Wacky Romanization

While strolling down memory lane in this thread, I came across the following KTV youtube video.

youtube.com/watch?v=v1n4CD40adI

It’s got Chinese lyrics as to be expected, but then there’s this whacky romanization scheme on top. Initially, I thought it was romanization for another Chinese dialect or perhaps a southeast Asian language that’s being used for transliteration. Halfway through the video though, I get the feeling this was just some random made up scheme. For what purpose, I don’t know. Dare I say, it’s worse than Tongyong!

Anyone recognize this?

Just a guess: it may be a Malay rendering of Mandarin.

The final -k in “ik” for 一 represents a final glottal stop in Malay, the use of c- for j-, ch- for q and ph- for p- also seem to indicate Malay orthographic conventions. The “dh” in “dhen” for 人 may be an influence of Arabic romanization (it’s pronounced like a “z” in many Arabic dialects). And the overall pronunciation scheme seems to resemble a Malay-ish Mandarin accent.

I’ve noticed many inconsistencies, such as confusion of -n and -ng. (Does this confusion exist in Malay Mandarin as it does in Taiwanese Mandarin? Both are influenced to some degree by Hokkien.)

Chris, very interesting observation. I know not a lick of Malay, so your guess is undoubtedly better than mine.

Malay Mandarin has a Canton-Hokkien combo influence that is different from Taiwanese Mandarin, but is still very “southern” in that it lacks retroflexes and typically drops the ‘g’ in ‘ng’ endings. The usage of ‘j’ in that video is consistent with Wade-Giles, so that threw me for a second. I was also confused because I saw characters with only differences in tone being spelt differently.

If you are correct, then this video appears to be targeting Chinese-Malaysians that may speak some Mandarin, but were schooled primarily in English.

Hello, don’t know if this is related, but why is is that the transliterations of company names on the side of TOUR BUSES are always particularly wacky? Anyone else noticed this?

Yes. They are particularly wacky.
Why? Tour bus companies are run by mushroom-eaters. :idunno:

The romanization system most commonly found on tour buses is Gwoyeu Romatzyh. But why? I have no idea. Maybe someone in the factory has an old dictionary. (Really.)

The romanization you see on many tour buses is not “wacky” at all. National Romanization, also known as GR (Gwoyeu Romatzyh [Luomaatzyh]) is still widely used in daily life (apart from street signs). Most foreigners just don’t pay attention (most Taiwanese notice even less).

GR is widely misunderstood and misrepresented, but it is extremely useful once you figure out the rationale behind it: whatever SOUNDS DIFFERENT to Chinese ears LOOKS DIFFERENT. For example: one bus company is called 新信 Shin Shinn. The first syllable is shin (= high level tone, xin1); the second syllable is shinn (= high falling tone, xin4). GR takes some getting used to, but after you’ve practiced for a while, you can remember tones much better. They look different and sound different. GR forces you to remember the tones – you can’t fudge them.

GR may consistently represent individual tones, but I find it unwieldy. Why not just use tone numbers or some other simple system instead? Why the inconsistency with 4th tones in GR (luh vs jenq vs shinn)? Why “el” to represent a sound much closer to an “r”?

GR (Gwoyeu Romatzyh [Luomaatzyh]) is not inconsistent. It only seems that way because you are thinking in terms of Western, phonetically-based spelling conventions. In Western languages, one individual sound (phoneme) = one written form (grapheme) is the ideal. Spanish does this sort of thing much better than English.

GR spelling makes a lot more sense when you consider the sound system as a whole (the phonological level). Consider this: English has over 10,000 different syllables (think about sit, sits, spit, spits, split, splits, all impossible syllable structures in Mandarin).

The Mandarin sound system is profoundly different from English: if you ignore tones, Mandarin only has 400 syllable types. If you want to learn Chinese well, you need to get a feeling for syllable structure. GR and bopomofo both help you do this because they operate on the syllable level: one syllable type = one written form.

How does GR spelling work?

C = initial consonant, V = main vowel, v = i/u/iu (medial vowels:ㄧㄨㄩ)

In GR, all 4th tone CV syllables (open syllables) are written with an [color=#FF0000]-h[/color]:
lu[color=#FF0000]h[/color], ma[color=#FF0000]h[/color], pi[color=#FF0000]h[/color] (road, scold, fart). Mnemonic: [color=#FF0000]h[/color] ends with a [color=#FF0000]downstroke[/color] (4th tone is falling)

All 4th tone -ng syllables are changed to -n[color=#008040]q[/color]
Jen[color=#008040]q[/color], min[color=#008040]q[/color], fan[color=#008040]q[/color] ([a surname], fate, leave). Mnemonic: [color=#008040]q[/color] ends with a [color=#008040]downstroke[/color] (4th tone is falling)

In GR, most 2nd tone CV syllables (open syllables) are written with an [color=#FF0000]-r[/color]:
pa[color=#FF0000]r[/color], she[color=#FF0000]r[/color], po[color=#FF0000]r[/color].por (crawl, snake, mother-in-law).

