Taiwanese, eh?

I’m so far behind on posts that when Taffy of Tailingua sent this to me people in Taipei probably really were wearing short sleeves. They’re certainly not wearing so little now, with the cold, damp, miserable weather we’ve been having lately. Oh well, at least it’s better than what so many people have been having to endure in China. I hope Pinyin News readers there are keeping warm and didn’t get stuck in some transportation-related hell.
photo discussed in this post -- large blue text against a white background, Ma and Siew shown from the waist up with their arms crossed; a blue bird on the left
This poster on the back of a bus is for Taiwan’s presidential campaign.

It reads:

Táiwān ei lìliang
Shìjiè dǎ tōngguān

Mǎ Yīngjiǔ — Xiāo Wàncháng



馬英九 蕭萬長

It’s hard to put this into English that makes sense. Perhaps “Taiwan shows its power to the world.” The idea is something like “Taiwan can overcome all obstacles.” It doesn’t strike me as a good slogan. But maybe I’m missing something.

The interesting part is that it has Taiwanese written with zhuyin (bopomofo): ㄟ (ei). But the ㄟ is basically just for show, since it doesn’t serve any linguistic purpose that the expected Chinese character — 的 (de), indicating the possessive — wouldn’t provide. The sign is still in Mandarin. (Dǎ tōngguān, for example, is not a Taiwanese expression, according to several native speakers I questioned about this.)

For those who don’t know, Mǎ Yīngjiǔ and Xiāo Wàncháng comprise the KMT’s ticket for next month’s presidential election.

Both Ma and Xiao use unusual spellings for the way they write their names in the Roman alphabet: Ma Ying-jeou and Vincent Siew, respectively.

The “Ying-jeou” of Ma’s name gives the appearance of Gwoyeu Romatzyh. But in that system his name would be “Maa Ing-jeou.”

“Siew” for Hanyu Pinyin’s Xiāo indicates that the source is likely a language other than Mandarin. But Taiwanese isn’t it, though Siew, unlike Ma, was born here. Because of that spelling, many foreigners in Taiwan pronounce his family name like the English word “shoe.” “Vincent” is of course an “English name” rather than a romanization of his birth name.

As I’m fond of pointing out, perhaps the only prominent Taiwan politician whose name is recognizably Hanyu Pinyin and only Hanyu Pinyin is President Chen Shui-bian, the man most responsible for seeing that Taiwan did not adopt Hanyu Pinyin during his tenure.

9 thoughts on “Taiwanese, eh?

  1. It is amazing how the education system runs. Does it mean students are allowed to choose Pinyin, Gwoyeu Romatzyh or whatever system to learn? Or the spelling is just for foreign purpose?

  2. Actually that sign is written to be read in Taiwanese (Holo), that’s why it uses a bopomofo character, ‘ei’, instead of ‘de’.

    Basically, people will read this slogan in Taiwanese instead of Mandarin because of that bopomofo character.

  3. dda: The Siew spelling might well be Cantonese. I read somewhere that Siew can speak Hakka, so that might be another possibility. But I haven’t heard anything about him being from a Hakka background (which would certainly get publicity during an electoral season, since Taiwan’s Hakka are a large enough group that politicians want to seek out their support).

    Fred: Taiwan students don’t have to learn any romanization system — which is part of the reason Taiwan’s signage is such a mess. Indeed, a lot of Taiwanese seem to think that writing something with the roman alphabet makes it English. Y?ngwén p?ny?n is often used, incorrectly, to describe something in romanized Mandarin or Taiwanese.

    hktai: My sense is that this is still more macaronic than anything else. But if this really is in Taiwanese all the better.

    Joshua: Yes, in Hanyu Pinyin orthography the president’s name would properly be written Chen Shuibian (or, OK Steve, Chén Shu?bi?n). But in terms of the spelling, “Chen Shui-bian” (with or without the hyphen) is uniquely Hanyu Pinyin (not counting some obscure systems that not even people like me bother to pay attention to). To do the comparisons yourself, see my table of various romanization systems for Mandarin.

  4. Hmmm Hakka, well it makes sense that if he were he’d publicize it… OTOH his ancestors could be Hakka from the Hong Kong’s New Territories – or just right across the border. Well, isn’t it fun to build theories out of thin air…?

  5. They spell it Siew in Malaysia, and also in Singapore I think. My theory: Xiao had no idea whatsoever how to romanise his name; he came across the name of someone surnamed Xiao from Malaysia, saw that that person wrote it Siew, and just picked that one for himself.
    On Ma’s jeou, I have no idea. But the city councilor in Taipei County who was murdered last year also spelled the ? in his name like that. Don’t know if they got it from the same source, or one imitated the other.

  6. Jeou is the standard Gwoyeu Romatzyh spelling (e = I + 3rd tone). Probably 80-90% of dictionaries published in Taiwan over the past 60 years use this romanization if they use any at all (walk into any bookstore and check it out). President Ma is an educated man, so he probably copied it out of a dictionary. The sad thing is that most teachers of Mandarin in Taiwan don’t bother to check their dictionaries. They insist that foreigners use either bopomofo or Hanyu Pinyin.

  7. President Ma is an educated man, so he probably copied it out of a dictionary.
    As I note above, only “jeou” is Gwoyeu Romatzyh. “Ma” and “Ying” are not. One out of three doesn’t speak well of his copying skills, if those are indeed the source of the spelling of his name as a whole. Or perhaps the dictionary was wrong, which seems less likely but still possible.

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