The news on Taiwan’s romanization situation has been coming in fast over the past few days. Unfortunately I’ve been too busy to report much on this. But rest assured that I am trying to get some things done behind the scenes … for all the good that will do given Taiwan’s piss-poor record on this issue. Still, I’m trying to remain hopeful.
Last week the deputy chief of Gaoxiong’s (Kaohsiung’s) Bureau of Education said that he was in favor of the city adopting the international system for romanizing Mandarin, Hanyu Pinyin. But on Friday his boss, Cài Qīnghuá, slapped down that idea.
Cai said that almost no schools reported problems with Tongyong Pinyin. I have no idea what that has to do with anything. But that was part of his justification for backing Tongyong.
He also said it would cost too much money to change, throwing out a reportedly conservative estimate of NT$900 million (US$28 million), which I think is likely a gross overestimate.
Here’s the story:
Gāoxióng shìzhèngfǔ dàodǐ zhī bù zhīchí Hànyǔ Pīnyīn? Gāoxióng Shì Jiàoyùjú zhǎng Cài Qīnghuá zuótiān biǎoshì, quán shì yī sì wǔ suǒ huíbào xuéxiào zhōng, zhǐyǒu sì suǒ tíjí Tōngyòng Pīnyīn shǐyòng de wèntí, juédàduōshù xuéxiào bìngwú yìjian, Gāoxióng shìzhèngfǔ jiù “zhǔguǎn dānwèi zài yèwù tuīdòng shàng, shì-fǒu yǒu xūyào xiézhù shìxiàng” wèntí shí, huífù “pīnyīn zhèngcè xū yǔ guójì jiēguǐ, jiànyì cǎiyòng guójì jiān duōshù shǐyòng de pīnyīn xìtǒng Hànyǔ Pīnyīn.” Shì Jiàoyùjú zhǔ mì de yìjian, tā méi zhùyìdào.
Cài Qīnghuá shuō, mùqián háishi zhǔzhāng yányòng Tōngyòng Pīnyīn, fǒuzé gēnggǎi Gāoxióng Shì guāngshì lùbiāo, dìbiāo, biāozhì děng, bǎoshǒu gūjì jiù xū huāfei yīdiǎn jiǔyì yuán.
source: Gāoxióng Shì Jiàoyùjú zhǎng zhǔzhāng: yányòng Tōngyòng Pīnyīn (高市教育局長 主張沿用通用拼音), Zìyóu Shíbào (Liberty Times), September 20, 2008
A not entirely surprising, though somewhat disappointing development.
Hi, I’m a bit confused about how Hanyu Pinyin is more international accepted since it uses x to stand for the initial sound of ? or ?? It doesn’t sound right if you are an English native speaker?
About the news you referred in the article, the context is more than what most people read in the media. Most main stream Mandarin media emphasize that even Kaoshiung city officials support the change while very few of them did ask/cover the part over how the Kaoshiung city officials made such change.
It turns out that the Kaoshiung city government simply report the survey issued by the Executive Yuan and the result is exactly like what he said in the media, only 4 out of 145 schools reported problems of practice Tongyong Pinyin. Not much a strong support to change, isn’t it? Plus the difference between two systems only accounts for 15%!
Cai’s comment, in my opinion, is rather to clarify the message than to justify anything??
Support Hanyu pinyin? Kaoshiung city government: Dep. EDU is misleading
“Hi, I’m a bit confused about how Hanyu Pinyin is more international accepted since it uses x to stand for the initial sound of ? or ?? It doesn’t sound right if you are an English native speaker?”
Yes, using “x” for /?/ is not intuitively obvious to an English speaker. But I don’t see how Tongyong’s “s” is much better in this respect.
In any event, the purpose of Hanyu pinyin was to provide a full-fledged Latin writing system for Mandarin, not to transliterate Mandarin into English or any other language. It became the international standard because it’s supported by the Chinese government, it’s used and understood by far more Mandarin speakers than any other Latin-based system, the scholarly/specialist community has a generally high opinion of it, and the systems it replaced weren’t necessarily more intuitive (remember Wade-Giles?). A romanization based on English orthography wouldn’t have any more claim to “international” status, and might actually have more trouble gaining universal acceptance (I suspect the French would be ill-disposed to adopt such a standard, for example).
More recent news stories claiming enormous costs. I’ll put something up about this as soon as I can, perhaps tomorrow. Until then, those of you who can read Mandarin in Chinese characters can check some of these stories.
“It became the international standard because it’s supported by the Chinese government, it’s used and understood by far more Mandarin speakers than any other Latin-based system”
hmmmm, I’m not sure if this is strong enough to justify the change of policy. I mean at the end of the day, regardless of which Pinyin system we’re using, the translation is for the non-Mandarin speakers! Are we missing the point here?
