canadians do not realize that the Q in Hanyu Pinyin is pronounced “chi” while the X is pronounced “shee,” which is why they cannot pronounce “Mrs. Qi” or “Mr. Xu.” Moreover, other than the 26 letters of the English alphabet, “Hanyu Pinyin” requires other special letters, such as u, which is required in many common words, such as “女n u” (woman) and “綠l u” (green.)


What a load of utter claptrap!!!
Obviously this person doesn’t have a clue
about Hanyu Pinyin.
Everyone who knows pinyin knows to substitute the ‘u’ with a ‘v’

Our certified Chinese-English mate might have a point if the population of Taiwan was going to be comparible to the population of China at some point. And Webster offered some serious improvements. As one who started life with “plough” etc, I have enjoyed moving to an American spelling environment.If the Webster way was approriate, both Hanyu and Tonyong would get the axe. Then Webster did not fix “fight” and uncountable others.

“Crazy” - I think it is worse - a few unsupportable arguments in favor of the writers case - “Therefore I am right and you are wrong”. You really just cannot argue with them. They are not listening.

While neither Kim Jong Il, nor his dead father Kim Il Song ever traveled to the US, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, the number two person in charge of North Korea did visit the White House and met with Bill Clinton among others. Click here. Or here.

This comment above disgusts me the most. What do you know about Taiwanese high schools? Regarding the cabinet level Minister of Education, Ovid Tzeng 曾志朗 sending his children to TAS, I cannot believe President Chen ever appointed him. This is absurd! They also shouldn’t appoint people to cabinet positions whose immediate family have foreign citizenship much less an Education Minister who has no faith in the public schools he is administering. Finally, I read today where Education Minister Tzeng took out chapters relating to Taiwanese history from elementary school textbooks. He should be fired.

Because I studied Hanyu pinyin I can decipher how to pronounce a road sign which might read Zhongxiao East Rd. However, a businessman traveling to Taiwan for the first or even the 10th time, would not know how to pronounce it. If you are choosing a system that is easiest to foreigners to read street signs, then the system should use English pronunciation methods. Tongyong’s Jiong Siao East Rd. for example is much easier to pronounce by someone like your mother. For students of Chinese, they should not even need romanization as they should try to learn the characters. Finally I found the following URL and saw that Tongyong fixes all of the problems that a first time visitor would encounter with Hanyu pinyin! From looking at this chart it seems that Tongyong is just what Taiwan needs! I am impressed!

Again ask someone that has never studied Chinese which one is easier to remember or pronouce and they would have to say Tongyong! You guys do seem selfish and want Pinyin for yourselves because you are familiar with it. For Taiwan Hanyu pinyin does not make sense for political purposes nor is it the superior romanization system. Kill all of your academics and greatest minds or scare them into fleeing Communist China and then come up with a romanization system, that is Hanyu Pinyin.

See above regarding your selfishness. Is your logic being that because it is used in China, it should be used in Taiwan? This is absolutely wrong as I mentioned in my previous post that this would please the PRC very much to know that Taiwan is adopting their system. More proof that Taiwan is part of the PRC.

Or is your logic that because it is used by Chinese language students worldwide it should be in the street signs for tourists and visiting businessmen? These tourists and businessmen would have to first learn Hanyu pinyin and yes as a previous poster mentioned you would have to use tones too and teach it to all of the taxi drivers as well. That’s not going to happen. If there was Pinyin in use in Taiwan it would only help Chinese language students but not the important visitors to Taiwan such as purchasing managers sourcing from Taiwan and other businessmen or your mother for that matter.

Either those in favour of Tawian Pinyin are totally ignorant or they’re deliberately trying to confuse peopel with misconceptions. I’d like to try and clear up a couple of these.

  1. Is Taiwan pinyin a romanization syystem for Mandarin or for Mandarin, Taiyu, Hakka and aboriginal languages. If the latter, it only takes a little thought to realise how stupid this is. Those languages have different sounds from each other.

