How familiar are you with Hanyu Pinyin?


Some Westerners have insisted that Taiwan romanize its street names according to the popular Pinyin system.

The proposed Tongyong system, said to be 85% identical with Pinyin according to its advocates, has recently drawn fire from both Taiwanese and international critics.

Tongyong was originally conceived as a trans-lingual system allowing Taiwanese students to learn Mandarin and another local language – for example, Hakka and Holo (Taiwanese) – without the burden of learning 2 or more phonetic schemes.

Any thoughts?

And how familiar are you with Hanyu Pinyin?


Firstly, it is spelled pinyin, not pinying.

Secondly see my for the real deal.

Thirdly, Yu Boquan [Mr. Tongyong] is a faker.


Ask a cab driver for “Min Sen Dong Lu” and you will end up in “Ming Sheng Dong Lu” according to the road sign.

As a cab driver for “Ming Sheng Dong Lu” and you will likely end up in “Ming Chuan Dong Lu”

Fortunately they are not far apart, as the latter version is how you may first learn that Pinyin is not all that it seems.

It would however be a good idea if they were always spelt the SAME, what ever the system. Take “Ba Teh Lu”, spelt at least 8 different ways (and I don’t claim that one is correct or the most common).

If Tongyong is 85% same as Hanyu Pinyin, it too has problems, and is far from universally available. So why expend energy perpetrating the errors.

A “new” pinyin is probably out of the question so let us just settle on Hanyu Pinyin and have all the roadsigns and maps spelt the SAME.


If the Pinyin System of Romanization is adopted in Taiwan, should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs require all local citizens to change the names on their passports to conform to the new system?

Any ideas on this?


I guess the logical thing to do would be to implement the standard Hanyu Pinyin, and then if a person wanted to change their name, or the spelling of it, they could apply to do so. I think that perhaps a minority of people might prefer to see their name spelled in such a way as to reflect the Taiwanese (as opposed to Mandarin) version of their name, which I feel is a reasonable request. However, I think that most people would accept the Mandarin spelling the government gave to them without thinking too much about it. Despite the rise in popularity of Taiwanese, I still don’t think anyone is seriously considering getting rid of Mandarin as the offical language.


What they might do is similar to what they have now, i.e. a default. If you don’t specify what you want your English name to be on your passport, they will just romanize it themselves according to whatever their system is. This way, people could get the names spelled a certain way if they wanted it that way, but for people who don’t have any opinion on the subject, the default would be pinyin.

I didn’t fill in anything special for my passport, so they just romanized my name according to their system, but I was actually given the option to write another name in.


The problem is that there is no standard default. Quite often, a travel agent fills in the details when a passport is applied for, and they don’t necessarily have any understanding of pinyin rules. I have a friend with the name Hui Xin (Hanyu Pinyin) but the travel agent spelled it Huey Hsing (Bullsh*t Pinyin). There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve seen identical surnames spelled in many different ways (Peng, Pehng, and Perng), (Lee & Li), (Weng and Wong), Hwang & Huang), (Kuo, Guo & Gwo)… the list goes on and on. Sometimes I ask people where they got the spelling, they just shrug and say that that’s how it showed up on the passport.


I learned a very Beijing dialect of Chinese in college (as well as anyone else forced to study from “Chinese Practical Reader” and the exploits of Ding Yun, Palanka, Gubo, Bulang Taitai, and Wang Laoshi). When I was trying to find my way to the street I work on I kept asking people for Hesin yee loo because that’s what the road sign said most of the time. If it had been written in Hanyu Pinyin I would have more easily have recognized Xin Yi but I thought that the h and the s were pronounced separately. I live in Xin Dian, also called Hsin Dien, Hsin Tien (as well as Hsintien), Sin Dian, and the list goes on. Hanyu Pinyin seems more standardized than the stuff I’ve seen written on road signs. Drive along one road and judging by the road signs, you’d think you’ve been on three different ones. It made my first three months here interesting since no one could understand a single word I said.


It’s weird, but as a Taiwanese who learned Mandarin first, but grew up in the US, pinying is completely strange to me. It just doesn’t seem to work. A lot of times, I can’t tell what the hell someone is talkin about in Pinying… --;;; I would try listen or read the pinying, and try to match with the real Mandarin words, and it just doesn’t compute. Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to Mandarin to me, that’s why I seem to be having so many problems (and yes, I speak fluent, non-“accented” Mandarin AND English). And man, the Pinyin “X” sound thingy really throws me off! ><

Originally posted by Hartzell: If the Pinyin System of Romanization is adopted in Taiwan, should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs require all local citizens to change the names on their passports to conform to the new system?

Any ideas on this?

No, this should not be a requirement. After all, last I heard they were proposing to stick with the traditional spelling of Taipei. We don’t require standard spelling in the US, either (Brian vs Bryan, Cathy vs Kathy, etc.) Changing names on passports could cause a number of problems, especially for people with existing visas or property in foriegn countries. Also for authors…

Now, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start using standard spelling on birth certificates…

Originally posted by BaKaBaKa: I would try listen or read the pinying, and try to match with the real Mandarin words, and it just doesn't compute.>_<

How does one “listen” to pinyin? Pinyin is just a system of writing the spoken language. If someone “sounds funny” when they read pinyin out loud, then they don’t know how to pronounce it right. You have to learn what sounds goes with which symbols, and if any combination of symbols has a different pronunciation. Some letters have similar pronunciations to the English pronunciation, and others are totally different. No one should expect to be able to speak Chinese words just by reading the pinyin. An English-speaking person can’t say French words correctly without being taught the proper pronunciation and vice-versa, and those languages are more closely related than Chinese and English. Pinyin does, however, allow Chinese words/names to be consistently represented in the modern Roman alphabet. There are alternatives to pinyin, of course. It’s the pros and cons of each alternative that need to be weighed.


really, i don’t care what system they use as long as they use the names for the same places all over the island. doesn’t really matter if they use a different system in each city.

chinese pinyin is really nonintuitive. i suppose since there are sounds that don’t appear in english, it has to be that way. the romanization for japanese, on the other hand, is really simple because all 5 vowel sounds in japanese appear in english.

personally, even if they implement “mainland” pinyin, i hope they don’t change the pinyin for cities and names and what not. i was born in kaohsiung. i don’t even know what the hanyu version of that is. doesn’t matter since my birthplace will always be “kaohsiung”. yes, there’s a certain amount of emotional attachment to names. when i meet someone, “huang” signifies to me that they’re probably taiwanese, “hwang” korean, and “wong” non-taiwanese chinese. i also don’t like the look of all the q’s and x’s in hanyu pinyin from a purely aesthetic pov.

quote[quote] I also don't like the look of all the q's and x's in hanyu pinyin from a purely aesthetic pov [/quote] Do you also object to the letter p? It is a mirror image of the "ugly" letter q. Rotate it 90 degrees and you get a b. Reflect that and you get a d. If q is ugly, those other letters can't be much better. If x is a problem, perhaps we should abolish zhuyin fuhao, because the symbol for u looks just like an x. I'm sorry to inform you that there is one of those nasty-looking x's right in the middle of the work Gaoxiong(=Kaohsiung). [img]images/smiles/converted/Taiwan.gif[/img] [img]images/smiles/icon_rolleyes.gif[/img] [img]images/smiles/converted/China.gif[/img]


i’m sorry you do not share my aesthetic tastes, but as i stated, it was a personal preference and you show some REAL insecurity if you feel the need to mock someone’s personal preference to make yourself feel surperior. to me, kaohsiung will always be kaohsiung. maybe the fact that i was born in kaohsiung makes the name of the city a little sentimental. even if YOU wish to call it gaoxiong, it will always be kaohsiung to me.


This may complicate things a bit, but I’ve been wanting to add this to the romanization discussion for some time.

Tones. As it is, reading street signs, maps, or actually just about anything short of a Chinese textbook, whether it is in Pinyin, Wade-Giles, or whatever, I have no way of knowing what tone the word should be spoken in, unless I know the Chinese character, in which case the romanization is irrelevant anyway. Everyone would agree that this is central to pronouncing the word, yet it is universally omitted when the word is written in roman letters. If any system is to adopted, if signs are to be changed, and so forth, I think failing to address this issue is unacceptable. After all, romanization ONLY tells the sound of the Chinese word when it includes an indication of tone.

