Who put the K in 高雄 (Kaohsiung)


Apples and Oranges. It’s not the same cause those names are not part of a system to romanize a language that is not written with letters of the Latin alphabet. If there is consistency in the source language why should there be inconsistencies in the way it is romanized? No one in Taiwan speaking Mandarin or Hoklo or Hakka, etc. says “Tamsui”. Why should there be different systems at the same time and in the same place?

I would have zero problem with changing the place names you take as examples, as long as it’s of benefit for the people using those names and not just for political reasons as in the case of Tamsui.


How can you make that assertion after reading my previous post?

There is likely more than one source, one from the Aboriginals who actually named the place, and the Holo traders who adapted the name into 淡水.

If the Spanish and the Dutch, who use the Roman alphabets on a daily basis and actually lived there, had so much trouble coming up with just one Romanization for the place, why it is so surprising that people who don’t use Romanization at all just stick to the one Romanization that’s been the accepted for over 100 years.


Bruce Springsteen once had a faux pax in Worcester, Massachusetts, when he made the mistake of pronouncing the city’s name according to its spelling.

By the way, how do you spell faux pas?


I think it’s fow paw.


Why on earth should anyone care what frickn colonial rulers and missionaries where thinking back in the days when determining how a place name should be spelled so that people of today who don’t read Chinese get an idea of how the name is pronounced in the main official language (Mandarin) without getting confused by a spelling that is not consistent with the system that is used for the rest of place names of the same language.

You can make a case for Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Keelung, etc, since these cities are large and international and a change to Hanyu Pinyin for example would create a great deal of confusion. But Tamsui? I think this revived spelling is making old-fart historians, over-zealous students, and local politicians happy, that’s it. It’s not helpful to anyone else.


Nonsense. Hanyu Pinyin and Bopomofo both represent standard spoken Mandarin unambiguously. For that matter so do Gwoyeu Romatzyh, Wade-Giles and MPSII. Learn and use any of those systems properly, and you can pronounce everything properly.

Not so for Keelung – that’s from the Mandarin, with the same k > j change as Kinmen (Jinmen), Nanking (Nanjing) and Peking (Beijing).

Thanks, I’m aware of that. All I was doing was responding to the question of whether Tamsui was Wade-Giles, which it ain’t.


I would like to see the proof that this is really a change of old-new Mandarin usage and not something that Wade-Giles and friends came up with.

Did people 150 years ago really say Peking for Beijing and Keelung for Jilong and Nanking for Nanjing. It seems quite unlikely?

In Wade Giles Beijing was originally Peiching. I can then guess folks thought ch should be pronounced K and they started writing Peking. This may account for Nanjing as well?
The emphasis of P for B and K/G for J seems a massive coincidence given Wade-Giles both learnt mandarin while surrounded by a veritable horde of Cantonese and Hokkien speakers. Remember these guys had to put it together from scratch in a sea of dialects. Having gone through the exact same process myself of learning to speak Chinese but being initially illiterate I made some classic Taiwan Guoyu influenced mistakes, such as the Si for Shi, before learning the characters from standard Mandarin textbooks and realizing my errors. Prior to increased exposure to standard Mandarin I had no clue about many of the errors I was making.


Pop 基隆 into the Taiwanese dictionary : Ke-lâng
Pop 北京 into the Taiwanese dictionary : Pak-kiann

I suspect what’s happen here is academics have delved into the records and looked to justify it from a logical standpoint academically and that wouldn’t result in criticism of the great professors Wade-Giles. Or they are simply unaware of the local environment in Taiwan , Fujian and Canton , the challenges that somebody would have in learning standard Chinese with few resources at the time and not familiar with dialects other than Mandarin.

The same ‘just so’ stories often happen with place names. If you look at the town Houlong in Miaoli (with many different spellings in Chinese until it settled down as 後龍) there is a claim by academics that it was named after people who immigrated from a small village called Houlong in Kinmen.

Only if you know the history of the place do you know it was the Dutch that established it as a trading site.
Then if the academics had further bothered to check what the local Aboriginals called the small settlement at the time before the Chinese immigrants from Kinmen came…‘Ao Lang’…they would figure out the aborigines were probably just calling it Holland people town!!

This is what Holland sounds like in Dutch (scroll down).

