For the latest (sixth) edition of its Mandarin phrasebook, Lonely Planet has abandoned its disastrous experiment with its own irregular and downright awful romanization system for Mandarin and switched back to full and exclusive use of Hanyu Pinyin.
No one should even think about buying the fifth edition, which is the one with the weird romanization. Another caveat: The covers for the Pinyin-less fifth edition and the Pinyin-using sixth edition have the exact same illustration; the only difference is in the background color. The fifth edition has a red background, while the sixth (shown here) has a greenish background.
Here’s a more or less random example of the romanization in the fifth edition. The book gives “jèr shìr shér·mer jùn” for what should be written “Zhè shì shénme zhàn?” (“What station is this?”) in Hanyu Pinyin. So in addition to having weird romanization, the fifth edition fails to put a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence and fails to include punctuation at the end. I see this sort of thing a lot and am puzzled by the practice. Capital letters at the beginning of a sentence and punctuation at the end — that’s not too much to ask, is it?
Moreover, sometimes the romanization does not match the Chinese characters! In the example above, for instance, the sentence in Chinese characters should read “这是什么站?” But instead it is written “这是哪个站?”, which would be “Zhè shì nǎge zhàn?” in Hanyu Pinyin. In this case, the two sentences mean basically the same thing. But on the very next page (p. 58) for the question “Do I need to change?” it gives “sēw·yào líng·chyén ma” (Pinyin: Xūyào língqián ma?).
This is a real howler. Somehow those responsible for writing the book managed to mix up two of the meanings of “change” in English. So the phrasebook will have unwary travelers asking not “Do I need to change trains to reach my destination?” but “Do I need coins?” A Chinese person hearing this would probably just answer “no” and ponder how very strange foreigners are to think they might specifically need coins on a train. So woe to the trusting Lonely Planet customer who needs to change trains! Admittedly, foreigners ending up in the wrong part of China as a result of such sloppiness may not have happened too often, since the given romanization is so weird that foreigners could probably not make themselves understood with it and had to point to the Chinese characters. At least the characters manage to give the correct question, Xūyào dǎochē ma? (需要倒车吗?), instead of Xūyào língqián ma? (需要零钱吗?). But that’s hardly enough to make up for such errors.
There are many more errors in the fifth edition. I certainly hope they have been corrected in the sixth; but I didn’t have time the other day in the bookstore to check for sure. If any readers of Pinyin News have a copy of the sixth edition, please let me know; I’d like to check if the Lonely Planet’s hovercraft is still full of eels.
Now that at least the weird romanization has been banished in favor of Hanyu Pinyin (would that Taiwan take that lesson to heart!), it would be good if Lonely Planet could get some other things right, like correcting the misinformation about Mandarin not being a real language but a “dialect.” Some of the word parsing is also incorrect. And the Mandarin-English dictionary should be available in alphabetical order, too, not just stroke order.