  2. This is ‘Taiwanese pinyin’ ie a system for romanising Mandarin in Taiwan NOT the Taiwanese variation of Mandarin. Comparisons with American and British English are a false analogy and probably deliberatley misleading. (this is why that entire last Taiwan News article was a load of rubbish). Americans and British use the same system of writing their language using ‘roman letters’ (the abc). Differneces in spelling are extremely minor and more comaparable to Chinese writing panr (plate) and Taiwanese writing pan, or zhe and zhei. Readers of English are not going to get confused about the meaning of ‘color’ or ‘colour’ whereas if I read a ‘chong’, and I don’t know what systme is being used, I simply don’t know how topronounce it. Let’s not have anymore comparison with American English please.

Oh, I just want to get one thing straight - is the idea to use Tongyong to replace bopomofo/zhuyin in Chinese schools?

PS That Taiwan News quote “even New Zealand, a country known to use British English, has allowed students the freedom of choosing either American or British English spelling” is laughable. Noone in NZ uses American English. The author was either deliberately picking a small country he thought noone would no the truth about, or he is so ill informed and sloppy that he doesn’t check his sources. It’s irrelevant to his argument anyway.

I just had a quick squiz at the link attached to Hobart’s post and came across a few discrepancies with regards to the following words in hanyu pinyin. - diang,lvan,lvn,sei. I have searched high and low in various books and dictionaries but haven’t found anything that matches.
To the best of my knowlegde, these sounds
don’t exist in ‘putonghua’ The strange thing is that there seems to be an equivalent in zhuyin. Are these sounds exclusively used in taiwanese or hakka?

Just another side issue. My friend’s last name is Hsieh which is the pinyin eqivalent of ‘xie’ If either hanyu pinyin or tongyong pinyin implemented as an across the board as standard, will that mean that she has to credit cards and passport to come into line with the new standard?

I had almost finished a long response to Hobart’s post when my computer ate it :bluemad:
So this will be a somewhat abbreviated version, cuz I’m short on time right now.

This could be an interesting topic for a separate thread. But I think you’ll find that if locals whose immediate family members have foreign passports are prevented from holding office, there won’t be many politicians – of any party – remaining. Of course, that might not be such a bad thing :wink:

(Hmm. Have you been taking “finally” lessons from musasa?) Again, an interesting topic for a separate thread. I haven’t seen the information you mention. Source?

A businessman, mother, student, or little green man from Mars who bothered to spend a little time learning hanyu pinyin, however, would know how to pronounce it. And little time is the correct phrase: Hanyu pinyin is not difficult to learn.

I am generally in agreement with this. But the argument only goes so far. English spelling, after all, is notoriously inconsistent and illogical when viewed in the context of modern English.

That would be be JhongSiao in tongyong, not Jiong Siao. Also, as I noted earlier, not so long ago the tongyong spelling was Zhongsiao. How can we be certain it won’t change again? Do these people really know what they’re doing?

Yes, that’s very noble and all. But Taiwan does need a reasonable, consistent, useful, and accurate romanization system. This island ain’t exactly Tibet during its period of super-isolationism…

Thanks for checking out my site!

I suggest you take a closer look. Note especially the inconsistencies in tongyong, such as the way that tongyong’s c is sometimes the pinyin c but sometimes the pinyin q, and how the tongyong s is sometimes the hanyu s but other times the hanyu x. What a mess. This is most certainly not an improvement over hanyu. And it gives clear and unambiguous proof that tongyong must be learned, just like any other system. There is nothing completely “natural” about it.

I disagree. The example that the tongyong camp likes to trot out the most (siao instead of hanyu’s xiao) is misleadingly selective. Look, for example, at si, sia, sin, sing and cing (pinyin xi, xia, xin, xing, and qing). How do think the mothers and businessmen you like to bring up would deal with these?

:unamused: Try again without the hyperbole, OK?

China’s been coming up with absurd “proofs” for years now. Water off a duck’s back. I very much doubt that the pro-tongyong camp comprises people who on any other issue are worried about what Beijing will say.

That’s part of the argument, yes. Remember, hanyu pinyin is a system that has long been used with great success – and not just by students.