The Chinese came later and had to make some BS back story. This is further evidenced by the fact that Houlong had so many different characters used for it. In fact many of the Chinese inhabitants of Houlong to this day don’t even know their ancestors were aboriginals as their forefathers chose Chinese names and made up stories to fit into Han culture. Some even have Dutch ancestry… Just thought it was an interesting local story :2cents:


[quote=“Brianjones, post:47, topic:160816”]
I would like to see the proof that this is really a change of old-new Mandarin usage and not something that Wade-Giles and friends came up with.[/quote]
The palatalisation of Mandarin velars (and other Chinese languages) is well-documented, akin to the Great Vowel Shift in English. For a paper discussing just one piece of the evidence, see this, on an eighteenth century Manchu–Mandarin phrasebook:


For most of the period of contact with Europeans, Nanjing Mandarin was the prestige version. Nanjing Mandarin underwent the palatalisation process later than northern Mandarin, as reflected in the phonetic research of missionaries, and the transfer of words into surrounding languages. For older examples of k versus j, think about how words from Tang-era China were adopted into Japanese. The same 京 that we’re discussing here became “kyō”. The Japanese didn’t change all the j sounds to k sounds. They kept the k sounds from the source language, and then Chinese changed after the borrowing had taken place.

Cute, but not borne out by the historical/phonetic record. Peking (or Pekin) was written thus for at least a couple of centuries before Mr Wade first put pen to paper. Also, saying that Wade–Giles Beijing was “originally” Peiching implies that this later changed. It didn’t. In WG Beijing has always been written Peiching. Ditto for Keelung, which was always Chilung in WG.

If you want a lot more on the origins of Peking/Beijing, then try this paper (though I’m not sure I buy the conclusions about Sino–PIE relations between some phonemes).


Money quote:

[quote]Around the middle of the seventeenth century, a whole series of extraordinary phonological
and grammatical changes that were taking place in the northern Chinese topolects began to surface. One of these was the so-called palatalization of the velars whereby g, k, and h before the high front vowels i and u became j, q, and x. This transformation must have started to occur already in the northeast by about the middle of the seventeenth century, for we find confirmation of it in the Manchu translation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (1644?). But it did not happen everywhere at the same instant. Indeed, there are still numerous speakers in the north who continue to say Peking instead of Beijing.[/quote]

Edit to add: “Palatalization of the Velars” sounds like a Star Wars prequel that never got made.


You manged to ignore a lot of what I wrote which doesn’t surprise me to be honest as it challenges somewhat the ‘academic’ version which seems to ignore the massive influence of regional dialects on spoken Mandarin.

At the very least there seems to be an argument that Hokkien accented Mandarin or Cantonese accented Mandarin influenced Wade Giles approach to Pinyin, which remains reflected in the places names we see around us in Taiwan and also on mainland China. These guys weren’t great scholars of Chinese originally, they basically learned it on the job , they didn’t have tape recorders or videos to listen to, they had to learn from the people around them, Wade starting and Giles refining (while passing through Taiwan and Xiamen). Wade lived all over China for 40 years so later on was probably very well aware of the different regional pronunciations of Mandarin but still decided to continue with the Southern influenced dialect pinyin (probably because that’s what he had started with when putting together his textbooks and that’s where he spent most of his career anyway). As most foreigners worked and lived in Southern China the choice was quite practical.

EDIT- I read the interesting paper you linked to and he basically AGREES with my thesis that local Chinese languages were amongst the major contributing factors to the confusion of spelling for Peking and Beijing. Wade and Giles would have been more familiar with the P and K versions and this fed into their system of Pinyin. Southern Chinese don’t speak Beijing type Mandarin (and still don’t) and therefore it resulted in some of the idiosyncranies we see in their system when dealing with Beijing standard mandarin now.

The biggest revelation for me…P in the Wade Giles system was really meant to be pronounced P and K was really pronounced K!!!


Page 3 of 26


Wiktionary has this to say:

From the Postal Map romanization of Mandarin Chinese 北京, itself derived from French Pekin, a transcription based on the Nanjing-dialect pronunciation


Southern dialects preserve older pronunciations to a great degree. In Taiwanese many words still have “literary” pronunciations, “king” for 京 for example. It’s pretty easy for me to imagine a 19th century southern Chinese person reading Chinese with such pronunciations. I understand this is still done in some contexts like Taiwanese reading of Buddhist scriptures.


Yes, but unaspirated, so not the standard /p/ and /k/ of English.


Hmm, that actually makes sense. I assumed Keelung was from the Taiwanese “Ke-lâng”.


