Romanisation competition

Yeah, but the point behind it is to provide some support for people who don’t know the language. Can you imagine trying to get around in, say, Egypt, not knowing a word of Arabic, and with nothing but Arabic on street signs? What, do you expect tourists to learn to read the language of any country they visit, no matter how long they’ll be there? Or do you expect new immigrants to a country to be able to read the language before they arrive? :unamused:

[quote=“Tetsuo”]Yeah, but the point behind it is to provide some support for people who don’t know the language.[/quote]That’s one of many points. If it were the only point then it might be better to use the Yale system.

Remember that one of the main criticisms of Hanyu Pinyin is the counter-intuitive x and q. (Yes of course they’re not counterintuitive if you know Portuguese for the x and whatever the other language was for the q, but for many English speakers they are not intuitive.)

Using Hanyu Pinyin does really require at least some basic knowledge of the phonemic system in Mandarin. But once learned, it does have a great many practical uses by a wide range of people including native speakers.

Of course I do! I am American. Haven’t you heard Americans yelling at people because they don’t speak English. We all believe that the second you speak the word “America” you will automatically be blessed with English Ability. I have heard hundreds of people yell at the people in the Mexican Eateries near my house for not speaking English.

Therefore, because I lived a long time in the US, I am allowed to think this way.

:America: :America: :America: :America: :America: :America:

Good point. I should’ve said “one of the points”.

Definitely. But it gives non-speakers something, even if they mangle parts of it. If it were introduced as a standard, people would at least be able to recognize the place meant if it were written down after the person attempting to say it mangled it :laughing:

Unfortunately that’s not limited to America and Americans. :frowning:

There are many different things that could make one system of romanisation better than others. For example:

  1. Accuracy - the ability to map sounds to letters consistently

  2. Usabiltiy - you need to strike a balance between accuracy and not having too many symbols/combinations. There’s only 26 letters but perhaps about 50 sounds (phonemes?) in Chinese. So in Hanyu pinyin the ‘a’ has different sounds in the words ‘ba’, ‘ian’, ‘wang’ and ‘ai’. You have to learn the combinations. Otherwise you’re going to have to add in accents, apostrophes or non-roman letters which might not be available on a standard keyboard, and may get ommitted when written, making the system less accurate. On the otherhand HP tries to be more concise than (for example) Yale, by using the ‘spare’ letters z, q, and c instead of combinations like ‘ts’. This leads people to think that it’s ‘counter-intuitive’.

  3. Intuitivity - Obviously it would be great if there was a system that would allow English speakers ot see the word and then know hwo to pronounce it. But this is a lot harder than it may seem. Have you ever tried to do it? You run out of letters fast and have to start using unweildy combinations. Also, English itself is not consistent, so this leads to problems. Let’s say you want to write the word 好 so you go decide to use ‘how’. English speakers would be able to read that more or less right. But then how to write the rhyming word 貓? ‘Mow’? English speakers would probably read something different. And what about users of the latin alphabet for languages other than English? The same things wouldn’t be so intuitive. I don’t much like the criticism of HP that it isn’t intuitive with its x, q, and c’s. It’s just impossible to do a really intutive system, and the closer you get, the more you sacrifice other qualities.

  4. Learnability - Pretty much any system is as learnable as any other once you grasp the basic principles, but a few are harder. For example Gwoyueh Romatzh (sp?) was designed to incorporate tonal information. Nice idea, but a bugger to learn.

This brings me to the final attribute for a good romanisation system, which I believe is by far the most important"

  1. Standardisation - A romanisation system, no matter how good, is worth shit if noone knows how to use it. There are very few people familiar with any system at all except for Hanyu Pinyin. If there is no standardisation you simply don’t know how to pronounce a word unless you know what standard is being used. Having two or more competing standards leads to huge problems, especially in the era of the Internet. Have you ever tried to look up a name on the Internet and had to go through 5 different ways of romanising the name to get all the innformation you could? It’s a nightmare. Hanyu Pinyin is the closest we have to an international student. Over 99% of peopel who know any romanisation system know HP. It’s the standard in China of course, and one of the competing standards here in Taiwan. (There is still no ‘official’ romanisation for Taiwan, but a few years ago the MOE ‘recommended’ the little known Tongyong Pinyin. Many districts implemented it (often inconsistently andd poorly), but Taipei City and a few other places did a very good job of switching to Hanyu Pinyin. Still more places kept Wade-Giles, MPS2 or a mix-n’match. The Post Office accepts Tongyong or Hanyu as their standard.).


All the major systems, if used correctly, fulfill your criterion 1. For criteria 2 to 4 Yale probably comes out best. But the single most important criterion is 5 which is why Hanyu Pinyin is now the best option.

I have before me a Chinese - English dictionary organized by Pinyin, ie. alphabetically, just like an English dictionairy. If I hear a word and want to know what it means I can look it up in the dictionairy, and I can do so faster frequently than a native speaker of Mandarin could find the same character using whatever system it is that they use to that.

That’s some kinda shit![/quote]

Well, you can buy the Far East Dictionary which has MPLS in it. I saw taiwanese looking up a word with that, after all they learned that system in school.

I think that hanyu pinyin is the best pinyin on the market, but it sucks too.
The most silly thing which happend to people visiting/working as non chinese speakers in Taiwan was probably when they decided that local authorities can overrule the national “Wade” standard. Now we are really dead, cause now they can write what you want. There is not just one standard with mistakes anymore but many standards with many mistakes that are made. Shin Jwu… I still think its an impressive creation, the fact that it is on a public transport system is even worse.

The term “roma pinyin” could well be one of those well-heeled carry-overs from the days of Japanese occupation that made its way from Japanese to Taiwanese and then into Mandarin. Or it could be a loan phrase from Japanese. In Japanese, the system of using Roman letters to write Japanese words is called “romaji”.

Regardless, Hanyu pinyin is the de-facto international standard of writing Mandarin words with Roman letters. It is used extensively throughout the world. I welcome its growth in Taiwan and the end to the decades of confusion resulting from the random, haphazard use of multiple systems and ad-hoc improvisations.

Although Wade-Giles has often been used, badly, in Taiwan, it is not now nor has it ever been an official national standard here (or in China, either, for that matter).

Until a few years ago the official national standard in Taiwan for Mandarin was MPS2. (Street signs in much of the country remain in this system. But few people recognize it for what it is.) Before that the official system was Gwoyeu Romatzyh, which is seldom seen other than on the sides of tour buses.

Now the official national standard is Tongyong Pinyin. But, as you noted, local areas are free to override this choice.

The Hanyu Pinyin signs in Taipei are, astonishingly, almost all correct – other than that damn InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion. This represents a considerable improvement on how things were before. The Tongyong Pinyin signs that have been going up in some other places are generally correct. This is also an improvement in terms of correct spellings within the system, though I’m not a fan of Tongyong. (On many of the Tongyong signs, however, the romanization is
ridiculously small
; but that’s another matter.)

Overall, though, the romanization situation in Taiwan remains poor, as the photo you posted demonstrates so well.

Actually, I hear people saying luo2ma3 pin1yin1, not ‘roma’. Same root, of course, being Rome.

Of course they don’t say “roma”. They’re speaking Chinese. :loco: