Guangzhou subway to switch from Pinyin to English-Pinyin mix

Guangzhou’s Metro will be reportedly be changing from Hanyu Pinyin to a mix of English and Pinyin in the naming of its stations. Thus, for example, “Guangzhou Huochezhan” will become “Guangzhou Train Station” (or something like that) and Tiyu Xilu will become Tiyu West Road.

If the official website of the Guangzhou Metro is anything to go by, the Pinyin presently used there is terrible. The official website is infected with the Pinyin-crippling diseases of InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion and FailUreToSePaRateWords. ????, for example, is given not as T?yù X?lù but as TiYuXiLu. Horrible! And, of course, there are some typos too, which make matters even worse, such as TiYuZhongZin for what should be T?yù Zh?ngx?n.

The last time I was in Guangzhou the subway didn’t exist, so I haven’t seen this signage for myself. Can anyone supply photos of station signage in Guangzhou? I’d also appreciate receiving photos of official Pinyin signage from elsewhere in China. (Photos can be sent to the address on my contact info page.)

And, of course, there’s no word on supplying what ought to be a basic: additional signage in romanized Cantonese.

I have written the authorities there seeking details about the conversion but have not received a reply.

source and resources:

Turkey, Hunchback, and Stinky Head — more on no-no names in Malaysia

A-giâu’s attempt at reconstructing some of the Sinitic names on Malaysia’s list of forbidden personal names (which I posted on yesterday) had me feeling a little guilty that I didn’t do more research on this. So I did some additional digging and came up with an article that listed some of the Hanzi (Chinese characters).

Here are the Sinitic names, as given in the article (see ref. below). I’ve added romanization in Pinyin and approximate English translations. A few of these, though, have me perplexed. What, for example, is so bad about Hor Kianh (??)?


source’s romanization Hanzi Romanization in Pinyin (Mandarin) English translation
Ah Chwar 阿蛇 Ā Shé Snake
Ang Mor 紅毛 Hóngmáo Westerner (figuratively; literally: “red hair”)
Heoy Kay 火雞 Huǒjī Turkey
Hor Kianh 虎仔 Hǔzi Tiger
Khiow Koo 駝背 Tuóbèi Hunchback
Tok Sim 毒心 Dúxīn Evil Mind
Tua Pooi 大肥 Dà Féi Fatty
Tua Bug 大目 Dà Mù Big Eyes


source’s romanization Hanzi Romanization in Pinyin (Mandarin) English translation
Ai Chai 矮仔 Ǎizi Dwarf
Chow Kow 臭狗 Chòu Gǒu Smelly Dog
Chow Tow 臭頭 Chòu Tóu Stinky Head
Sor Chai 傻仔 Shǎzi Fool
Kou Lou 高佬 Gāo Lǎo Tall Devil
Tai Ngan 大眼 Dà Yǎn Big Eyes
Soh Low 傻佬 Shǎ Lǎo Stupid Imp
Tai Yee 大耳 Dà Ěr Big Ears


source’s romanization Hanzi Romanization in Pinyin (Mandarin) English translation
Ar Loo 阿驢 Ā Lǘ Donkey
Hwai Sze 壞死 Huàisǐ Bad Death
Chang Chee 娼妓 Chāngjì Prostitute
Ho Sze 猴子 Hóuzi Monkey
Sun Choo 山豬 Shānzhū Wild Boar
Tha Thaw 大頭 Dàtóu Wastrel, Silly Person (lit. “Big Head”)
Chue Sze 豬仔 Zhūzi Piggy
Sze Kwee 死鬼 Sǐguǐ Devil

source: Jiazhang wèi háizi qumíng xuzhi: Agou, Jizi, A-Zhuàng jìn yòng (????????? ????????), China Press (Malaysia), July 30, 2006

Malaysia deems some names ‘unsuitable’

Malaysia’s National Registration Department has compiled a list of personal names deemed “unsuitable.” Parents will be blocked from having their children registered under these names. Among the groups contributing to the compilation of the list are the Buddhist Missionary Society of Malaysia, the Malaysian Hindu Sangam, and the Universiti Malaya Tamil Language Association.

Parents will be prevented from bestowing upon their children specific names in a variety of languages (including Cantonese and Hoklo/Hokkien/Taiwanese). In addition, entire categories of names — such as the names of animals, colors, fruits, and vegetables — will also be blocked. Numbers and initials are also to be denied approval.

According to Jainisah Mohd Noor, a spokeswoman for the National Registration Department, parents who insisted upon using a name on this list could appeal to the department.

“We can only advise them, but if they are insistent even after knowing they are unsuitable, they may be allowed to use them,” Jainisah said.

I haven’t been able to find a copy of the list. Perhaps it’s on the National Registration Department’s Web site; but that’s only in Malay.

Here are some “unsuitable” names from Sinitic languages, as given in the news stories below. I’m just copying these from the news stories listed below, so don’t blame me for the romanizations.

  • Ah Kow (dog)
  • Ah Gong (unsound mind)
  • Chai Too (pig)
  • Kai Chai (chick)
  • Sum Seng (gangster)
  • Ah Chwar (snake)
  • Khiow Khoo (hunchback)
  • Chow Tow (smelly head)
  • Sor Chai (insane)

Here are some forbidden names from other languages:

  • Zaniah (female adulterer)
  • Zani (male adulterer)
  • Woti (sexual intercourse)
  • Karruppan (black fellow)
  • Sivappi (fair)
  • Vellayan (fair)
  • Amma-kannu (mother’s eye)
  • Batu Malai (stone hill)

You will also have to prove your lineage if you want your child to carry the prefix Ungku, Engku, Ku, Syed or Syarifah to your name.