That’s another thread all in itself. You are heavily influenced by Taiwanese people, who pardoxically think their own accent is incorrect! I never really get that from native English speakers - try telling an Australian or Scotsman how many English errors they are making all the time :smiley:


Interesting. Is “king” the Hoklo literary pronunciation of 京? I imagine that it is more vernacular, but I’ve always pronounced it as “kya” (or maybe “gya”) in Taiyu. So I would pronounce 北京 as “Bakkya.”

On the broader question of the K and G sound, I have always found the sounds to be quite similar generally and there are many Taiyu words where the pronunciation could be equally (mis)transliterated with a K or G. For 金 I could go with Kim or Gim. In Taiyu, to my ears the initial consonant sounds softer than K and harder than G as I would pronounce either letter in American English. I think Korean has the same issue too. So it wouldn’t surprise me if WG used K in place of G due to exposure to Hoklo or Canto accented Mandarin (although it does surprise me a little to think that there were a substantial number of Mandarin speakers in Taiwan at the time when WG was being developed).


Laurence Olivier: I believe Australian is not so much an accent as a collection of speech defects.

Some Aussie bloke: Oh?

Laurence Olivier: That’s one. The other are A, E, I and U. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

(as dramatized in “Darlings of the Gods”, apparently not available on youtube)

The question is, where does accent end and slang/laziness/ignorance/speech impediment begin?

For example in Canada and some parts of the US, there’s the phenomenon of Canadian raising, a subtle vowel change that usually goes unnoticed but gets linguists very excited. There isn’t even a way to illustrate the difference in writing without using phonetic symbols. This clearly falls under accent.

Then you have the school of thought (which conquered Wikipedia years ago) that says all kinds of nonsense about Canadian English, along the lines of the local pronunciation of Toronto is “Trana”. It’s not that they made the stuff up, just that it needs to be taken with salt, and some linguists are basically anti-sodium, so to speak.

When it comes to s/sh in Mandarin, some people jump to the defense of laziness in Taiwan and say things like but that’s Guoyu not Putonghua! Mainlanders also call it Guoyu sometimes, and they can be just as lazy as Taiwanese, but the dictionaries on both sides make the same distinction: s is s, sh is sh.

Sishi shi sishi exists for a reason, and if you merge the two phonemes then all you have left is a tone drill. :2cents:


You can argue that there are prestige accents in a language, and I won’t disagree with you. But I’m not one for linguistic prescriptivism. Calling different accents “lazy”, as if their speakers have failed in some duty doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Upper class americans speaking their refined accent will still ‘lazily’ say Aluminum instead of Aluminium.

I try and talk how my wife and her extended family talk. I’ve come to learn there are some taiwanisms in there, and I really don’t care. If I want to impress people, I’m not going to switch to an upper class Beijing accent - I’m going to speak English, a language that has far more prestige than any variety of Mandarin.


The correct spelling is Pak-kiann.

The double n stands for nasalization of the the vowel.

The Literary reading of 北京 would be Pak-king, but people don’t use the literary reading for location names.


THink the G.I.s used to pronounce it COWSHUNG.


Sorry, didn’t realise you wanted me to go through everything point by point. I don’t think there’s any doubt that regional languages have heavily influenced Mandarin (and vice-versa).

I didn’t talk about the “just so” story with Houlong because I have no opinion on it. I know there are lots of those erroneous folk etymologies around, and Houlong could well be one of them.

We are talking at cross purposes. I am not disputing that the Pekin/Peking spelling was influenced by local languages. All I was trying to say is that yes, there was a historical k to j change in Mandarin – something you questioned in your original post:

[quote]I would like to see the proof that this is really a change of old-new Mandarin usage and not something that Wade-Giles and friends came up with.

Did people 150 years ago really say Peking for Beijing and Keelung for Jilong and Nanking for Nanjing. It seems quite unlikely?

In Wade Giles Beijing was originally Peiching. I can then guess folks thought ch should be pronounced K and they started writing Peking. This may account for Nanjing as well?[/quote]
I thought I provided proof that it is a change of old-new Mandarin usage. It was a gradual change, and as that same paper indicated, some Mandarin dialects still use k instead of j (or at least they did in 1990). I also said that the “Peking” spelling predates “Peiching” by hundreds of years. People didn’t see “Peiching” and change it to “Peking”. They simply carried on using the same spelling they’d used for centuries.


It seems to be rather than an old-new mandarin usage Wade Giles based their system on South China speakers Mandarin, then later when Beijing Putonghua was more rigorously promoted and enforced nationally as a national standard of pronounciation it left their pinyin system a bit askew?

If they had been based in the North of China it would have been a different story I suspect.

I have a little bit more respect for the system now given the circumstances that it derived from and it’s user base at the time.