Taiwan to expand use of Tongyong Pinyin?

The Associated Press is reporting what appears to be an expansion of the Taiwan government’s monumentally misguided promotion of its Tongyong Pinyin romanization system.

No one is answering the phones at the Ministry of the Interior now, and I haven’t been able to find out more information on the Web site yet. But I’ll be following this closely.

The story follows, with a few of my notes in brackets.

Taiwan will standardize the English transliterations of its Chinese Mandarin place names by the end of the year, an official said Wednesday, after years of confusion stemming from multiple spellings.

An official from the Ministry of Interior said the island would use the locally developed “Tongyong,” system in its transliterations, rejecting use of mainland China’s [Hanyu] Pinyin system, and the once common Wade-Giles system, introduced by two Englishmen in the late 19th century.

Over the past decade [Hanyu] Pinyin has gained wide acceptance among foreign students of Chinese, even as Wade-Giles and other foreign systems have diminished in importance.

Taiwan’s Tongyong system is virtually unknown outside the island.

But the Interior Ministry official insisted that Tongyong was still a good choice for a standard transliteration system.

“In the past, diverse spellings have caused confusion, so we have decided to remedy the situation,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

Multiple transliterations of place names have often caused confusion for non-Chinese-literate visitors to Taiwan.

For example, a busy shopping street in Taipei is variously rendered as Chunghsiao [in bastardized Wade-Giles -- but no official signs on this street in Taipei use this system], Zhongxiao [in Hanyu Pinyin] and Jhongsiao [in Tongyong Pinyin -- but no official signs on this street in Taipei use this system].

According to Ministry of Interior’s Web site, exceptions to the Tongyong system will still be allowed for some well known tourist attractions, including Jade Mountain in central Taiwan and Taipei’s Yangmingshan [Yangmingshan is the same in Tongyong Pinyin and Hanyu Pinyin, though it is properly written Yangming Shan].

source: Taiwan to standarize English [sic] spellings of place names, AP, via the International Herald Tribune, October 31, 2007

24 thoughts on “Taiwan to expand use of Tongyong Pinyin?

  1. Taiwan has always tried to be different politically and in many other ways from the mainland China. And, in so doing, have sacrificied some highly recognized standards. One of those standards is the Roman pinyin or luomapinyin. In fact most teachers in Taiwan can’t even read it, so obviously, they say that bopomofo is better. They often make unfair comparisons. For example, they say that foreigners who learn bopomofo often speak clearer chinese. But neglet to mention that most foreigners learn pinyin in a American or Canadian or English speaking country compared to learning bopomofo in a Chinese speaking country. For a fair comparison,learning bopomofo in Taiwan should be compared with learning luomapinyin in The Mainland China. See my site at http://www.luomapinyin.com

  2. “In the past, diverse spellings have caused confusion, so we have decided to remedy the situation,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

    This is the beauty of Taiwan politics at work. The way to remedy the situation of diverse spellings is to promote a system that absolutely no one outside of Taiwan (and very few within) will ever bother learning.

  3. “Taiwan will standardize the English transliterations…”

    They still don’t get it – it’s not “English”. And who will be able to read and write Tongyong? Nobody outside Taiwan learns or teaches it, and neither does anyone inside Taiwan…

  4. Will there be hearings or anything first? Or should we protest in front of the MoE?

    The internet is chock full of artificial language schemes that some guy invented, for which no demand exists. If not for DPP politics, this would be just one more.

    If they insist on distinguishing themselves from China, why not phoneticize the TAIWANESE pronounciations? Taiwan would have pretty good standing to pontificate on that, and the result might even be useful to somebody! But no, they’d probably mess that up too…

  5. It beggars belief. I am astounded. We live is a big world and romanisation is about fitting into that world. Pinyin is established and growing strong. Adopting it represents no concession to Taiwan independence. It is about a standard and allowing access to Taiwan for foriegners.
    Could anybody please provide some rational debate here.

  6. Whatever you think about TongYong, it is important to remember that there are two intended markets. One is foreigners, as seen on street signs, but a much bigger and more important market is the Taiwanese themselves, through the education system.

    Young Taiwanese first learn to read Chinese using a phonetic system and only later learn to read the characters themselves. So while street signs are the most visible manifestation of the system, they are by no means the most important one. Nor is it true that “Nobody … inside Taiwan” would use the system if it were fully implemented.

