Return of Pinyin Wars


As an afterthought, Taiwanese are also heavily affected by this lack of pinyin standard. Example: When they travel abroad, the parents’ passports and the kids’ have different last names … because they use different pinyin when they got them.


Also makes it difficult to do things like teach Chinese as a means to support themselves when living abroad. Really could learn it in an hour and then carry on using Zhuyin internally. Hanyu Pinyin only needs to be used in Taiwan for the benefit of foreigners.


That’s not how influence works. You’ve got it backwards.

First you become a hub, then everyone else starts doing it your way.


Untrue. Look at Hong Kong or Singapore. Everything is done from the bottom up and geared to making the place as international as possible


I am checking a tourist-related file right now, introducing Taiwan. Everything is fine in the part where the Taipei area is introduced. All Hanyu Pinyin with a few exceptions like “Taipei”.

As soon as I come to the parts where Tainan/Kaohsiung is introduced I run into “Siaosimen”, “Sihzih Bay” and all that Tongyong mess. What shall I use when translating non-official names in Kaohsiung for instance, when for the rest of the document I am using Hanyu Pinyin? No way I can avoid inconsistencies, confusion or lengthy explanations as to why there are different romanization systems used. It’s just a waste of time. Everyone involved in translating Chinese to English in Taiwan has to deal with it. All those government departments spend valuable time on this. Every newbie will ask a senior about it. No one has a clue, no one has the right answer. It’s so frickn stupid and unnecessary. Just use one effing system for all instances, save for a few exceptions such as major city names, and then turn your attention, time, energy to more important matters, such as saving the planet for heaven’s sake!
[Rant over… to be continued in the not so far future, this will never end…]


Just quietly change everything to Hanyu pinyin. Shh, I won’t tell anybody. The readers will thank you.


Yeah, but depends on the client.


I say “The customer’s always right…except when it comes to Tongyong.” But yeah, if your client is the Kaohsiung (oops) Municipal Government, you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot.


Hanyu pinyin is no longer the property of this or that nation, but the common heritage of all Mandarin-speaking people, no matter their nationality.

Incidentally, the author signs his name “Te Khai-su”.


“At worst, lives might be at stake if such confusion appears in, say, mountaineering maps.”

Nah, don’t think that’ll be a problem. In the mountains, you are lucky to find signs in Chinese.


There may not be Swahili signs on Mt. Kilimanjaro, but…

Btw here’s a longer obituary of Professor Pinyin, which mentions his belief that HP saved his life.


HanyuPinyin Hustles Harder


Maybe the government could explain why Pinyin is useful for foreigners, how internationalized it is and why it’s beneficial to use it. I honestly don’t think most people care, they just haven’t had the case made to them


A mix of debatable and moot points. Not likely to sway people.


Sorry to

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.

About Tongyong:

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 ® 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! :doh:

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.


From time to time I run across a local who knows Tongyong. Hanyu? Not so much.


Really? I find that a little hard to believe. I’ve never met a local who knows either one to any extent.


It’s the opposite for me. I’ve met some locals who have taught themselves Hanyu, mainly for teaching or communicating with foreigners.

I’ve never met anyone who knew Tongyong.


And yet somehow we all know Tongyong exists. Me, I was introduced to it by a Taiwanese.


I was introduced to it through DPP propaganda pieces. Then I started to see jarringly weird spellings in Green-leaning media and made the connection.