Tongyong Pinyin for Taiwanese location names

Oooh, BFM - you’re setting yourself up for a nasty fall here - the Chinese National Party is in fact the correct translation for the Zhongguo Guomindang - the formal name for the KMT. :p[/quote]
It’s a literal translation of it, but is that what it calls itself in its English-language documentation? I would think they, like any other party, have the right to decide what their English name is. If we wanted, we could call the DPP the “Democratic Advancement Gang” or some such name, but that wouldn’t be what they call themselves. We say “People First Party” even though it’s not an exact translation of their Chinese name, but it’s what they call themselves in English. If the KMT’s preferred English name is “Kuomintang”, then that’s what you use. Anything else is editorializing.

The X is not counterintuitive if you are a speaker of Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Basque, Maltese or Greek.

The Q is not counterintuitive if you are a speaker of Albanian.[/quote]
You are joking, right?[/quote]

So when is the Taipei Times going to start use the local spellings ? A few days ago I saw Banciao, but they still refer to Shihlin and ChengChung now. Seems Bu Lai En was right about them prefering good-Taiwanese-not-created-for-political-reasons Tongyong Pinyin over Evil-commie-used-to-show-Taiwan-is-part-of-the-PRC Hanyu Pinyin.

You’re right BFM. I thought I saw an HP spelling a few days ago, but the only Taipei place name I can see in today’s paper is ‘Chungcheng’, which should be Zhongzheng.

But what annoys me more, is LOL’s outright dishonesty, in his claims (on this thread, and in his response to my letter to the editor). He says “what we actually said was …” and then says what he meant rather than what he actually said (which was “we reluctantly decided that the copy desk would have to learn Tongyong Pinyin for Taiwanese location names”). So he mocks me for not understanding his editorial, when it was his unclear writing that left it open to misinterpretation.


Or you could blame it on incompetent proofreading. After all, I’m sure most of the mistakes in the English papers here are not deliberate.

[part 1 of 2 long posts]

This is incorrect, though I was pleased to see the Taipei Times correctly noted that in general Taiwan has not used proper Wade-Giles but bastardized Wade-Giles. In terms of official signage, four systems are common in Taiwan: Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin, MPS2, and bastardized Wade-Giles. It is important not to omit MPS2, as it is found on many, many street signs throughout Taiwan. Other systems – and lots of mistakes – can also be found.

I have not seen any Tongyongization “with a vengeance” within Taipei County, which is where I live. And I believe I am more attentive to such changes than most. Perhaps you could supply examples. Elsewhere you attribute the change to the efforts of the Taipei County Government, so a look at the situation around the seat of government might be instructive. Immediately surrounding Taipei County Hall a few of the street signs have been changed to Tongyong Pinyin, though almost as many have been changed to Gwoyeu Romatzyh, a system that although official for decades was basically never used! Other signs around Taipei County Hall remain as they have been for years, which is to say not in Tongyong. And at least one of the new Tongyong signs by the Taipei County Hall is misspelled, a situation that should surprise no one. And in the case of almost all of the Tongyong signs, they did not simply replace old signs but were put up as part of substantial roadwork in the area that required the installation of altogether new signage and equipment.

Elsewhere in Banqiao, almost all street signs remain in MPS2. Such is the case in many if not most other parts of the country.

Then use the power of your editorial page to get the government to work harder to see that old and incorrect signs are replaced, preferably with well-designed signs in Hanyu Pinyin.

It’s also important to keep in mind that romanization matters not just so people can see one spelling in a newspaper and the same thing on a sign. It’s also crucial that people be able to speak with each other. All the consistency in the world would never be enough to render bastardized Wade-Giles a useful romanization method because it does not provide reliable information about how the Mandarin words were meant to be pronounced. Remember how horrible the pronunciations on the MRT announcement system used to be? “Tam-shoo-ee” for “Danshui”, “XIAO4 nan men” for “Xiao Nanmen”, “Koo-ting” for “Guting” – all this and much, much more – consistent but stupid. Similarly, think of the city’s “nicknumbering” system: Even if all the signs are “correct” in this system, it’s still useless because no local has any idea where the hell “Seventh Boulevard” is. And it really is basically pointless. Romanization of Mandarin is meant to communicate the Mandarin names for things, not create some hideous, unnecessary pidgin (for example “key lung” for Jilong).