  7. IME Asians often refer to the Latin alphabet as “English” when referring to its use with other languages. That is, “English” has several meanings, one of which is the script that English speakers refer to as the Latin or Roman alphabet.

    Once a Thai took a quick look at a Vietnamese magazine I had and asked “Oh, they use English?” where it was clear the topic was the script and not the language.

    On the other hand, one thing I like about Tongyong (as oppsed to Hanyu) is the use of no tone mark for the first tone. That is, if you reverse the first and zero tone marks of Hanyu it looks a lot less busy. But seeing as how the cultural preference is for maximum ornateness in writing I guess that’s not a concern.

  8. Taiwan’s Tongyong system is virtually unknown outside the island.

    But the Interior Ministry official insisted that Tongyong was still a good choice for a standard transliteration system.

    “In the past, diverse spellings have caused confusion, so we have decided to remedy the situation,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

    Adopting something other than the world-wide standard isn’t standardization. Just as I wouldn’t call a DPP decision to buck the world standard and set the Arabic numeral “3” to mean four and “4” to mean three a standardization, I don’t call the adoption of Tongyong a standardization either.

    Kerim, local Taiwanese use zhuyin, not pinyin as their phonetic system while learning Chinese as children. Very, very few locals understand or use any romanization system; they can read Chinese characters.

    Foreign students, business groups, and long term residents all overwhelmingly support standard pinyin and we came out in numbers to say so in 2002. A decision like this is basically a declaration that the MOI has no concern whatsoever for the people who actually need romanization in their daily lives.

  9. Mark,

    Zhuyin only remains the standard because the government has so far failed to fully implement its planned policies. In fact, part of the reason for promoting some variety of Pinyin is that it will help facilitate the transition to English. As I said, the main target of these policies are Taiwanese students. This remains true even if they haven’t yet implemented the policies in the education system.

  10. In debates regarding the Tongyong Pinyin in Taiwan, I often saw foreigners criticize Taiwan government for not using a system that is easier for them to learn.

    This mentality sounds bizzard to me. Do you guys do the same — protesting against some foreign country for not providing you a way better fit you — when you go to any country ??? Or you just try to learn their culture and fit yourself to what they have to offer ?

    Many came up with the reason of globalization. Whose globalization any way? Foreigners’ or Taiwanese ? Like Kerim repeatedly mentioned, the main target is still Taiwanese, and to promote the English for the purpose of globalizaiton for Taiwanese, the first step is to make it easier for Taiwanese to learn.

    Why then should Taiwan government change their policy to adopt a system more difficult for Taiwanese to learn, just to please some foreigners ? Ain’t that a direction going against the purpose of globalization for Taiwanese ?

    Hanyu Pinyin is even not a good “English” script. With those weird X,Q stuff, it took me a long time to know how to pronounce it. And I am a Taiwanese who speaks fluent Mandarin and English before I first saw Hanyu Pinyin! When I saw a word in Hanyu, I often had to try to imagine what that word means in Mandarin first, and then I realized how to pronounce it.

    Just ask any English-speaking foreigner who never saw Hanyu Pinyin to read Hanyu-spelled words. I’ll bet he/she will be better understood if what he/she first reads is in Tongyong pinyin.

    Every country has her own culture and her unique way of touching the world. If a country insists to do something in certain way, there must be reasons. You might ignore their reasons and insist your way is better for them. But, hey, you don’t have to worry about the vote count, do you? :):)

  11. The point remains that Chinese character-reading locals don’t need romanization, while foreigners do. There’s also no need to make everyone’s life harder by bucking international standards, regardless of what unimplemented policies are floating around in the heads of various politicians.

    Also, what is this “transition to English” that you’re talking about? Mandarin will be the national language for the foreseeable future.

  12. should ?? be Fu Xing or Fu Hsing? The argument that using the “Hsi” rather than the “Xi” better because it makes more sense to Europeans from certain countries who have not yet begun to read Chinese characters is an irrelevant side-issue.

    It is just as irrelevant to argue that Zhuyinfuhao/Bopomofo is more effective that Hanyu pinyin. Learners need to understand ASAP that the letters only REPRESENT the real sound in Chinese, so it is irrelevant how closely the letters used “sound” like real Chinese when pronounced by learners from Europen languages.