Two solutions come to mind. One, the tone marks which are supposed to be used with romanization systems like Hanyu Pinyin, could actually be used. This would have the advantage of Hanyu Pinyin’s widespread popularity; it is the standard, and as such its advantages more or less outweigh any other shortcomings it may have, which in my opinion are only a problem in the initial learning stage (one has to learn that q, x, c, z, et cetera, are not pronounced as in American English. Problem solved.).

Now - solution number two…


Another solution would be to use a letter following the vowel in each word to indicate that word’s tone. This is not a new idea; the famous Chinese lexicographer Lin Yutang (I think that’s his name) applied this system to either Wade-Giles or Yale romanization in his dictionary, and more recently the system has been used with Hanyu Pinyin by Professor Cornelius Kubler at Williams College in America, whose texts I used when I began studying Chinese.

It goes like this:
first tone, no change: ta (him/her)
second tone, add a y: huiy (to return)
third tone, double the vowel: woo (I/me)
fourth tone, add an h: duih (correct, yes)

There are few guidelines about which vowel to double when the word contains two and so on, but really the system is invariable and simple.

I would advocate this solution, mostly because I think it resolves a fundamental problem with the use of tone marks over each word. The universal failure of sign makers, map makers, and so on, to use those tone marks, is one facet of that problem. To put a name on it: to Westerners - who are the principle users of any romanization system - and especially to English speakers, tone marks over a word are simply not considered an integral part of the word’s spelling. (This is to some extent not true of Spanish and French.) And as such, they are omitted nine times out of ten. Hence they become, effectively, a non-functioning part of Hanyu Pinyin: if they are not used when the words are written, they cannot be used when the words are read, and a vital part of the word’s pronunciation is regularly dropped from its written form

When, on the other hand, the tone is indicated by a letter in the word’s standard spelling, to omit that letter is every bit as mistaken as to misspell the word. Hence the tone cannot be omitted except by mistake. The one disadvantage of this system is that it has not been adopted as standard yet; I think Hanyu Pinyin is going to continue to be a problematic way to convey the true sound of a Chinese word until this, or a similar system, is widely implemented.

But one could start with Taipei’s streetsigns.


Just as we do not require full pronunciation information on English
street signs, we do not from hanyu pinyin.

Hanyu pinyin without tone information is the only way a street name
can be passed back and forth, mouth to mouth, or data system to data
system, here and abroad, and remain intact. Even the capital letter
in the middle: FuXing Rd. would not be stable, say, being passed thru
US Postal Service software, where all letters become capital. Anyway,
we want data integrity guarantees, also giving the user the minimal
burden while distinguishing separate streets.

By the way, the majority of the users of a pinyin road signs wouldn’t
know how to properly use tone information. [For the case of a “lucky
star” Rd. which would be a second Fuxing, luckily the district (qu1)
is different, say in the Taizhong case.]

Fufxingl Rd.: Using letters for tones is multiplexing two
frequencies… two classes in the same classroom, who can hear what
the teacher said? More importantly, it conflicts with the world
standard, and is not just a subset, like our tone removal.

Anyway, I see Taibei city gov’t has put up FuXing Rd. signs. 3
cheers, big X or not! Note, the Xi- series are definitely done under
mayor Ma. 3 cheers for Mayor Ma. On Xuchang St. one can see an
example of the Xu- series that Yu Boquan hung 4 years ago, though he
subsequently held news conferences screaming about X [his love affair
with X was limited to Xu, though he tries to change the subject when
asked.] Li Yingyuan, now the Secretary of the Executive Yuan, was the
legislator who held his press conferences… [see my webpage].

Originally posted by Jonathan1: Another solution would be to use a letter following the vowel in each word to indicate that word's tone....