So using Hanyu Pinyin, which is known by pretty much everyone who knows at least one romanization system for Mandarin, is a logical and defensible choice even where local usage might dictate otherwise. Anyway, local usage is a chimera except in Taipei, which is consistently in Hanyu Pinyin. Following local signage just won’t work in most cases because it’s simply too inconsistent. In the bad old days before Mayor Ma fixed Taipei’s street signs, would your paper have insisted that a bar be listed as being on “Patch Road” simply because that was what the street sign nearest the establishment happened to have on it?

Hanyu Pinyin is most emphatically not a “rubbish system.” It was designed with care by skilled linguists, unlike Tongyong Pinyin. The more I have learned about it, the more impressed with it I have become. And all the trash talking in the world won’t change the fact that Hanyu Pinyin is the internationally accepted standard for Mandarin. This situation is not going to change because of several factors: whatever people may say of its approach, Hanyu Pinyin does work, so there is no serious movement to replace it; it is supported far more than any other romanization system; support for Hanyu Pinyin is growing, not declining.

This seems to equate the difficulty of learning a romanization system with that of learning to read Chinese characters, which is an absurd comparison. Many, many expats who have been in Taiwan for years, decades even, remain unable to read more than a few characters. Learning Hanyu Pinyin, on the other hand, is an infinitely easier task – and one that is aided by dictionaries, websites, books, phrasebooks, travel guides, etc.; this, however, is not the case for other romanization systems.

Anyway, the fact remains that Taiwan is not a hermit kingdom that wishes to cut itself off from the world. It has no choice but to use romanization in many situations – such as in newspapers. Or perhaps the newspapers would like to do away with romanization altogether and have people read the characters instead? Hell, why not just get rid of the English papers and have people read the Mandarin-language ones. What the heck do they need English for anyway?

You’ve got to be kidding. The street signs of Taiwan’s capital were an international laughing stock. Even people on brief visits would notice their unreliability. The two top foreign business chambers, AmCham and ECCT, have in the past complained long and loud about how badly done the street signs of Taipei (and of Taiwan as a whole) were. I would say that every foreigner on the whole island – and plenty of Taiwanese, too – knew the signs were a huge mess; but, to my astonishment, this common knowledge seems not to have made it into the offices of the Taipei Times.

Moreover, the changing of Taipei’s street signs began under the administration of Mayor Chen Shui-bian. This is also when the ridiculous practice of InTerCapITalIZaTion began. Under Chen, signs started going up in Tongyong Pinyin. But then the main person behind that system acted against the advice of linguists and changed the system, rendering many of the signs obsolete. (One example of the differences in old and new Tongyong: “Zhong[color=#000040]s[/color]iao” became “[color=#000040]Jh[/color]ongsiao”.)

This is correct. Highway signs – both on the highways themselves as well as on streets leading to highways – are generally but not exclusively in Tongyong.

I do not agree at all with this assessment. More than at any other time in Taiwan’s history, signs are up in correct romanization. That they are not in a consistent romanization system does not change this fact, especially since they were not consistent in anything to start out with. Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Ma, Taipei’s streets are now labeled more accurately and consistently than ever – and, to the best of my knowledge, more accurately and consistently than the signs in any other part of the country. Although the task was large it was not likely to win him any votes, he didn’t shirk the challenge. The city is the better for it.

[part 2]

Believe me, I have nothing but sympathy for the travails of your copy editors, who must deal with the Babel of systems here. As a copy editor myself, I understand their frustration.

Here are some recommendations.

