Xin Tang no. 1: articles in Gwoyeu Romatzyh

click to view the PDFI’ve just put up another issue of Xin Tang.

As you may have noticed already, the name on the cover is given not as Xin Tang but as Shin Tarng. That’s because the journal started out being published in the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system. But using the Hanyu Pinyin spelling here helps me keep track of these better.

Almost all of this issue is in Mandarin written in Gwoyeu Romatzyh. One article also has an en face translation into English. And as is the case with the other issues of Xin Tang, a variety of topics are covered.

Shin Tarng no. 1 (September/Ji?yuè 1982)

Hanyu Pinyin Cihui

image of the cover of this book, which gives 'HANYU PINYIN CIHUI', followed on the next line in larger characters by '??????', followed on the next line, in smaller letters, by '???' -- the text is white against a blue backgroundToday, for all you orthography junkies (Hello? Hello? Anybody there?), I have added a selection from the 1963 edition of Hanyu Pinyin Cihui (?????? / Hàny? P?ny?n Cíhuì).

The book, which is fully alphabetized by Hanyu Pinyin (i.e., like the ABC dictionary series, not like the Hanzi-by-Hanzi Pinyin ordering seen in most dictionaries published in the PRC), is a long list of Mandarin words as written in Hanyu Pinyin and Chinese characters. It’s meant as a reference for word division and other such orthographic concerns. It’s the sort of thing that just cried out to have been made into a full dictionary (especially since that’s what it looks like, minus definitions); but, unfortunately, it never was. But it was an important influence on the ABC series.

One can see some interesting instances of differences between Pinyin orthography then and now. For example, in this old edition of Hanyu Pinyin Cihui de tends to be appended to words and written as d, e.g. ái’áid, rather than the current ái’ái de (???). Similarly, zi is written z at the end of a word, e.g. ?igèz, rather than the current ?igèzi (???).

Also interesting is the mixed use of simplified and traditional Chinese characters. (It will be easier to see what I’m referring to if you open the PDF file of the introduction and A’s of Hanyu Pinyin Cihui.) The title on the cover is given as ?????? in Chinese characters — perfectly standard. But below this is ??? (z?ngdìng g?o / revised edition); note how dìng is written as ? rather than as ?.

More striking, though, for the modern reader is the script in the foreword. Here, what was written ?????? on the cover is written ??????, mixing traditional and simplified forms. The full traditional version of this would be written ??????. The text of the introduction is similarly mixed. This is because this was published before many simplified forms that are now standard were fully accepted officially.

The selection from this book here on comprises the introduction and all of the entries beginning with the letter a.

image of a few entries

Pingdong signage

I was recently in southern Taiwan’s Pingdong County to spend a few quiet days — I wish it had been more — by the sea. (Taiwan’s official spelling for this county remains the bastardized Wade-Giles form, Pingtung, rather than Pingdong, which is how it is spelled in MPS2, Tongyong Pinyin, and Hanyu Pinyin.)

The official signs I saw were predominantly in Tongyong Pinyin. The exceptions to this were generally errors (though perhaps official errors — see below) rather than instances of Hanyu Pinyin or other systems. I was surprised to see that this was the case not only with street signs but also with highway signage. Street signs are local. But highway signs fall under the jurisdiction of a ministry of the central government and thus usually follow national guidelines — and follow them more quickly than other signage. But while highway signs in many other parts of Taiwan have been changed to Hanyu Pinyin, Pingdong lags, for whatever reason.

Click on the photos for larger versions.

Here’s a street sign unmistakably in Tongyong Pinyin. “Wunzih” is written “Wenzi” in Hanyu Pinyin.
street sign reading 'Wunzih Rd.'

Here’s a fancy street sign for the tourists in Hengchun — thus the stylized “?” (below “Hengnan Rd.”) for “??” (Héngch?n). “Hengnan” could be any of lots of romanization systems. The interesting parts are the use of a counter-productive English translation (“South Bay”) rather than the Mandarin place name “Nanwan” and the use of the bastardized Wade-Giles form Kenting for Kending. The Kenting spelling, though wrong, was by far the most common one on official signage, which leads me to suspect that this is another case of the Taiwan government embracing the delusion that an obscure-to-the-world place is actually world famous in its bastardized Wade-Giles spelling and thus foreigners would be confused if signs actually represented the right way to pronounce this. Ugh. So even though every one of Taiwan’s official romanization systems for the past quarter century would spell this the same, Kending, the government says it should be spelled Kenting … at least from one source; but the Ministry of the Interior, which should have the greater jurisdiction, says to use Kending.

If you look carefully (click on the image to zoom in), you can see that the previous version of the sign (underneath the new one) did not have any romanization. The ‘r’ in Erluanbi is especially odd, given that it doesn’t belong there. (Éluánbí / ??? / n.: bulbous nose) The error appears to come from Taiwan government itself, whose Research, Development, and Evaluation Commission’s site on “bilingual” forms gives the r spelling — though it also gives the correct “Eluanbi” spelling for other instances of this.
3 highway signs, reading 'Manjhou', 'Hengchun', and 'Erluanbi'

Or maybe the sign makers just borrowed the r from this sign.