    The Hanyu pinyin is better that TongYong because it is a standard system. Tongyong has no particular standard. In Taiwan, what using TongYong means is the practice of transliterating Chinese using whichever Latin letters a certain individual feels best at any particular time in any particular place.

  13. Taiwan echo makes two interesting (to me) points.

    1. He either supports my claim (that for many in Asia, Latin script* = English, even though it was used long before English existed as a recognisable language and is used for many, many other languages.

    2. He brings up something I’ve often heard from Chinese speakers (and not from speakers of other Asian languages).
    Namely, that Chinese speakers (more often than others) find it very difficult to assign different phonetic values to letters of the Latin script. That is, it’s more difficult for them to perceive of Latin letters as place-holders that might have very different values in different languages.
    When I see the letter j, the default value it has for me (as an native speaker of NAmerican English) is the initial sound of jam or jungle. But in a Spanish context it has a different value, namely a rough ‘h’ sound. In Polish or German it has the English y sound, in Portuguese and French it’s a voiced version of ‘sh’ (this has no consistent spelling in English, it’s found in words like azure, version, fission etc).
    I make these substitutions naturally and without thinking and speakers of other languages that use Latin script also generally seem able to do this as do speakers of languages that use other scripts.
    IME Chinese speakers are the most likely to have a strong inability (or dislike) of using letters or combinations of letters in multiple, language specific, ways.

    Is this possibly related to character usage in any ways?

    * I use script to refer to a way of writing and a set of shared symbols to distinguish it from alphabet, the particular subset (with or without modifications or additions) used for a particular language.

  14. Mark,

    The “transition to English” refers to learning to recognize the English alphabet. You would be surprised how much time goes into first teaching Taiwanese kids Zhuyin FuHao and then later teaching them their ABCs. There is good reason to believe that it would be easier for students to gain literacy in English if they were already familiar with the script.

    Despite what some might say, this goal would be served equally well by Hanuyu or Tongyong Pinyin. I’m not making an argument here that one is better than another, just that one of the stated goals of implementing some form of Pinyin into the schools is to facilitate the acquisition of English literacy by using the same graphemes used for teaching Chinese literacy.

    This is a massive and expensive project when you consider how many text books and teaching materials currently use Zhuyin Fuhao. It requires the government to take a clear stand on one system or another before it can be properly implemented.

  15. Michael farris said:

    1. …for many in Asia, Latin script* = English,…
    2. …Chinese speakers (more often than others) find it very difficult to assign different phonetic values to letters of the Latin script. That is, it’s more difficult for them to perceive of Latin letters as place-holders that might have very different values in different languages.
    ===========================

    That’s exactly my situation is, Michael.

    You asked: “Is this possibly related to character usage in any ways? ”

    I think it definitely plays a some role, but not the only factor.

    The other factor, IMO, all traces back to KMT’s authoritarian control of people’s mind in the past decades. Their control required Taiwanese to remain ignorant, therefore any foreign contact was not only suspecious but often dangerous. You could easily get into trouble by trying to ‘know too much foreign media’ that they could’t control.

    As a result, Taiwanese were largely blocked from outside world for decades. We even had to go oversea in order to learn what actually happened in our own history. Later on when the blockage was getting desolved, what we were offered was only English. It created a situation that you described.

    I think what you pointed out here might be critical for mutual understanding. For example, if you didn’t point this out, I would still believe what I said earlier:

    “those weird X,Q stuff … Just ask any English-speaking foreigner who never saw Hanyu Pinyin to read Hanyu-spelled words. I’ll bet he/she will be better understood if what he/she first reads is in Tongyong pinyin.”

    which could well be just a display of my ignorance and/or self-righteousness.

    On the other hand, it’s probably difficult for some of you guys to imagine how shocked I was when — in a very later stage of my English learning — the letter J could be pronounced as what H nomally sounds. With the experience of this shock, the attitude of some Hanyu advocaters looks annoying or even offensive from my angle: how dare some foreigners come to my country, criticizing our government for not providing them a tool that better suit them, when that tool will add more burden to my own people? That’s a complete ignorance to what Taiwwanese are facing and therefore — to me — an insult to our country.

