paper on Tongyong and Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan

One-Soon Her (??? / Hé Wànshùn), a professor in the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University (Guólì Zhèngzhì Dàxué), published a paper last month on Taiwan’s romanization issue in one of Academia Sinica’s journals: 「Quánqiúhuà」yǔ「zài dì huà」: cóng xīn jīngjì de jiǎodù kàn Táiwān de pīnyīn wèntí (Between Globalization and Indigenization: On Taiwan’s Pinyin Issue from the Perspectives of the New Economy).

Here’s the English abstract:

The only remaining controversy in Taiwan’s efforts to standardize its pinyin system for Chinese is whether to adopt Tongyong or Hanyu; while the former has an intense symbolic value of indigenization, the latter enjoys a substantial globalized distribution. This paper first makes clear the nature of ‘interface’ of any pinyin system and examines this seemingly domestic issue from the perspectives of the New Economy in the global Information Age. Given the characteristics of ‘increasing returns’ and ‘path-dependence’, Hanyu Pinyin, with its universal standardization and dominant global market share, is the obvious choice. Taiwan’s implementation of Tongyong Pinyin must necessarily incur the cost of dual interfaces. Given the 85% overlap between the two systems, Tongyong, as a politically meaningful symbol, ironically, creates a division among Taiwan’s population. The unfortunate politicization of the pinyin issue has cornered the nation into a dilemma: Tongyong costs economically, Hanyu costs politically. The ultimate reconciliation thus hinges upon the implementation of a system that optimizes Tongyong’s indigenized symbolic value and Hanyu’s globalized substance, to the furthest extent possible.

I disagree with the 85 percent figure; but the number doesn’t matter much in Her’s approach, which, considering he’s a linguist, is surprisingly non-linguistic. He gives two main recommendations for Taiwan’s central government, meant to be taken together. The first of these is that Taiwan should make Tongyong Pinyin the nation’s sole romanization system for Mandarin, with compliance among cities and counties mandatory. The delightfully arch second requirement, however, has an interesting twist: Everything that’s different between the national standard (i.e., Tongyong Pinyin) and the international standard (i.e., Hanyu Pinyin) should be changed to conform to the international standard. In other words, Taiwan should have Hanyu Pinyin in all but name.


I’d be OK with that. But I doubt Tongyong supporters will be willing to go along.

Many thanks to Dan Jacobson for the link.

Here are the essay’s subject headings:

  1. Qiányán: zài Tōngyòng yǔ Hànyǔ zhījiān
  2. pīnyīn xìtǒng de jièmiàn gōngnéng
  3. xīn jīngjì de xiànshí tèzhì
    1. lùjìng qǔjué
    2. wǎnglù xiàoyìng
    3. suǒdìng xiàoyìng
  4. jiànpán jièmiàn de lèibǐ
    1. dúbà quánqiú de QWERTY jiànpán
    2. Dvorak de jìngzhēng shībài
    3. jiànpán shìchǎng de jīngjì jiàoxun
    4. jiànpán jièmiàn yǔ pīnyīn jièmiàn de lèibǐ
    5. Tōngyòng Pīnyīn de「zài」zhuǎnhuàn dàijià
    6. pīnyīn yǐ shì zuórì de páijú yóu xì
  5. Yīngyǔ pīnyīn de lèibǐ
  6. pīnyīn lùnzhèng de qīzhébākòu
    1. 「biāozhǔnhuà」yǔ「lǒngduàn」de hùnxiáo
    2. Tōngyòng yǔ jiāo luó de zhēngyì
    3. Tōngyòng de fēi jīngjì lùnzhèng
    4. Tōngyòng Pīnyīn de fēnliè xiàoyìng
    5. Tōngyòng zhuǎnhuàn Hànyǔ de máodùn
    6. Tōngyòng yǔ Hànyǔ「xiāngróng」de máodùn
    7. pīnyīn dà héjiě de kěnéng fāngxiàng
  7. jiélùn:néng hézuò,guójiā rénmín cáinéng zhìfù
  8. cānkǎo shūmù(Zhōngwén shūmù àn bǐhuà páixù)

In case anyone’s wondering about the references to QWERTY and Dvorak, Her is drawing an analogy, saying the situation with Hanyu is largely the same as with QWERTY: whatever the merits of other systems, it’s very likely to remain the standard.

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