CvV syllables belong to a different group, so they are spelled differently. The medial vowel letters are modified, so no extra letters are needed – very economical.
1st tone: chian, chuan, chiuan (lead [metal), wear/put on, circle)
2nd tone: ch[color=#008040]y[/color]an, ch[color=#008040]w[/color]an, ch[color=#008040]y[/color]uan (money, boat, all/entire)

You asked why GR uses ell instead of er for the number two? The answer is look at the overall system:
1] Sorry, the letter r is too busy representing 2nd tone
2] Besides, only a handful of words use the retroflex -r (unless you are transcribing spoken Mandarin). Using -l is a minor inconvenience.

“Why not just use -h for all 4th tones?” you may ask. The reason is because GR was designed with economy in mind. Most spellings are quite compact: there are few extra letters. If you compare an average page of Chinese rendered in Hanyu Pinyin with the same page rendered in GR, the GR is much shorter and much less cluttered. I’ve written a research paper discussing this topic.

An explanation of National Romanization in pure text form is not so clear. It is much easier to understand if you see everything laid out as a series of neat tables, one for each syllable type. I will be starting a specialized website to explain GR, so I won’t give any more examples here.

Hanyu Pinyin is OK for Chinese people who already know the Chinese sound system. Using individual symbols for each phoneme, as in Hanyu Pinyin, is reassuring for Western learners, but causes subtle problems in the long run.

[quote=“LaoTair’Uan”]The romanization you see on many tour buses is not “wacky” at all. National Romanization, also known as GR (Gwoyeu Romatzyh [Luomaatzyh]) is still widely used in daily life (apart from street signs). Most foreigners just don’t pay attention (most Taiwanese notice even less).

GR is widely misunderstood and misrepresented, but it is extremely useful once you figure out the rationale behind it: whatever SOUNDS DIFFERENT to Chinese ears LOOKS DIFFERENT. For example: one bus company is called 新信 Shin Shinn. The first syllable is shin (= high level tone, xin1); the second syllable is shinn (= high falling tone, xin4). GR takes some getting used to, but after you’ve practiced for a while, you can remember tones much better. They look different and sound different. GR forces you to remember the tones – you can’t fudge them.[/quote]

I can sort of see your point, but the facts are that Hanyu Pinyin has been universally adopted and GR is used only for tour buses and odd restaurant signs. Like one I saw recently advertising Loo Row Farn: this interposition of an “r” in the last syllable is intended to resemble British English pronunciation, and the -nn on the end of words is also typical English orthography. Far from the systemic neutrality you claim for GR.

Tone is a suprasegmental feature of the phoneme. To represent xin with four different spellings seems to ignore the fact that to both native and foreign speakers they are in an important respect the same sound.

I don’t buy the point about ease of memorization. That’s because I don’t think people learn Chinese by memorizing tones at all. As with all language learning, collocation counts. You get used to the relative pitch of morphemes in the contexts they’re usually found it. I know that’s how I learn, anyway.

Why are there alternative spellings Romatzyh / Luomaatzyh? Which is correct, and what is the other one?

Widely used in daily life? Where?

Unfortunate, but undeniable. Politics had a lot to do with the decision, but we don’t need to discuss that.

Pay attention and you’ll see more. Example: Walk into any bookstore. Pull out any Chinese-only general dictionary published in Taiwan (not a reprint of a mainland book, obviously) and look at the romanization. More than half still use GR.

GR’s orthography was not consciously modeled on English. GR’s inventors intended it to resemble spoken Chinese without seeming outlandish to westerners, just like Turkish spelling is not “intended to resemble” English or any other language. I must admit, however, that GR is not as in-your-face about its non-Englishness as Hanyu Pinyin (especially X, Q, Z and C).

I’m not sure what you mean by “systemic neutrality”

“Suprasegmental” is a term invented by Western linguists – it implies that tone marks are an afterthought, a frivolous diacritic that makes the spelling more complete or pretty. In most western languages, this is the case. Accent marks in Spanish or French, for example, can be omitted with very little loss. Most English speakers don’t feel the need to mark intonation, a suprasegmental feature. Most EFL teachers either ignore intonation or mark it with ad hoc lines and arrows.

By contrast, Chinese tones are phonemes in their own right. Traditional Chinese linguists did not have a concept of suprasegmental features. Syllables in different tones belonged to different rime categories.