[ul][li] Given that Hanyu and Tongyong are being used increasingly and that other systems are extremely unlikely to gain acceptance on the official or unofficial level, whatever place names are spelled the same in Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin should be spelled in that form, regardless of what some old and quite possibly misspelled sign might say. (My site has a tool allowing people to check for identical forms.) Thus, Hualian (not Huali[color=#000040]e[/color]n), Taidong (not Tai[color=#000040]tu[/color]ng), Bade (not [color=#000040]Pat[/color]e), etc. Contrary to the claims of many Tongyong supporters, only about 50 percent of place names are spelled the same in both systems. But at least this is a start and should be seen as a minimum. [/li]
[li] This pattern should be followed even in most cases where the government’s official line dictates otherwise.Similarly, “Hualian” (never “Huali[color=#000040]e[/color]n”), Jiayi (never “C[color=#000040]hi[/color]ayi”), and Pingdong (never “Ping[color=#000040]tu[/color]ng”). [/li]
[li] Exceptions to the first rule in this section should be kept to the barest of minimums (e.g. “Taipei”). [/li]
[li] K[color=#000040]ee[/color]lung, Ma[color=#000040]ts[/color]u, [color=#000040]K[/color]inmen – it’s time they were finally romanized in forms people could find useful: Jilong, Mazu, and Jinmen. (Note: these are the same in Tongyong Pinyin and Hanyu Pinyin.[/li]
[li] So what to do about Xindian/[color=#000040]S[/color]indian/[color=#000040]Hs[/color]intien, etc.? If it were up to me, I’d put most everything in Hanyu Pinyin. It works. But you’re probably not going to do that yet, so I’ll move on to some other suggestions. [/li][/ul]

[ul][li] End the paper’s practice of using bastardized Wade-Giles as the default form of romanization for personal names when personal preference is unknown. Bastardized Wade-Giles (a perversion of a system rather than a system itself) is more ambiguous than just about any other choice. Bastardized Wade-Giles has to go, and regular Wade-Giles isn’t a much better choice and should also be eliminated. [/li]
[li] Use Hanyu Pinyin as the default form for personal names. Tongyongist objections about this confusing people are tremendously overstated and are often simply absurd. After all, has anyone, anywhere ever seriously believed that because President Chen Shui-bian uses Hanyu Pinyin for his name (yes!) the sovereignty of Taiwan is in danger or he is really a mainland stooge? [/li]
[li] Retain the hyphen traditionally used in Wade-Giles personal names. This continues to show a distinction between the names of people in China and the names of people in Taiwan – and you don’t even need a different romanization system to make this work. (Actually, context alone would make the nationality clear in almost all cases.)[/li][/ul]

[ul][li] Since space is traditionally a concern at newspapers, you may be interested to know that Hanyu Pinyin is the most compact of all the romanization systems. (Compare Shizi (HP) & Shi[color=#000040]hzi[/color]h (TP), Danshui & Danshu[color=#000040]e[/color]i, Liugui & Lio[color=#000040]ugu[/color]ei.) Using Hanyu Pinyin saves space. [/li]
[li] Even if you choose not to adopt Hanyu Pinyin fully, you may wish to consider adopting the Hanyu Pinyin orthographic conventions for vowel-related abbreviations, which would have the useful side effect of making more things spelled the same in Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin. (These abbreviations are not unique to Hanyu Pinyin. Even Wade-Giles uses them. For that matter, Tongyong Pinyin uses one: -un for -u[e]n. Did Tongyong’s designers just overlook this one?) The abbreviations are -uei --> -ui, -iou --> -iu. Thus, “Danshui” not “Danshu[color=#000040]e[/color]i”, “Ruifang” not “Ru[color=#000040]e[/color]ifang”, “Douliu” not “Douli[color=#000040]o[/color]u”, etc.[/li]
[li] Always remember that the unit for consideration is the word, not the syllable and most certainly not the character. The paper already generally does a good job in this regard. This leads to the next point. [/li]
[li] Do not adopt the Taipei City Government’s ill-advised practice of InTerCapITalIZaTion – ever. I can’t stress this point enough. [/li]
[li] Taipei’s so-called nicknumbering system is a disaster; never use it.[/li]
[li] Do not omit apostrophes: Da’an (not D[color=#000040]aa[/color]n), Su’ao (not S[color=#000040]ua[/color]o); Yong’an (not Yo[color=#000040]ng[/color]an). Omission of apostrophes is part of why bastardized Wade-Giles is such a colossal failure. Fortunately, apostrophes are seldom needed in Hanyu Pinyin or Tongyong Pinyin (though they are somewhat more common in the latter system). [/li]
[li] Be careful not to reproduce misinformation about Tongyong Pinyin. Contrary to what is often printed, [list][] Tongyong and Hanyu are not 85 percent the same but are considerably more different – some 50 percent at the word level. [/li]
[li] Tongyong cannot be used for all of the languages of Taiwan[/li]
[li] Tongyong isn’t even one system for Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Hakka[/li]
[li] Tongyong was not approved for use with Taiwanese. Indeed, one of its inventors has clearly stated that “Tongyong is not for Taiwanese.”[/li]
[li] The Tongyong/Hanyu debate does not fall so neatly along green/blue lines as many people believe. After all, Taiwan wouldn’t be in this situation now if the KMT had adopted Hanyu Pinyin years ago. Instead, the government came up with MPS2, a romanization system that the government used on some signage (no doubt “with a vengeance” in some areas) and the rest of the world ignored. For that matter, most people in Taiwan ignored it, too. So did the newspapers. Sound familiar? With MPS2, Taiwan already had a made-in-Taiwan system that was different from Hanyu Pinyin. Yet it was dumped. Plenty of people within the DPP are not at all taken in by the pro-Tongyong propaganda and would gladly back Hanyu Pinyin, if only it weren’t so clear that they would suffer for their independence of thought. [/li][/ul][/