Making Hanyu the standard medium of phonetic instruction throughout the Taiwanese educational system is hardly a matter that affects only “non-Mandarin speakers.” Native speakers need a phonetic system for learning the characters and to aid with standard pronunciation, and it’s even more important for the non-native-speaking majority. Right now the dominant medium of instruction is bopomofo, which is far less flexible than pinyin (the latter is an orthography in its own right, whereas bopomofo has never really evolved beyond a pronunciation guide).
And on the level of international communication alone, some standardized romanization should be taught — bopomofo is basically unknown outside of Taiwan, the present “anything goes” scheme for name romanization is frankly ridiculous, and I’ve encountered some Taiwanese (even English-literate ones) who can’t write simple Mandarin words or phrases — like a street address — in any Latinized form.
Making Hanyu the standard medium of phonetic instruction throughout the Taiwanese educational system is hardly a matter that affects only “non-Mandarin speakers.”
Language instruction concerns the natives first then the non-natives. You don’t see English speaking countries make fundamental change to adapt the needs for non-native speakers, do you? I do agree though, that the current bopomo instruction is probably not the best way to teach in a Chinese-as-the-second-lanaugage setting.
I wouldn’t surprise to hear your Taiwanese friends’ experience. It is pretty challenge to find equivelent English pronounciation for every Mandarin character, because they are just so very different. Bopomo is probably not a great ghing for Mandarin learners, but that’s already part of the of this culture and please note that the systems has exists almost a century. I don’t see being “internationalized” is the sole reason for dumping off the heritage.
I have a question though, why do you think that once the govenment standardized Hanyu pinyin, the “anything goes” spelling would be out of sight?
Language instruction concerns the natives first then the non-natives.
In Taiwan, 80% of the population — give or take — doesn’t speak Mandarin as their first language. Placing the needs of the small native-speaking minority above those of the vast majority isn’t good policy. In any event, I see no reason to think Hanyu isn’t a useful tool for native speakers as well.
As for bopomofo, I suppose we’ll agree to disagree — it’s useful for very limited purposes, but no more than that, and I’ve never been keen on preserving the redundant or unnecessary for tradition’s sake alone. (It should be noted that the government was committed to replacing bopomo well before this, at least on paper — I still don’t think it’ll happen in the short term, but in the long term, I see little future for it.)
I have a question though, why do you think that once the govenment standardized Hanyu pinyin, the “anything goes” spelling would be out of sight?
The MOE says they’ll allow people to choose the romanization of their own name, which is as it should be — no one should be obliged to use a Mandarin romanization if they prefer, say, the Taiwanese or Hakka rendition. I’m sure many will take this route and I have no problem with that.
But the current situation vis-a-vis Mandarin names is largely a product of confusion. Most people don’t know how to romanize names in any systematic way, so when the time comes, they use an ad hoc romanization (like trying to shoehorn Mandarin names into English phonology, which is not simply “challenging” but impossible) or whatever the travel agents/government bureaucrats default to — traditionally bastardized Wade-Giles, but possibly MPS II, Tongyong, or some other ad hoc scheme. If this pro-Hanyu policy is actually carried through, and if Hanyu is actively taught and promoted at all necessary levels — including the government — then there’s good reason to believe the name situation will be considerably rationalized. It would be nice if Ma Yingjiu (sorry, “Ying-jeou”) led by example, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
“80% of the population — give or take — doesn’t speak Mandarin as their first language” I think this is a bit misleading. True, Mandarin is not the only popular language in this country but the reality is far from what you referred to as “the needs of the small native-speaking minority above those of the vast majority”, thanks to KMT’s earlier “Mandarin only” policy in school system.
Well, I’m not a lover of a “redundant or unnecessary for tradition’s sake alone” either, but what makes you think that the current bopomo is redundant and unnecessary? Who has the right to define what part of the culture is redundant and unnecessary? From whose point of view? Hasn’t the government done enough to erase the heritage in Taiwan already?
There are other aspects to consider in language policy. It could be misguided as beautiful and rightful agendas while in fact obscures the privileged minority’s own interests.
If the problem here lies with “Most people don’t know how to romanize names in any systematic way” then why is Hanyu the better option than Tongyong? Wouldn’t it serve the same purpose if we teach Tongyong at school system? Is “It became the international standard because it’s supported by the Chinese government… used and understood by far more Mandarin speakers than any other Latin-based system” the only justification for us to apply Hanyu?
Does that mean that there are absolutely no funny English can be seen in China since they apply the so-called “international accepted” Hanyu pinyin? I don’t think so.
I’d say the best argument for Taiwan to accept Hanyu pinyin as the romanization system for Mandarin is that Hanyu pinyin is the accepted system for romanizing Mandarin all over the world.
In any country that uses the Latin alphabet Chinese names are now routinely given in Hanyu (except for a few cities where an older form is still in use).
I can’t imagine a paper in linguistics (my field) on Mandarin using anything besides Hanyu. It would be probably be seen as an admission of incompetence or have to explained or justified.
