video of Pinyin’s ‘father,’ Zhou Youguang, in English

Roddy of Chinese Forums, Signese, Dreams of White Tiles, and even more sites, found a new video (4 min. 40 sec.) of Zhou Youguang speaking, in English, to a reporter from the Guardian.

I was kind of surprised to see this featured on the Guardian’s front page under the ‘Father of Pinyin’ title – I’d wager 9/10ths upwards of the Guardian’s readership doesn’t know what pinyin is. Somewhat unforgivably they’ve managed to spell the guy’s name wrong and not bothered to add tones to the pinyin used in the video, and the interview is pretty weak – basically it’s ‘here’s a nice old Chinese guy talking for a few minutes’ but there’s really very little of depth. They’ve also opted to add subtitles to what sounds to me like perfectly comprehensible English.

But enough negativity, if you want to get a look at the guy who rescued you from bopomofo, have a look.

As happy as I am about the video, I’m going to add a bit more negativity. Failure to get the word parsing correct is also a major error: not “pin yin zhi fu” but “Pīnyīn zhī fù.” Actually, even that isn’t so good, because Pinyin is meant for modern baihua, not the style of Literary Sinitic and its many short forms. Thus, “Pīnyīn de fùqin” would be better.

The accompanying article is amazingly sloppy in parts.

Although the article manages to spell Zhou Youguang’s name correctly, it consistently refers to him not by his family name but by his given name, “Youguang.” It’s almost inconceivable that any reporter in China could (repeatedly) make such an elementary mistake; so perhaps this is the fault of an overzealous copy editor.

I’m not going to sort out and list what’s correct and what’s incorrect in the rest of the article, other than mention one point at the end.

Confusingly, Taiwan uses several different romanisation methods — including a variant of pinyin, tongyong pinyin — and zuiyin.

Zuiyin? Of course what is meant is zhuyin (zhùyīn/註音/注音), which is spelled correctly earlier in the article. Zuiyin (zuìyīn/罪因) is a noun meaning “cause of a crime.”


2 thoughts on “video of Pinyin’s ‘father,’ Zhou Youguang, in English

  1. Thanks for the link. I don’t want to sound ungrateful to the Guardian either, as it is nice to have the video available. But it’s hard to ignore this line from the voiceover, following “Chinese has no alphabet”:

    “each word has its own character”

    A common misconception, I acknowledge. But it contains within it such a colossal misunderstanding of language — how could anyone even think that it would be possible to have a different character for every word?! — that you feel like just giving up on the “minor” issues like Mandarin-not-Chinese or any of the other proposed new year’s resolutions of a few posts ago.

  2. Just went back to that Guardian page and noticed they corrected some of the errors pointed out here just a few days after your critique…without acknowledging who may have been the source of those corrections of course:

    “This article was amended on Monday February 25 2008 as a result of a subediting error. In Chinese, family names come first so we should have referred to the linguist Zhou Youguang as Youguang, his given name as his family name. This has been changed.”

    They also corrected “zuiyin” to “zhuyin”. I suppose it would have been a bigger deal to change the pinyin parsing on the video opening title, or the voice-over…or the deeper problems.

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