[ul][li] Use the Taipei Times to call for the teaching of romanization in schools. Related to this, zhuyin fuhao can and should be dropped. (Your editorial, however, makes it sound as if you are unaware of the linguistic reality that romanization is every bit as effective and accurate as bopomofo. So I’ll put off further discussion of this for another time.) [/li]
[li] Encourage a rethinking of naming practices. I’ve always wondered why some Tongyong Pinyin supporters wail to the heavens, claming that using Hanyu Pinyin would Taiwan make look like China (see my earlier comment on Chen Shui-bian’s name) when most of Taiwan’s street names are intrinsically Chinese. “Chong[color=#000040]c[/color]ing South Road” instead of “Chongqing South Road” – yeah, that’ll show the world that we’re not part of China. :unamused:[/li]
[li] Encourage the use of multiple languages – or even exclusively non-Mandarin languages – on at least some signage in some areas. The non-Mandarin languages should be written in romanization. For example, it’s time that predominantly Aborigine villages have signage in their own languages. [/li]
[li] Prod the government to stop wasting time and money on developing Chinese-character systems for Taiwanese, Hakka, and the languages of Taiwan’s tribes. Romanization is easier, more efficient, and would better ensure the use and survival of these languages. [/li][/ul]

I repeat my offer to come to the offices of the Taipei Times or any other publication to discuss this matter in more detail.

I am amazed that with the number of issues in Taiwan a person could be interested in, how to Romanize Chinese characters is so important to you all. It is very low on my list.
If you guys spent as much effort trying to clean up the Tamshui and Keelung rivers, we might all be able to meet and do some fishing.

In the Times today, almost-daily letter writer Charles Hong from Columbus gives us this:

[quote]"In essence, Tongyong Pinyin for Romanization is different from Hanyu Pinyin only in three consonants.

A major advantage of Tongyong is to use “ci” and “si” instead of the two puzzling consonants “q” and “x” in Hanyu.

For foreigners and Taiwanese with or without Hanyu background, it will be much easier to read."

“Another advantage of Tongyong is its versatility for different languages in Taiwan or even major languages in the world.”

“There are no reasons for Mayor Ma Ying-jeou to reject Tongyong and adopt Hanyu in Taipei unless he really wants Taiwan to become a country with two systems. I hope he will not become a horse troubling the whole herd. Using his excellent English, he can learn the three different Tonyong consonants in three minutes.”

I would not be surprised if, someday, China wanted to adopt Tongyong for its convenience and general applicability."