[quote]To represent xin with four different spellings seems to ignore the fact that to both native and foreign speakers they are in an important respect the same sound.
[/quote]

I don’t think psycholinguists would agree with that statement. Even dialect speakers or people who know other tonal languages (such as Vietnamese) pick up Mandarin tones much faster because their ears are attuned to tonal differences. Shin and shinn do not sound the same. Apart from pitch, shinn is much shorter than shin.

[quote]I don’t buy the point about ease of memorization. That’s because I don’t think people learn Chinese by memorizing tones at all.
[/quote]

Quite right. Languages are not usually acquired by rote memorization. The important features have to sneak in through the back door, so to speak. Not marking tones in an indelible fashion makes students somewhat blind to their existence (Is that word 1st tone or 2nd tone? Let’s see … is it a horizontal squiggle or does it slant upwards?). Using different spellings makes tones more salient (and thereby easier to sneak in) for some students. My reason for promoting GR: I want to do a little to help reduce the tremendous attrition rate among foreign students of Chinese (over 90% in Australia). A recent report concluded that “By senior secondary level, the teaching and learning of Chinese in Australia is overwhelmingly a matter of Chinese teaching Chinese to Chinese” http://www.theage.com.au/national/demand-for-asia-study-overhaul-20081011-4ysm.html

Too many people give up too soon: “My tones suck” is an all too common refrain. If you can’t pick out and form proper tones, it will be tremendously difficult :frowning: to have a normal conversation with Chinese people (other than patient teachers :slight_smile: ). Your self-esteem will suffer and you will probably stop trying.

If you feel Hanyu Pinyin does everything you need, well fine. I use it very often myself (but not exclusively). I’ll answer your other questions later.

Like many foreigners who rarely flip through Chinese dictionaries, Cranky Laowai is probably mistaken. It could just as well be a new dictionary. Even dictionaries published in the last few years still use GR. It refuses to die. :thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

[quote=“LaoTair’Uan”]My reason for promoting GR: I want to do a little to help reduce the tremendous attrition rate among foreign students of Chinese (over 90% in Australia). A recent report concluded that “By senior secondary level, the teaching and learning of Chinese in Australia is overwhelmingly a matter of Chinese teaching Chinese to Chinese” http://www.theage.com.au/national/demand-for-asia-study-overhaul-20081011-4ysm.html

Too many people give up too soon: “My tones suck” is an all too common refrain. If you can’t pick out and form proper tones, it will be tremendously difficult :frowning: to have a normal conversation with Chinese people (other than patient teachers :slight_smile: ). Your self-esteem will suffer and you will probably stop trying.[/quote]

I’m not sure the two things - the tremendous attrition rate of Mandarin students and people’s tones sucking - are too closely associated. The reasons behind the phenomenon of “Chinese teaching Chinese to Chinese” (which my reading seems to also indicate is overwhelmingly the case) are more complex than you make out here (I’m sure you probably know that too, but you’re focusing on one part of the argument - fair enough).

From my perspective the drop-out rate for Chinese students can be attributed to a number of factors:
[ul]Poor quality teaching
Antiquated teaching methods
A misguided obsession with learning characters at an early stage
The difficulty of learning a tonal language if you don’t speak one already[/ul]

I think many, many students drop out because Mandarin is just damn hard. They realise after a couple of months of lessons that this thing is going to take years to get down right, and therefore get discouraged - especially if their reasons for learning include nebulous financial/career-related ones. It doesn’t help as well that students who already speak the language are allowed to take these classes for extra credit - not at all good for the beginners in the class.

The difference between using HP and GR as a pedagogical tool in light of the above problems is slight - and, I believe, in favour of HP, which not only is near-universal and has a shallower learning curve, but if used properly just as effective at teaching tones to students, provided that the teacher knows how to use it. Of course, the students must be taught that tones are a critical and non-negotiable part of speaking Mandarin well.

Could you outline these subtle problems?

I think Gwoyeu Romatzyh is an ingenious creation (and Chao Yuen-ren was a genius), but I see no possibilty of it becoming anything more than historical curiosity, given the dominance of Hanyu Pinyin (and the lack of a compelling reason to abandon that system). I wish you good luck with the website - accurate information in English related to Chinese languages is always a welcome thing.

My brief observations on this are not consistent with your findings. For example, compare the GR and HP versions of an extended parallel text on my site.

no. of characters (not counting spaces)[ul][li]Hanyu Pinyin: 8714[/li]
[li]Gwoyeu Romatzyh: 9752[/li][/ul]

The ratio is a little closer if spaces are included (10,709 vs. 11576). But for the purposes of this comparison I think it’s best to discount differences in word parsing between the systems. At any rate, in this case GR is not shorter but longer – and by a double-digit percentage.