Another distinctly Tongyong sign:

I was pleased to see this trilingual sign, with Mandarin, English, and Vietnamese.

ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary out soon

front cover of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English DictionaryThe ABC Chinese-English Dictionary was published ten years ago. It was revolutionary in that, for the first time, a Mandarin-English dictionary was ordered entirely by the headwords’ pronunciation as written in pinyin. (Stroke and radical indexes are also there to aid finding a character when its shape is known but not its pronunciation.) Other dictionaries in the DeFrancis ABC series have followed. But up to now there been no ABC dictionary with an English to Mandarin section as well as a Mandarin to English one.

At the end of this month the University of Hawai`i Press is releasing the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary. The new dictionary, which is 1,252 pages long, has 29,670 entries in its English-Mandarin section and 37,963 entries for Mandarin-English (total 67,633 entries). (The much larger ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary has some 196,000 entries — all Mandarin-English).

This is a big year for Mandarin-English dictionaries, with the forthcoming release of the ABC ECCE and the release three months ago of the massive Oxford Chinese Dictionary. From the standpoint of Pinyin, however, the Oxford dictionary is a disappointment. For example, the Oxford dictionary has no Pinyin in the English-Mandarin section, just Chinese characters; in some other places tone marks are missing from some of the Pinyin, where it appears at all. Perhaps this will be rectified in the online edition, which has yet to appear. At the moment, though, the Oxford looks like a fairly traditional dictionary — albeit a huge one — aimed mainly at English learners in China, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you happen to be among that very large group of people. For more on the Oxford, see the video at Danwei and the entries at Chinese Forums (with some images) and Language Log.

Unlike the Oxford dictionary, the ABC ECCE offers both Pinyin and Chinese characters for all entries and sample sentences. (See samples below. Click on those for more extensive examples in PDF files.)

From what I’ve seen so far of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary, I expect it to become the dictionary for English-speaking students of Mandarin. I’ll write more about this once I’m able to see a hard copy.

The ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary retails for only US$20, compared to US$75 for the Oxford.

From the Mandarin-English section. But don’t expect the text in the printed edition to be this large. I’ve enlarged the image to make it easier to read on the Web.
examples of entries in the Mandarin-English section of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary

From the English-Mandarin section:
examples of entries in the English-Mandarin section of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary

(ISBN-10: 0824834852; ISBN-13: 978-0824834852)

See also:

Xin Tang 4

cover of issue number 4 of the journal 'Xin Tang (New China)'The fourth issue of Xin Tang is now online.

For those of you wondering why Xin Tang is spelled Xin Talng on the cover, that’s because parts of this particular issue use a tonal-spelling variation of Hanyu Pinyin, as follows.

Simple rules for tonal spelling

  1. ma (?) / ling (?)
  2. mal (?) / lilng (?)
  3. maa (?) / liing (?)
  4. mah (?) / lihng (?)
  5. “‘” biaaoshih qingsheng, kee’shi “‘de” dou –> “d”.

Here, for example, is a message from the publisher.

Colng zheih yihqi qii SHIN TARNG gaai weil XIN TALNG, shiiyohng d welnzih yii Pin Yin (jiaan xiee PY) weil jichuu. Duobahn d welnzhang yohng yooudiaoh PY xiee. Biaodiaoh faa qiing kahn fengmiahn erh xiah’tou d jiaandan shuomilng.

The same passage in Pinyin with tone marks:

Cóng zhèi yì q? q? SHIN TARNG g?i wéi XIN TANG, sh?yòng d wénzì y? P?n Y?n (ji?n xi? PY) wéi j?ch?. Du?bàn d wénzh?ng yòng y?udiào PY xi?. Bi?odiào f? q?ng kàn f?ngmiàn èr xià’tou d ji?nd?n shu?míng.

Not all of the romanization in this issue follows that form. Some has no special spellings but instead uses tone marks. Some has no tone marks. Give ’em all a try and see what you think.

Xin Tang 4 (PDF)

Xin Tang 6

cover of Xin Tang, no. 6My previous post linked to a new HTML version of Homographobia, an essay by John DeFrancis. The work was first published in November 1985, in the sixth issue of Xin Tang (New China).

Xin Tang (X?n Táng) is an especially interesting journal in that it is primarily in Mandarin written in romanization. A variety of romanization systems and methods are employed over the course of the journal. Indeed, over the course of its run one can see many questions of systems and orthographies being worked out.

I want to stress, though, that the journal does not restrict itself to material of interest only to romanization specialists. It also features poetry, illustrated stories, philosophy, letters to the editor, children’s material, and much more.

English and a few Chinese characters are also found; and there are even articles in languages such as Turkish (with Mandarin and English translations).