"As the leading English newspaper in Taiwan, the Taipei Times should play a role in promoting the Tongyong system. It is advisable to compile a Tongyong Romanization dictionary for common Chinese words and phonetic syllables in Mandarin, Hoeloe, Hakka and Aboriginal languages by your editors with manpower and financial support from the government. Romanized names of counties, cities, towns and villages in Taiwan should be included.

In addition, the Taipei Times should help the government edit important official English documents."[/quote]

Yes, well, there seems to be this cabal of gentlemen from Ohio and Chicago who spend little time doing anything else other than writing painfully obvious or poorly thought out letters to TT. As soon as you see the names Charles Hong and Chen Ming-chung (I think) in the letters column - and there are others that seem to come to mind - you know your time would be better spent cleaning the kitchen or something. These guys would drive even pan-green readers up the wall, which makes me wonder if it isn’t a plot by pan-blue stooges within TT’s editorial “staff” to hurt the newspaper even more by not allowing the editorial page to rise above a laughingstock. :laughing:

Hong’s letter about Tongyong is mostly rubbish anyway, so now there’s two reasons not to read it. “I would not be surprised if,” he opines, “someday, China wanted to adopt Tongyong for its convenience and general applicability.”

Oh my.

I almost spat with contempt when I read that letter.

It’s ironic that this Hong fellow so loves to dictate what the government and people of Taiwan should and should not be doing when he doesn’t even live here! I assume he emigrated to the US because he did not identify closely enough with this country to be willing to stay here and pitch into efforts to develop and improve it – so his input from his new homeland is neither appropriate nor welcome.

One of my few grouses with the Taipei Times is that they print so many of his mostly worthless letters. I can hardly imagine why they do so, unless it’s because he has some kind of special relationship with the newspaper’s owners or senior management?

But I must say, that bit about the PRC one day adopting Tongyong Pinyin was quite a hoot – it amply displays the kind of cloud-cuckoo-land in which he does his thinking.

This is the most pointless debate I have ever heard in my life. So this is what’s taken over from the conversations I used to hear over 10 years ago about whether HYPY is better than Bopomofo.

How nice it is to imagine the foreigner who comes to Taiwan never having been to China, or to any other place where there is a language he doesn’t understand.

I thought this argument was put forward only by ultra-nationalists to whom romanization is simply another issue to vent their hatred of everyone who’s not as mad as they are. So, let me get this straight. We’re going to help this mythical foreign businessman who’s never been anywhere in Asia, and certainly not China, by adopting any system we can think of which is different from the one used in China, and by all people who travel to China?

And all these mysterious visitors of course use the English alphabet. So we can obviously attack HYPY on the basis that “q” and “x” look a bit odd. It goes without saying that our foreign visitors are too stupid to realise what they’re looking at is not English. But I bet they can find Jiangguomenwai on a map without having to pronounce it. That one really gets me. Like you have these business visitors, engineers, fund managers, who are like regional Asia managers, but give them a “q” or an “x” and they’re completely flummoxed. How do backpackers get around Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma, and dare I say it, China? It must be a miracle.

Counterintuitive my arse. To whom? In what way does someone who doesn’t speak Chinese intuitively pronounce or transcribe a Chinese sound? Would it not very much depend on what language they spoke. How does a Vietnamese or Japanese or Thai person pronounce or transcribe into roman characters the Mandarin for “snow”?

It’s a joke. But it doesn’t really matter one iota. Business travellers in Asia have been getting used to all sorts of romanisations for years. So Taiwan wants to choose a made-up one. Fine. That was a given. It makes people who know nothing about romanisation feel all Taiwanese and warm inside. Great. The foreigner will simply have to learn yet another system, and Taiwan will look even more parochial than it does now. But let’s not get too excited about it. The TT is right when it says choose one or the other, but wrong when it starts criticising a system which has worked well for 50 years just because it has un-English "q"s and "x"s in it.

“Hello, Taipei Times? This is the government. We have an important document that we need to translate into English. Do you think you could send one of your copyeditors to help us with it?”

“Why certainly. Anything for the government. You can count on our accuracy and discretion. And no need to worry about compensation, either–we’re happy to help out, out of simple patriotic zeal.”

