Yale romanization -- why oh why do some still use it?

Will somebody here please sing the praises of the Yale romanization system? (Ya know, those strange renderings with double or unpronounced or superfluous letters, like “sann” or "tarng"or “shywarng” (ok ok, I made that last one up. But it’s not far off!)

Why do many Taiwanese still insist on using this system to transliterate the names of companies, etc.? I’ve even seen a good number of Guoyu dictionaries that use it.

From what I was told at my college in the US, the Yale system is considered a joke by pretty much all academics who’ve never taught or learned at Yale. I have a feeling somebody(s) influential connected to Yale University might have been behind some of the West’s first contacts with Taiwan, and that Taiwan was all too happy to have a romanization system in no way connected with the Mainland’s.

The only advantage I see to the Yale System is no diacritic marks over any letters. The tone is written as an unpronounced letter. Still, is it THAT HARD to just place an accent over each vowel, or a number after each syllable, or just REMEMBER THE TONE???!!!

Why oh why does this beta-max of romanization systems persist? I’d love to hear somebody defend it.

I believe you’re referring to Gwoyeu Romatzyh, not to the Yale system. (You can compare lots of different systems on the page I just linked to.)

GR was devised primarily by Y.R. Chao, a great linguist and all-around smart guy. :notworthy: Although it still has its fans, the system he came up with is needlessly complicated, which is why it never took off here in Taiwan despite its official status on the island from 1945 to 1986.

I very much oppose tonal spelling systems, of which GR is the main example.

Amen! They are the very antithesis of the “user friendly” concept. Hanyu pinyin works fine once you learn a scant handful of non-intuitive q- and x-type spellings, and we really need one international standard, even if it is slightly flawed.

I like Yale. It’s the easiest romanization system to read. The others need a little getting used to.

To reiterate:

Tonal spelling without the weird silent letters: Tonally Orthographic Pinyin (TOP)

seconD tonE: lasT letteR capitaL: guO
third tone: all small: wo ni
Fourth Tone: First Letter Cap: Qu Shi

The best of both worlds…with apologies to Chao…

I personally prefer to romanize using pinyin, but I can see why the Yale system was once popular. It is the one that is the most natural to a native speaker of English. By this I mean, someone who has not studied Chinese who tries to read out loud a Chinese sentence written in the Yale system will pronounce the words better than someone who tries to read pinyin. This is easily tested - just find someone who has never studied Chinese, and have them read out loud sentences romanized with the various systems. Yale will sound much better than pinyin or Wade-Giles.
I am used to pinyin now, so I can pronounce it, but a neophyte will definitely not know how to pronounce pinyin’s x, umlauted u, i, zh, ian, r, etc. How to pronounce pinyin is not necessarily taught well to beginners, either: one of my Japanese classmates in Chinese class is a Chinese major in Japan, has studied it for years, and speaks it well, but just the other day it became obvious that she didn’t really know how to pronounce pinyin. For example, she didn’t understand why the “i” in “ci” and “xi” was not the same.

The page lists the Chinese name of Gwoyeu Romatzyh as 國語羅馬字 (guoyu luoma zi). But as I recall, in my dictionaries, I have seen this system most commonly referred to as Luoma Pinyin (and Hanyu Pinyin is listed as Hanyu Pinyin, for comparison). But most Taiwanese use “luoma pinyin” to refer to romanization in general. I don’t know if this is because they haven’t heard of Hanyu Pinyin (most haven’t, I think) or because “luoma pinyin” is the correct term to refer to all kinds of romanization. Are both these usages of “luoma pinyin” correct?

A (hopefully forgotten) Chinese polititian once said “We (Taiwan??) Chinese people are much smarter than western people.” That is why we use many different pinyin systems for purely political reasons. We have even recently invented a new, more confusing, pinyin, so that English speaking westeners cannot simply pronounce place names.

[quote=“cranky laowai”]

I very much oppose tonal spelling systems, of which GR is the main example.[/quote]


Why do you oppose tonal spelling systems? I think they’re a great idea. Using tone markers suggests to learners that tones are somehow tacked on to words. Tonal spelling shows you that the tone is integral to the word. Besides, it would force people to memorize their tones, which is a very good thing in my book.