This is not a modification of hanyu pinyin, Yale or any other system but a system of its own: gwoyeu romatzyh. See the page I just added to my site yesterday:

quote[quote]There are few guidelines about which vowel to double when the word contains two and so on, but really the system is invariable and simple.[/quote] Simple is generally not a word that comes to mind when it comes to GR. Here's a sample of some of the rules: [i]Generally, the first tone is the original form; for the second tone, an r is inserted after the vowel, or an i or u becomes a y or w respectively; for the third tone, the main vowel is doubled, or a medial i or u becomes an e or o respectively; and for the fourth, a final h is added in the case of a single vowel final like a, a final y or w replaces the i or u in dipthongs ending in these sounds (like -ai and -au) respectively, a q replaces the g in a final -ng, and a final l or n is doubled. The neutral tone is indicated by a dot before the word.[/i] [i]An exception to the rules occurs when the initial of a word is a liquid or a nasal (l, r, m, or n). Because the words with these initials rarely occur in the first tone in Mandarin, the original form is used to indicate the second tone rather than the first tone, and an h is inserted after the initial to form the first tone.[/i]
quote[quote]The one disadvantage of this system is that it has not been adopted as standard yet;[/quote] Oh, but it was. GR was the ROC's official romanization system for over half a century. And how much did it catch on here? Zero, zilch, nada.

The arguments pro and con are complicated, so I’m not really going into them unless people really want.


I’m sorry, I didn’t explain myself very well… as you pointed out, Laowai, GR is a clunky, complicated, ugly, and most importantly dead romanization system. I just want to make clear that the system I advocate is not GR, which I loathe and fear.

The system I prefer is identical to Hanyu Pinyin, except instead of tone marks the following letters are used. First tone, no change; second tone, a “y” after the vowel; third tone, the vowel is doubled; fourth tone, an “h” after the vowel. It differs from Hanyu Pinyin ONLY in its method of denoting a character’s tone. Cornelius Kubler, the Williams College professer of Chinese and linguist who conceived it, calls the system Modified Pinyin (MP). Its only resemblance to GR is that GR also uses a letter instead of a tone mark to indicate tone.

I am basically a Hanyu Pinyin fan - it beats anarchy, as we are in a position to appreciate. However, in practice people usually don’t use tone marks with HP; hence my enthusiasm for Modified Pinyin.

Maybe it doesn’t truly matter if you get the tones right when you’re saying a place name; hopefully it’s something famous and the cab driver will get it, right? And eventually I’ll just know all the characters. I’m just tired of giving it the old sorta-first-tone, sorta-second-tone slur, hoping I’m somewhere near intelligible. As long as they’re going to change the street signs AGAIN, I want to root for a system that actually indicates - even if it’s only to the intitiated - how to pronounce the word. If that system is Hanyu Pinyin, tone marks actually included, that’s great too - I just don’t trust them to really use them.

If omitting the tone meant deviating from the standard spelling of the word - as in Modified Pinyin - it would be a far less widespread problem.


Of course it won’t look elegant on street signs (or anywhere else, for that matter! ) but let me once more throw in my NT$1 for my TOP (Tonally Orthographic Pinyin) system. It’s very simple, using only capital/small letters to indicate Mandarin tones:

2nd tone: lasT letterR caP: mA zhuanG conG
(the voice goes up…so does the orthography)
3rd tone: all lower case: ma zhuang cong
(true 3rd tone is not really dipping-rising, but rather short and low in the majority of cases – don’t ask me for the references just now but I did enough instrumental phonetics to know)
4th tone: First Letter Cap: Ma Zhuang Cong

Neutral tone can be indicated by adding an “!” or “.” or “*” or something to the all lower-case syllable.

This system retains the phonetic relationship between the syllables while expressing the tonal differences. It’s also easy to type. The only change to the original Hanyu Pinyin system is that any single-letter syllables have to have the letter doubled (that is, a becomes aa so that you can have AA, aA, aa, Aa). Since we’re only talking about “a” and “e” here, it’s not such a big problem.

I’ve been using TOP since I came up with it in 1995, and it’s helped my tonal accuracy and input speed. Lots of people say it’s “ugly”, but then again all the previous tonal spelling schemes were (IMHO) even uglier. And anyway, I’m not saying it’s to replace characters or anything, or to produce a body of literature…it’s just a way of representing tonal syllables in a linguistically sound way that also happens to have visual advantages for study.

(Maybe Taiwan should go with it, 'cause it’s “different” from Pinyin, but not too much so! Could be the political-linguistic breakthrough of the century…[or not!] )