Mandarin learners all over the world also learn Hanyu (unless maybe all their materials come from Taiwan in which case maybe they don’t learn any romanization at all).
I’m not happy that the system comes from the mainland and I don’t like every little thing about it, but it is _the_ international standard. There is no other. Pretending otherwise is like trying to pretend the earth is flat.
The fact that romanization is less used overall in Taiwan is actually _less_ justification for using anything but Hanyu for that purpose. The only real justification for proposing another system would be if the other system were to be a complete writing system to be taught and used on an active basis and to really challenge Hanyu’s position. If one’s romanization needs are anything else (or less) then there’s no reason not to use Hanyu.
That said, I also personally like bopomofo and hope it stays around for as long as possible.
Michael Farris: “In any country that uses the Latin alphabet Chinese names are now routinely given in Hanyu”
I have no idea about your experience, but the only two countries I can judge — Czech republic and Slovakia — are both using their own systems (and no, Czech one is not the same as Slovak one). Both created AFTER ???? made it to standard.
The reason is as simple as it only can be — there are too few people literate in any “international” romanization and our way of pronouncing latin letters is nowhere close. Yes, both systems were created by respected sinologists.
I must admit though, I don’t know anything about scientific papers.
“I can’t imagine a paper in linguistics (my field) on Mandarin using anything besides Hanyu. It would be probably be seen as an admission of incompetence or have to explained or justified.”
…hmmm, is that a fact or something else? I’ve been hearing similar remarks but non of them comes with a concrete proof to support. Where do you get the information that Hanyu is an international standard system? In your point of view, among Australia English, American English and British English, which one is the standard English? Which kind of spelling should the EFL learners follow?
“Pretending otherwise is like trying to pretend the earth is flat.”Well, pretending there’s only one and one only option we have is equally wrong. Please note the historical background of designing Hanyu system and the following policy over simplified character. It is a policy to accommodate huge population with poor public education level .
“In any country that uses the Latin alphabet Chinese names are now routinely given in Hanyu (except for a few cities where an older form is still in use).”
I wonder what’s next to give in?
You seem to have strong opinion over bopomo, but I have never heard of any strong public negativity over this? Taiwan is a Mandarin-oriented country and yes, English education business has always been lucrative here but please note that most people can do just fine without English, regardless of their academic background.
I agree with your concern over “anything goes” misspelling but so far I don’t see how adopting Hanyu can change the situation dramatically.
For linguistic papers I’m not a Sinologist but I simply can’t remember a linguistic paper on Mandarin or that cited Mandarin data that used anything else but Hanyu (unless it was published in the 70’s or before).
Some quick unscientific googling finds Hanyu spellings for Mandarin names in:
French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Finnish, Swedish, Indonesian, Dutch, Danish and Swahili.
The only languages I checked that didn’t was Czech (weird looking! pching? M? se to nelíbí!). Hungarian and Romanian use both Hanyu and native systems and Vietnamese usually uses its own Sino-Vietnamese forms (though I have seen hanyu names in Vietnamese texts).
My conclusions: Some languages that are not normally written in the Latin alphabet do not have any internationally accepted standard. Russian, Korean, Japanese and Arabic all fall into this category.
Mandarin, however, does have an internationally accepted standard. No other romanization system for Mandarin has achieved such a level of international recognition.
The only legitimate reason for using another system would be to challenge the dominance of Hanyu and the only way to do that would be to expand the range of uses of such a system (basically start publishing things in the system). Taiwan has no real reason to expand the range of uses of romanization and it already has a perfectly acceptable system of teaching Mandarin pronunciation (bopomofo), which also has some other use and is an expressive indicator of Taiwanese national identity (more so than tongyong at any rate).
This means that the uses of any romanization system in Taiwan will be narrower than it might be in some other coutries. Putting so much time and effort into a system that’s only going to see marginal usage doesn’t make much sense.
If streetnames and landmarks will have romanized forms, it makes more sense to use a system the visitor is more liable to be familiar with (hanyu) than one they surely are not going to be familiar with (tongyong or anything else except maybe Wade-Giles).
we see a parent complaining that they wrote his kid’s name using
China’s “Cai”, instead of using Tongyong Pinyin. Unbeknownst to all
involved, including the reporter, Tongyong is also “Cai”.
I wonder if the school was really using Hanyu or Tongyong. We’d need other examples. Regardless, as usual this is probably just a case someone using whatever they found rather than having a nefarious plan to kiss up to China (“q?n Zh?ng”) or to proclaim Taiwan’s integrity through the power of spelling.
It’s also ironic — though not at all suprising — that the aggrieved parent and clueless reporter didn’t question the spelling of the name of the school, which is written on both certificates as “Wenhua” (Wade-Giles, MPS2, Hanyu Pinyin, etc.) rather than as “Wunhua” (Tongyong Pinyin).