    I believe the majority of Taiwanese (who already learned some English, who mostly accept Latin script=English only) are not much better (if not worse) than I am. If so, that would mean switching to “unusual usage of alphabets” would still contribute an extra burden to them.

    I am not trying to point fingers or something. Just try to share with you guys what I thought, in a hope that some foreign friends could be more understanding. In my opinion Taiwan should promote English education to a level that English can be listed as a formal language of Taiwan. In that sense, any foreign friend would be a significant contributor to that goal.

  16. Mark: The point remains that Chinese character-reading locals don’t need romanization, while foreigners do.
    =====================================================
    I use pingyin everyday for Chinese character input. Same for many others who use a computer to write something everyday. So I really have no idea how you come to that conclusion.

  17. You’re right. It’s extremely surprising to hear that teaching kids their ABCs takes much time. I’ve taught over 1,000 Taiwanese kids from the very basics, including ABCs, and I’ve found that learning the script takes very, very little time. I would say it takes a total of less than 3 hours of class time and 5 hours of homework practice for most students to learn how to write each letter fairly reliably (albeit with some lingering confusions between “b”, “d”, “p” and “q”).

    What takes far more time, is teaching English phonics. Not only do students have to learn a variety of sounds and sound combinations not in Chinese, but they also have to learn to make sense of the extremely complicated and idiosyncratic relationship between spelling and sound. In this regard, not having prior associations between the latin alphabet and Chinese pronunciations is likely a benefit.

    In my own personal experience, though, it seems that prior experience with using the alphabet for other languages is an insignificant factor for beginning English student. Is there any research you could direct me to that would support this idea that mainland Chinese students (who use pinyin in primary schools) learn English more easily than Taiwanese students (who use zhuyin)?

  18. Kerim Friedman: Despite what some might say, this goal (of“transition to English”) would be served equally well by Hanuyu or Tongyong Pinyin.
    ——————-

    I agree with you, only if the target of education is limited to those never learned English before. For most Taiwanese, especially adults, we have already accepted English-only latin scripts since middle high schools. To them Hanyu still looks more foreign than Tongyong.

    IMO, the problem of foreigners’ frustration about Taiwan’s pinyin system doesn’t come from the choice between Hanyu and Tongyong. The problem stems from “inconsistency.” I believe if Taiwan use Tongyong all along, then foreigners should be able to pick up and get use to it quickly. Certainly, I am a Taiwanese so I couldn’t say it for sure.

  19. Taiwan Echo said:

    I use pingyin everyday for Chinese character input. Same for many others who use a computer to write something everyday. So I really have no idea how you come to that conclusion.

    If you use “pingyin” every day for character input, then why can’t you romanize the word ?? (i.e. “pinyin”)? Are you sure you don’t use zhuyin like most Taiwanese do? The last two cellphones I bought in Taiwan didn’t even have pinyin IMEs. That’s how dominant zhuyin is here.

  20. Mark,

    I am quite happy to concede that students who already have primary literacy in one script can easily acquire another script in a short period of time. Initial literacy in Zhuyin Fuhao, on the other hand, is quite time consuming, as I witnessed when I conducted fieldwork at a Taiwanese primary school. And trustworthy or not, there have been several recent news stories about how poorly students do at learning Zhuyin.

    My point is that the language planners see Taiwanese children as one of the major beneficiaries of these reforms, a fact which is often left out of discussions about this topic. This is true whether or not these reforms are as beneficial as they claim.

  21. Mark: If you use “pingyin” every day for character input, then why can’t you romanize the word ?? (i.e. “pinyin”)?
    ———
    My main purpose of using “pinyin” is to input Chinese, which is handled by a program. The program will NOT give me correct chinese character (? that is). This feature makes lazy people like me paying less attention to the minor difference between “ping” and “pin” (yes, it’s hard for me to distinguish between them).

    In fact even when I use the chinese-input program, many ***in and ***ing alike words, I have to try-and-error for more than once to make it right.

    But when I use pinyin for the purpose of showing in English only, like we are doing here, no program is there to correct my typo for me.

  22. That’s an interesting IME. Pretty much all the Taiwanese people I know use the Microsoft zhuyin one that’s installed by default, so it’s interesting that these things like ????? still have a market.

    It looks like a veerry permissive system, since it allows typists to mix romanization schemes within a single word.

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