Pinyin in space

Stories about the official approval last September of the name of “Chiayi” for an asteroid/planetoid/minor planet (not to be confused with Pluto, the “dwarf planet“) discovered by astronomers with Taiwan’s National Central University drew my attention to the fact that another minor planet already bears the name of the university — and that they named it using Tongyong Pinyin: “Jhongda” (i.e., Zh?ng-Dà, the short form of the school’s name in Mandarin, Guólì Zh?ngy?ng Dàxué).

There are plenty of planetoids bearing names in Hanyu Pinyin, e.g. Chongqing, Guangzhou, Guizhou, Beijingdaxue [i.e., Beijing Daxue], Beishida [i.e., Bei-Shi-Da], and Zirankexuejijin [i.e., Ziran Kexue Jijin].

Omitting spaces is common in the names as a whole, though some of them have spaces. And some have hyphens.

Although the statistics of diacritical characters in minor planets’ names (a list after my own heart) shows that, as of June 1997, 667 (4.83%) of the 13,805 named minor planets had diacritical characters in their names, I didn’t spot any Hanyu Pinyin names with tone marks. The mark for first tone doesn’t appear on the list even once.

I wish they’d followed Tongyong when naming asteroid Chiayi, because that way they would have ended up with the same spelling that Hanyu Pinyin uses: Jiayi. But I guess the solar system’s big enough for Wade-Giles as well.

Here are some Google search figures from Taiwan government domains.

  • 532 from gov.tw domains for “chia-i”
  • 1,380 from gov.tw domains for “jiayi”
  • 2,660 from gov.tw domains for “chia-yi”
  • 997,000 from gov.tw domains for “chiayi”

Should Ma Ying-jeou win next month’s presidential election in Taiwan, both the executive and legislative branches of government would be in the hands of the no-longer-opposed-to-Hanyu-Pinyin Kuomintang, and the national folly of Tongyong Pinyin could soon cease to exist as an official system not just in Taiwan but everywhere throughout the known universe … except on planetoid no. 145534 (“Jhongda”), a big chunk of rock in orbit somewhere past Mars.

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2 thoughts on “Pinyin in space

  1. I personally would prefer for Taiwan to completely rename all names in one system or another consistently, although I would say I personally prefer Hanyu Pinyin over Tongyong Pinyin.

    The government’s “excuse” is that many names such as Taipei, Kaohsiung, Chiayi… etc. are already “well-known” therefore it would be counterproductive to rename them. Perhaps, but it’s a weak excuse. Just how well-known is “Taipei” compared to say “Peking”? Many people outside of Taiwan, namely those in the West, still think I’m talking about Thailand when I talk about Taiwan.

    I see Taiwan becoming increasingly important as time go on, we should nip the problem at the bud and correct the spelling now. That way in a few decade, people will all spell them properly. How many people still spell ?? as anything but “Beijing” today?

  2. Weili,
    I agree. Nothing is gained from inconsistency in romanisation. Cities and countries change their names regularly.
    It would not be a concession to China to adopt Hanyu Pinyin. It would be a benefit for the world.

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