Tones marks are no less necessary in tongyong than they are in hanyu. Of the major romanization systems, only gwoyeu romatzyh (there’s one for the spelling tests!) incorporates tones into the spellings of words. GR was even Taiwan’s official system for many years. But no one used it, because it’s just too damn hard for most people to bother with.

Tongyong, despite its name, is no more tong than other systems. Indeed, it is less so. Tongyong is more about scare tactics than science. And don’t kid yourself that the people behind it give a damn about helping foreigners – be they mothers, businessmen, students, or anything else.

<<. Lately, even England’s “Qualification and Curriculum Authority” has given official recognition to American English and has announced that they will abandon the unreasonably spelled words in British English. >>

This almost made me split my sides - recognition, of course but abandonment?!

There seem to be three groups that this
debate affects.

  1. Tourists/short term visitors
  2. medium term visitors/novice level chinese learners
  3. Residents/long stayers/more advanced chinese learners

In the first case, I’m sure the q zh x etc of
hanyu pinyin is problematic, and can be bettered. The last category would use characters largely, I would have thought.

But how best to cater for the second group?
Is it acceptable to them to use a system
which deviates slightly from hanyu pinyin,
in the knowledge that making signs etc
friendly to tourists is extremely important?
The crux of this seems to be, how reliant
are we as learners on hanyu pinyin anyway,
given that if you are even mildly
interested in getting beyond the beginner
level, you will be learning characters as
a matter of course?

In the end, the decise factor is the relative
size of these three groups of users, in
deciding whether to go for standardisation
right across the board or to favor immediate
legibility, even if it means using two systems of spelling.

In the past I’ve taught full-time at Chiayi N

[quote=“dapangzi”]I just had a quick squiz at the link attached to Hobart’s post and came across a few discrepancies with regards to the following words in hanyu pinyin. - diang,lvan,lvn,sei. I have searched high and low in various books and dictionaries but haven’t found anything that matches.
To the best of my knowlegde, these sounds
don’t exist in ‘putonghua’ The strange thing is that there seems to be an equivalent in zhuyin. Are these sounds exclusively used in taiwanese or hakka?[/quote]No, these are from guoyu/putonghua – or at least they are supposed to be. I’ll double check diang and sei for you. In lvan and lvn, the v represents a u with an umlaut – sometimes used because of problems getting Netscape and IE to agree on how to render the proper character.

Thanks for pointing these out. I’ll try to make this clearer to my site’s visitors.

I doubt it. Taiwan has changed its official system before, and no such changes to passports &c. were enforced. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which handles passports, is fairly suibian about spelling :roll: . Right now, people are supposed to use MPS II, but something that more or less looks like MPS II will pass.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as lvn and lvan, only lun and luan. Check your dictionary and see if you can find it!! Bet ya can’t.


I think you’re missing the point. The argument shouldn’t be about what system is better. It’s obviously easy to invent a better system than Pinyin, but it’s useless if it isn’t the standard. That’s why you don’t see many dvorak keyboards around, and wii mii nuu sistim ov speling ingglish neve cort on.

OK, you’ve got a point that it would be nice to have a system that people with no idea could pronounce by just readin it naturally, but that’s impossible because
a) Various sounds in Chinese don’t exist in English, so couldn’t be written using ‘English’
b) English letters can be pronounced differently anyway, so one person is likely to pronounce ‘chi’ differntly form another (not to mention non-English speakers who use roman letters)
c) Even without the first two problems non-students aren’t going to know the tones, or even be able to guess their way through a range of option if the tones aren’t indicated.

Anyway, my point is that even with the ‘perfect system’ street signs in pinyin are next to useless for the purpose of letting non-student visitors correctly pronounce place names.

You are also very wrong in thinking that pinyin is not necessary for students - they should klearn the chracters. Even native speakers (in any country) learn a form of phoneticisation when they learn Chinese. So it’s everyone form American college students to Taiwanese kindergarten kids.