Most of what appears in English is also translated into Mandarin — romanized Mandarin, of course. So DeFrancis’s essay also appears, appropriately, in Pinyin:

Homographobia is a disorder characterized by an irrational fear of ambiguity when individual lexical items which are now distinguished graphically lose their distinctive features and become identical if written phonemically. The seriousness of the disorder appears to be in direct proportion to the increase in number of items with identical spelling that phonemic rendering might bring about….

Tongyinci-kongjuzheng shi yi zhong xinli shang d shichang, tezheng shi huluande haipa yong pinyin zhuanxie dangqing kao zixing fende hen qingchu d cir hui shiqu tamend bianbiexing. Kan qilai, zhei ge bing d yanzhongxing gen pinyin shuxie keneng zaocheng d tongxing pinshi shuliang d zengjia cheng zhengbi….

All of the issue with the DeFrancis essay is now online: Xin Tang no. 6.

illustration of a dragon reading a copy of Xin Tang, from an illustrated story
Note the occasional employment of a tonal spelling (shuui).


Twenty-five years ago, John DeFrancis wrote a terrific essay on what he aptly dubbed homographobia (in Mandarin: tóngy?ncí-k?ngjùzhèng). It’s a word that deserves wider currency, as the irrational fear he describes still affects a great many people.

Homographobia is a disorder characterized by an irrational fear of ambiguity when individual lexical items which are now distinguished graphically lose their distinctive features and become identical if written phonemically. The seriousness of the disorder appears to be in direct proportion to the increase in number of items with identical spelling that phonemic rendering might bring about. The aberration may not exist at all among people favored by writing systems that are already closely phonemic, such as Spanish and German. It exists to a mild degree among readers of a poorly phonemic (actually morphophonemic) writing system such as English, some of whom suffer anxiety reactions at the thought of the confusion that might arise if, for example, rain, rein, and reign were all written as rane. It exists in its most virulent form among those exposed to Chinese characters, which, among all the writing systems ever created, are unique in their ability to convey meaning under extreme conditions of isolation

That the fear is a genuine phobia, that is an irrational fear, is attested to by the fact that it is confined only to those cases in which lexical items that are now distinguished in writing would lose their distinctiveness if written phonemically, as in the case of the three English homophones mentioned above. Quite irrationally, the fear is not provoked by lexical items which are not now distinguished in writing, even though the amount of already existing homography might be considerably greater than in projected cases, such as the mere three English words pronounced rane. The English graphic form can, for example, has at least ten different meanings which to a normal mind might appear as ten different words. But no one, either in or out of his right mind in such matters, suffers any anxiety from the problems which in theory should exist in such extensive homography.

The uncritical acceptance of current written forms as an immutable given ignores the accidents in the history of writing that have resulted in current graphic differentiation for some homophones and not for others. Such methodological myopia cannot lead to any useful consideration of ambiguity….

The complete essay is now online: Homographobia.

new book in Pinyin

image of the cover of the printed edition of Pinyin Riji DuanwenI’m very pleased to announce the publication of a new book, Pīnyīn Rìjì Duǎnwén, by Zhāng Lìqīng. Other than one introductory letter in English, the work is entirely in Mandarin.

This is perhaps the world’s first Mandarin-language book to be published in Hanyu Pinyin without so much as one Chinese character. Thus, it is of historic importance. But it’s also a wonderful collection of stories. The author generously granted the right to release all of this book online.

The work will also soon be available in an inexpensive printed edition.

Some of you will recall Zhang’s lovely story Dàshuǐ Guòhòu (“After the Flood”), which first appeared here three years ago. It leads the new collection. The remaining twelve memoirs/stories are mainly in the same vein, recalling a childhood in China and Taiwan.

Zhè shì yī gè lǎo gùshi. Shìqing fāshēng zài 1946 nián xiàtiān. Nà nián wǒ jiāngjìn shí suì, zhù zài Sìchuān Chéngdū jiāoqū d Bǎihuā Qiáo. Zhōngguó Kōngjūn Tōngxìn Xuéxiào d jīdì zài nàli. Wǒ bàba shì nà ge xuéxiào d jūnguān….

The author died earlier this year. She was able to view proofs of the work, though her illness prevented her from making any corrections herself. Fortunately, several people stepped in, contributing substantially to the checking of the Pinyin and other aspects of the work. I’d like especially to thank the following people: David W. Goodrich, Jiao Liwei, Kuo Hsin-chun, Melvin Lee, and Victor H. Mair. Any errors found in the book should be considered my own.

Please report any divergences from the Pinyin orthography established by Yin Binyong and the spellings used in the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary (Zhang was, after all, one of the associate editors of that massive work) to me. I’ve made very few intentional departures from those.

Please note that the use of “d” (where most authors would use “de”) is intentional. This is not a bug but a feature, something I came to understand better the more time I spent with this text. The use of “d” is explained in the second introductory letter (Liǎng Fēng Gěi Biānzhě d Xìn: 2).