Also, the only study I have seen comparing the production of tones by Westerners studying Mandarin showed no improvement for those learning via GR than learning via Pinyin.

Regardless, I look forward to reading your study and seeing your findings, and I wish you the best of luck with your site.

[quote=“LaoTair’Uan”]

Pay attention and you’ll see more. Example: Walk into any bookstore. Pull out any Chinese-only general dictionary published in Taiwan (not a reprint of a mainland book, obviously) and look at the romanization. More than half still use GR.[/quote]

These dictionaries have zhuyin too, don’t they? If so, who’s “using” the GR? (You didn’t explain about GR vs GL btw)

Just meant it’s a bit like English, not language neutral. Sorry, that was a bit pompous.

Your points about Chinese tone are well taken. I didn’t know about the rhyme classes.

But the teachers will still be pretending to the students that the tone of a syllable is just an extra feature to learn. That’s how tone is presented to newcomers. So how will all these different spellings help with getting that point across? Instilling the idea that the 4 xins are completely different sounds will help teenagers with their tones, or confuse them even more?

Good luck indeed with your website. I’m sure many will be interested to learn more about GR.

Wow! The side-by-side presentation of two romanized versions of Humpty Dumpty is beautiful. However, the fact that Pinyin tone marks are stacked on top of vowel letters makes your comparison somewhat unfair. After all, you can’t just type ta and stop. You have to go back and add the tone mark on top of the a: .

On a printed page Hanyu Pinyin does appear more compact than Gwoyeu Romatzyh, but this ignores the effort needed to pause, add the correct tone to the main vowel letter (problematic in the case of syllables like jiu and tui, both of which omit the main vowel which appears in y[color=#FF0000]o[/color]u and w[color=#FF0000]e[/color]i: “Huh? What do I do now?”) and continue typing (or scribbling, as the case may be). After you’ve been using Pinyin for a while, these habits become automatic, but the fact remains that they require some effort.

Below, I have deliberately chosen a short phrase from paragraph one of Humpty Dumpty where Pinyin is more compact because it “cheats” by

1] omitting the main vowel in dui (should be du[color=#FF0000]e[/color]i) and
2] writing the affricate /tz/ as one symbol. GR writes them out in full.

If we count [letter]+[tone mark] combinations as single symbols, Pinyin seems shorter than GR (13:17), but if we [color=#FF0000]count the tone marks separately[/color], GR is the winner (18:17)

Pinyin: Tā duì zìjǐ shuō 2+3+4+4+[color=#FF0000]5[/color] = 18
GR: Ta duey tzyhjii shuo 2+4+7+4 = 17

Even in this example, GR comes out ahead of Hanyu Pinyin. In an extended text, GR is very obviously more compact. I’ll post an Excel spreadsheet analysis of the 千字文Chiantzyhwen (Qiānzìwén) on my website for a better comparison.

AFAIK there are two studies of tonal spelling in the classroom. One concludes that it is somewhat useful, the other says that GR is actually harmful. The second study is methodologically flawed: it uses a very small sample and the author lacks objectivity. He never explains how the teachers were trained and, more seriously, his conclusion betrays his prejudice against GR (I can’t quote it off the top of my head, but he basically says “I have finally driven a stake through the heart of this vampire. Let’s get on with our normal lives and use Hanyu Pinyin, the only reasonable romanization”) :noway: Tsk, tsk, tsk!

The people who write tour bus names, “odd” restaurant signs, product names, etc. and the many well-educated people who romanize their names in “odd” ways, such as Ma Ying-[color=#FF0000]jeou[/color], our beloved president. :wink:

I can type ta1 and stop, and my Autocorrect function in word changes the a to a diacritically marked. :discodance: Of course, I had to spend ages programming it to do that for every syllable and tone combination in existence, but now it does, including the umlauts.

It would be cool if Microsoft offered an Autocorrect .acl file like this that contained the HYPY diacrital set for the full syllabary for Word, so that anyone wanting this feature could just install that file, no? Or maybe I should just offer mine to the public. I could clean up my file (it also has zillions of customizations not appropriate for public distribution; you don’t want ‘add*’ to produce MY address now, do you?) and have someone like Cranky offer it to the public via his website?

Over one thousand syllables had to be corrected one by one (or did you work with individual words?). Wow! You certainly are patient. Thanks for offering your input method. :thumbsup:

My point stands, however: tones in Hanyu Pinyin still have to be represented one way or another (tone marks, numbers, CaMeL CaPs, etc.), so it’s not quite correct to say that HP is shorter than GR.