Finally, even if we were arguing on the basis of which system was ‘better’ (issues of standardness asides) I don’t think Tongyong is any better. Sure siao might be easier to read than xiao, but how would you pronounce the Tongyong ‘ci’? It’s not going to be anything like right, I bet.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is choosing Tongyong is about as useless as deciding that Taiwan’s goingt o use a different Internet from everyone else, becuase they’ve invented a better one that the Chinese don’t use.


Bri, that’s a great line… :smiley: :notworthy:

“Lvan” was once one of the two pronunciations of the character “孿” (I’ve never used that pronunciation in my life, though). The entry for this character in the Mandarin Dictionary published by the Ministry of Education still lists two pronunciations, but the Concise Edition of the same dictionary drops “lvan” and only lists “luan”.

Another note on “lvn”. I have this very, very vague impression that when I was a kid (when Chiang Kai-shek was still alive or had just passed away, so that’s quite a long time ago), the textbook said “lvn” was associated with the character “淋” in the context of “lvnyu” (淋雨). But again, it was something in the textbook that nobody actually used in real life.

I couldn’t find this pronunciation in the MOE Mandarin Dictionary, so either my impression was wrong or the sound was gone. However, “lvn” is still included in the Zhuyin-Pinyin Table by Wei-chang Shann (Weizhang Shan). In Appendix V (PY/WG/GR/YR/ZF Comparative Table) of the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary by John DeFrancis, “lvn” is not listed, but “lvan” is listed.

I haven’t seen anyone make a good case about why Taiwan and China must have the same romanized spellings of Chinese. Standard? For whom? For academics? They should learn Chinese or keep their beloved Hanyu pinyin for Chinese language learning and use Tongyong for the layman.

If it is about street signs there should defnitely be one standard in TAIWAN, but it is totally unnessary to have one standard for Taiwan and China. For political purposes it is best not to have the same as the Communist PRC! Anyone who says otherwise does not understand the subtle nuances of cross straight politics or has a hidden agenda (Lien, Soong and Ma) or simply doesn’t care or is unaffected by Cross Straight trouble (those with foreign passports like most of the people reading this forum).

For street signs others have already pointed out that Hanyu Pinyin is useless without the tones. If we are looking for something for foreign guests of Taiwan to easily pronouce or at least remember, why not choose Tongyong, it IS easier than Hanyu Pinyin to pronouce for first timers. It is simply more intuitive.

Again, why can’t there be one romanization for academics (Hanyu Pinyin) and one for the layman (Tongyong)?

Finally why can’t tongyong be further improved to rid it of the cumbersome “ci”? It is a work in progress isn’t it?

it was mentioned that one could improve on Q and X.
Take the pepsi challenge and try. You’ll find as you
near the end of the 400 syllables you get stuck in a corner.

OK Hobart, why is a standardised system necessary. Basically it’s becasue if a number of different systems are used, then you really don’t know how to pronounce that word. Even if you memorise how to use all the different systems, there may be no indication whoich system is being used. This is especially true of Chinese which has so many more homonyms than English.

Now, I think it would be good for Taiwanese to have the same system (Taiwanese kids are ggoing to use it too), but sure, it’s mostly for foreign students of Chinese and academics. It’s not jsut street signs. When you’re reading a newspaper, a magazine or a book, you’ll often read Chinese words written in some form of romanisation, but won’t know how to pronounce it because it won’t tell you what system is being used.

Not having tones is a downer, but not useles. Someone who doesn’t know Chinese won’t be able to say it, but someone who does will be able to experiment with different tones until the person she’s talking to clicks.

Finally, although I realise the main reason people don’t want to choose Mainland Pinyin is politics, but I just don’t by the argument that chosing that system will adversely affect Taiwan’s ‘China situation’. Instead consider this quote from a discussion on where to go to study Chinese “Taiwan sounds OK, but I don’t want to study there becuase I’m alreasdy used to Pinyin and I don’t want to learn bopomofo”. All foreign students of Chinese are taught using pinyin. I think some of Taiwan’s best friends overseas are going to be people who studied Chinese in Taiwan. We should really be encouraging people to come here and be brainwashed by Taiwan rather than China.