Creating an online Pinyin resource for the layman

Lately I’ve been wondering about how to help spread Hanyu Pinyin around Taiwan. Even with a blue legislature, the push to standardize Taiwan’s romanizations with Hanyu Pinyin is going to encounter apathy, ambivalence and ignorance. Part of the problem is that people just don’t know how to use romanization systems - of any kind. I saw it a few days ago in a China Post editorial where they were mixing systems within the space of one word, I see it in road signs and place names around Taiwan, and I see it in my buxiban students, who very often don’t know the romanization for their own names.

I’d like to create an online resource for people, foreign or Chinese/Taiwanese, that would help people get instant pinyin for whatever character they input. I’m not quite sure yet how it would work - originally I was thinking along the lines of a wiki, but Taffy thinks that a simpler framework would be a more elegant solution. I’d like to tap a few Forumosan brains for ideas here. Hosting the site wouldn’t be a problem - I’m concerned more about setting it up and having a group of people to help maintain it. We’d also need a fairly intuitive name for the domain - something that a Taiwanese person with limited English would “get”.

I’ve already spoken to Taffy and Cranky Laowai. Dragonbones? Ironlady? Juba? Are there other pinyin enthusiasts out there who would like to get involved? If you have any ideas please post them here. Once I’ve heard from you here, I’ll try to organize a sit-down meeting over coffee where we can discuss how to go about implementing our ideas.

Don’t existing online dictionaries do the job already?

No. If one wants to know what the correct abbreviation for Zhengzhi University is, they won’t find out that it’s Zheng-Da from a dictionary. And if a student wants to know the correct pinyin for the Jianhushan Amusement Park, I doubt there’s any online dictionary that will help. Same thing goes for names like Chungshan / Zhongshan / Zhong-shan / Zhong-Shan / Chung-shan / ChungShan, etc. You get the picture.

Most Taiwanese (and a lot of FOB foreigners for that matter) refer to any form of romanised Chinese as English, and not Pinyin etc. For example, they’ll say “I don’t know how to write my name in English”, when they mean Pinyin.

So choosing something like chinesetoenglish . com might be useful for Taiwanese, even though it’s technically wrong. Perhaps having 2 domain names registered with chinesetoenglish redirecting to something more accurate might work, including with it a short note (probably in Chinese) saying that it’s not really English.


I think that might be your main problem. Some of the things you mentioned contradict each other a bit. Looking up pinyin for given hanzi can be done by software - and is, so you could either just link to a few resources or see that you get your own code.

The “Zhengda” example though does (IMHO) not make much sense in this context: It is a kind of abbreviation, used in Chinese, and the equivalent for foreigners not understanding Chinese would be “NCCU”. If you want to go that path, I can only wish you good luck creating “Formosa’s most comprehensive comparative listing of Chinese and ‘English’ names”, updated every ten seconds, so we can include all the “English name” changes resulting from a change of mood or whatever…

The biggest problem I see is getting people to understand (as cfimages mentioned) that this is not about English. The resources are there: Cranky has lots on his site, very nicely arranged, and I could flood this thread with links to other resources. But the first problem is: You are not Mr. Dolby, so your target audience is not listening. Most of the people whom you would like to reach do not really care (been there, done that - and ask Cranky if he knows how to spell frustration…).

Aside from possibly a general lack of interest, my theory (haven’t “researched” it, but you can ask Captain Obvious) is that this stems from the local language education - in both native and foreign languages. The terminology used when it comes to languages is so fuzzy, contradicting and sometimes rightaway incorrect that it is no wonder people think you are speaking a very alien language when you talk of pinyin and transcription.

In their 144km x 394km large world there is “中文” and then there is “英文”. Please notice that they use “文”, not “語”. And funnily, while there is “英語”, there is no “中語”. If MoE hadn’t declared “華語” as official term for the Mandarin used here, that language would not even have had a term to name itself… Or claiming 字 would mean “word”…

So, the problem I see is that you would need to do some serious brainwashing. Websites with tools etc are there, what is really needed is to get people to understand the concept of languages and writing systems. Currently, the language world in Taiwan is a disc, and you will fall down from it if you move too far away from the centre. What is needed is someone to show people here that it is a sphere instead, and that there are lots of things beyond people’s horizon…

To get that done, maybe you should try to target those teaching languages - and that includes Taiwanese teaching Mandarin to Taiwanese children and many more, not just a few foreigners in their cram schools. I’ve been trying to brainwash my students for a few years, but while they accept the system I describe, their whole environment is still doing things the other way and it is easier for them to just go along…

Get those teaching languages to understand these things and you won’t need another website converting hanzi to pinyin…

The official rules for Taiwan’s use of romanization may even have ended up including just the sort of thing you mentioned: Pinyin described as “English.” :wall:
I told them them it was wrong and that they should fix it, but I suspect they didn’t. So, oh, do I ever know how to spell PhrusTrayShun, er, frustration.

(BTW, the link above doesn’t work. But my guess would be that it’s only a rough approximation of a real Pinyin converter, the best one available online currently being Adsotrans at

Sorry, I only did a quick Google search for converters and pasted two links, just to show that there are such resources and they are easy to find, I do not usually use them…

Nice. Why am I not surprised… Probably because even the “language experts” around me with their Ph.D.s and whatever do not even know what transcription is, so why should we expect more from pencil pushers…

If you wanted to provide that sort of resource, I would set up a simple .php script with a MySQL backend, give the URL to a few people who actually knew how to use Pinyin, and then try to get some sort of list going that way. When you have critical mass, set up a search page for the general public. There could also be a way to capture search inquiries that were not found in the database, so that someone on the “committee” could input them when time allowed.

It wouldn’t be hard to seed something like that with a list of the most common things – cities, counties, institutions, etc., with fields for Hanyu Pinyin, characters, and even English (proper English, I mean). Something like a Taiwan Gazeteer?

I’m a bit of a pinyin enthusiast. I don’t really care much for pedantic spacing and word grouping rules (which go against standard use anyway), but having a functional system with the proper spellings for each morpheme would be great.

Breaking the whole “Latin characters = English” mindset would be nice, too. I.e., something like “lóng shān sì zhàn” would be a lot more universal than Longshan Temple Station.

My only advice would be to pick your battles carefully. Getting any change at all will be hard.