I almost pooped myself when I read that. The TT is just getting worse and worse every day … even the supposedly “impartial” news has become more and more like propaganda. They don’t even seem to try to disguise it anymore. Sheesh …

The Taipei Times has run another editorial-page piece on the romanization controversy: “The perfect Romanization system.”

The argument tries to get the pan-greens to see how using Hanyu Pinyin would not be antithetical to pro-independence rhetoric but actually could support it. Use Hanyu Pinyin for “the ‘colonial’ language” (Mandarin) and Tongyong Pinyin for “the native Taiwanese languages,” it urges.

Although this has some problems, the argument is much more on the right track than previous editorials in the paper.

Unfortunately, as my professor at NTU discussed with us last week, Tongyong pinyin does not work well for the “native Taiwanese languages” either.

I thought that was an excellent editorial. Good to see that someone at the TT knows what they’re talking about on this issue.

It’s just so annoying to see them balls up something that should be so simple. The right choice is so blatantly obvious.


Letter to the editor of the Taipei Times…

Charles Hong’s fifth anniversary

Dear Editor,

Yesterday was an important milestone - my fifth anniversary of writing daily letters to the Taipei Times. Yes, it’s true - I haven’t missed a single day of offering helpful advice to my fellow Formosans ever since I came to the USA five years ago on a student visa and over-stayed. I was kind of hoping that the TT would run an article about me in the Features section, but I understand that you’re often pressed for space, so never mind. However, I did receive an email from your chief editor commemorating the event - he wrote:

“Five years already, eh Charles? Seems like a lifetime.”

The other important reason why I’m writing today is to offer my fellow Taiwanese compatriots some helpful advice about next month’s legislative elections. What you’ve all got to do is this: throw the KMT/PFP scumbags out of office and give the pan-greens a legislative majority. Yeah! It’s the duty of every patriotic Taiwanese to vote pan-green. Why, I’d love to vote in that election myself, but unfortunately I’d have some trouble getting back into the USA without a valid visa. But my heart will be with you, even if I’m not.

Anyway, after the pan-greens have a legislative majority, there’s no good reason not to declare an independent Republic of Taiwan. Don’t worry about what China says - tell Hu Jintao to blow it out his ass. If push comes to shove, President Bush will send troops to Taiwan - I wrote him just yesterday to remind him.

So show no fear. If China wants a war, bring it on! We can beat those commie bastards! Why I’d gladly leave this shit-heap city of Columbus and rush home to Taiwan to defend my native country if I could. Unfortunately, I have to stay here to help my uncle run his Chinese restaurant. But I’ll be rooting for you Taiwan. Go, go, go!

Up Yours, China
Charles Hong,
Kou-le-wun-bi-sih, Ou-ha-yi-you (spelled in Tongyong Pinyin)

Yes, that’s quite true, as I’ve noted earlier in this thread and elsewhere.

Tongyong Pinyin is more like a marketing campaign run amuck than a romanization system. One of the reasons Tongyong was adopted was that it was touted as “one system fits all,” from Mandarin to Taiwanese to Hakka to the many languages of Taiwan’s tribes. But of course this could never work: They’re different languages with different sounds, so it is impossible for there to be a one-to-one mapping of letters representing the sounds of the various languages. The best that can be done is achieve related systems. In short, Tongyong Pinyin is not one system but, unavoidably, several systems. But that doesn’t make for a very catchy ad campaign. And Tongyong schemes don’t even exist for the languages of Taiwan’s tribes, while those for Taiwanese and Hakka have not exactly met with universal acclaim. “Procrustean” is really the only word for the Tongyong approach.

Even those who would be expected to back Tongyong most strongly – the people who recommended using the Tongyong scheme for Mandarin (a minority of the committee, by the way, the rest of the members having voted with their feet) – could not bring themselves to back the adoption of the Tongyong scheme for Taiwanese.

If Taiwan wants to emphasize how it is separate from China, it should come up with a workable romanization system for Taiwanese, Hakka, and the other languages and start using them, not as tools for learning writing systems based in Chinese characters but as writing systems of their own. Learn from the wisdom of Vietnam and Korea.

But that would be the logical thing to do …