Ironlady: I like your system, but I think that mixing cases makes text difficult to rEad.

Luoma pinyin is a generic term for romanization, so using it to refer to Gwoyeu Romatzyh but not to Hanyu Pinyin would be incorrect. The usage that really gets my goat, though, is referring to romanization as yingwen pinyin.

They’re unnecessarily complicated, leading to many more mistakes than they would supposedly help overcome. (You think spelling is bad now?)

Here’s the abstract of a study that compared tonal spelling and tone marks in teaching Mandarin pronunciation: “Tonal Spelling versus Diacritics for Teaching Pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese” (JSTOR access needed to read the article itself.)

[quote=“abstract”]This study presents results from a 2-year investigation of the comparative efficacy of tonal spelling and diacritics in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese pronunciation. The research site was the elementary level Chinese language course at the University of Oregon. During the 1991-92 academic year, the course was taught using a romanization system with diacritics, hanyu pinyin (PY); during the 1992-93 academic year, the course was taught using a tonal spelling system, gwoyeu romatzyh (GR). The analytical mechanism of this study calculates student tonal error rates in identical (save for the romanization system used) reading tasks at identical points in each year’s course. Native speakers of Chinese served as assessors. The results clearly indicated that GR did not lead to significantly greater accuracy in tonal production. Indeed, the use of GR reflected slightly lower rates of tonal production accuracy for native speakers of both American English and Japanese.[/quote](emphasis added)

Keep in mind that this was for language students. A native speaker of Mandarin wouldn’t need tonal spellings or even tone marks except in a very few instances. Even non-native speakers don’t need tones to be indicated in most cases to read and understand texts.

Your point on more mistakes is well-taken. I argue though that if romanization was taught in schools there would be many fewer errors no matter which system we use.

From the its abstract, the study you cite sounds flawed. First year students of Mandarin are generally unable to consistently hit tones accurately even if they know the tone. So it really doesn’t matter which romanization they use. I’d also be curious to know when they introduced characters in the course. If they stuck to romanization the whole year, I think they might have better results.

I really truly believe that in the the long term you must know the tone of every word you use. Tonal spelling would enforce this, so I believe that its benefits woud be realized after for or five years of study. This would be hard to test though.

I agree that Hanyu pinyin can be read without tone marks by native and non-native speakers.

I think the situation would still be better with Hanyu Pinyin (just 410 different syllable spellings to deal with) than with GR, which is less regular and has more than three times as many spellings (because of the tone variations). I also say this in part out of my personal experience as a one-time writing teacher and a longtime copy editor, having seen the way people tend to mangle spellings. But I do agree that the situation would be much better if romanization were taught in schools. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be gaining much headway. (But that’s a subject for a different thread.)

I agree.

My take on this is that the simpler and more widespread system (HP) should prevail in writing and pedagogy unless there is strong evidence pointing to the efficacy of something else. In short, I think the burden of proof is on GR and that GR has failed to meet it, as the study, whatever its inadequacies, reflects.

I would be oh so happy if Taiwan would at least just choose one Romanization system and stick with it for more than 3 months. I’ve lived in Tainan now for 2 and a half years, and the spelling of Xiaodung/Shaodong/Xeoudun Road has changed a total of 5 times in the time I’ve been here! That’s ridiculous. With some names it’s much worse, and you would have no way of recognizing that a street on one map or sign is the same as another. This is a pitiful situation, and certainly doesn’t bode well for Taiwan’s new goal of being a tourist destination. (Although, really, as a tourist destination, Taiwan doesn’t really have anything other than The National Palace Museum or Taroko Gorge to really offer your average tourist. But, that’s another thread).

You are lucky to live in Tainan - If you lived in Taipei the road name would be spelt differently at every intersection and changed randomly

Can’t they come up with a simplified romanization system, like the mainland simplified character sets.

drop every other vowel after removing every third letter. :slight_smile:

I always had an affinity to the New York City method of doing thing. Just number all the street. This way any illiterate person can find their way around.