Names with officials titles such as Tun, Tan Sri or Dato’ Wira Jaya, Haji, Nabi, Rasul, Guru, Ustaz and Hakim are also out.

Taishan dictionary

A recently published dictionary of Taishan — Táish?n f?ngy?n zìdi?n (??????), edited by Dèng J?n (??) and Lín Róngyào (???) — has been selling relatively well, according to news reports. But I haven’t been able to find out much more, such as if the book is available for purchase online.

Cantonese input method for Chinese characters

There’s a new Unicode-based phonetic input method for inputting Chinese characters … using Cantonese: Canto Input.

Here’s the author’s description:

What is it?
CantoInput is a freely available, Unicode-based Chinese input method (IME) which allows you to type both traditional and simplified characters using Cantonese romanization. Both the Yale and Jyutping methods are supported. A Mandarin Pinyin mode is also available.

Why does the world need another Chinese input method?
While there already exist excellent phonetic input methods based on Mandarin Pinyin pronunciation, there is a general lack of support for Cantonese. As a Cantonese learner, I was frustrated by the difficulty of typing Chinese, especially Cantonese-specific colloquial characters. Most existing Cantonese input methods require a Chinese version of Windows and operate using non-Unicode encodings such as BIG5 or GB, while non-phonetic methods such as Cangjie have a very steep learning curve. I originally wrote this program for my own personal use but decided to make it freely available since I felt that other Cantonese speakers and learners might also find it useful. It’s still really basic at this time, but hopefully I’ll have time to impove the interface and add more features in the future.

Those interested in trying this out might find the comments on Chinese Forums useful.

unfortunate results of appetite for ‘lucky’ moss

The desire around Chinese New Year to consume fàcài (?? / ??), which is an edible, hairlike moss, has led to desertification in Inner Mongolia, according to an article in the South China Morning Post. The problem is rooted in that fàcài sounds like f?cái (?? / ??), which is the verb “to get rich.”

Note that fàcài and f?cái are not true homophones, so there’s no problem distinguishing them in Pinyin — though even without tone marks the difference would be made clear by context, relative frequency of use, and the fact that one is a noun and the other a verb. The name of this moss and “get rich” also sound similar in Cantonese. (In Taiwan, the pronunciation of the fa of fàcài is in third tone.)

The main association with Chinese New Year is the polite phrase g?ngx? f?cái (???? / ????), which is tossed around a lot this time of year. (In Cantonese, it’s “kunghei fatchoi,” spelled in lots of ways.) It’s a way of wishing that the person makes a lot of money in the coming year. Although it doesn’t mean “happy new year,” in can be used in most of the same circumstances as that phrase.

Guangzhou diners are still consuming the banned fa cai black moss, with restaurants and seafood shops cashing in on the belief that eating it gives an auspicious start to the Lunar New Year because its name is a homonym for “get rich.” The harvesting and export of the hair-like plant called fat choi in Cantonese was banned in 2000 to protect the environment. Fa cai grows in the thin arid soils of Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Gansu, and harvesting damages the environment because topsoil is raked loose, leading to soil erosion and desertification.

Staff at Guangzhou’s Ting Cheng Restaurant said fa cai with oysters was one auspicious dish on its menu. Seafood shops along Yide Road were also stocking the moss and asking customers what grade they wanted, leading some consumers to wonder whether some of the produce could be corn silk dyed to pass as fa cai.

While one shop owner acknowledged the ban, he said he was selling stock bought before it was implemented. “It’s not allowed to be harvested any more. My suppliers in Xinjiang are giving me stocks harvested before the ban,” he said.

Teacher Shu Chang said she paid 230 Yuan for 250 grams of fa cai. “I can’t really tell the real stuff from fake fa cai, but it must be real because it is expensive. If you soak it and the dye comes off, it must be fake,” she said.

Excessive harvesting has turned millions of hectares of pasture into desert. Before the ban, 40,000 sq. km. had been laid to waste in 20 years in Inner Mongolia.

I wanted to use a desert/dessert pun in the headline of this post. Facai, however, is used in soups and a few other types of dishes, not desserts. Oh well.

source: Auspicious moss stays on menus despite ban, South China Morning Post


Linda Jaivin, who has written an interesting range of works, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Babes from Outer Space, The Monkey and the Dragon: A True Story about Friendship, Music, Politics and Life on the Edge, and Eat Me, discusses some of the challenges of subtitling — especially of Chinese movies — in Tanks! Tanks! (You’re most welcome) (The Age, December 31, 2005).

Among these movies she has subtitled are Farewell, My Concubine and Hero. (I seem to recall some controversy about the translation of the final line in the former movie, but I can’t remember anymore what it was. Something about the sword being “wood”? The latter film, lovely though it was, I loathed for its despicable politics and general fascist embrace of death; but that’s off-topic.)

Jaivin also brings up a recent book edited by filmmaker Atom Egoyan and scholar Ian Balfour, Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film (MIT Press, 2004). I was surprised to read in the book’s introduction (PDF file) that subtitles predate sound films:

The subtitle was actually introduced as early as 1907, that is to say, still in the era of intertitles, but it did not really come into its own until the age of the talkies and their international distribution. The era of the modern subtitle was ushered in with the screening of The Jazz Singer in Paris in 1929, two years after its American release.

As long as I’m on the subject, I might as well mention that in Taiwan and China almost all movies and TV shows — including those originally in Mandarin — are subtitled in Mandarin. I’d be interested in learning more about how much if any Cantonese is used in the subtitling of Hong Kong movies.

Also, as Joe Clark likes to remind people, subtitles and captions are not the same.

English in Guangzhou

English names may be introduced in every public place in the growing southern city of Guangzhou.

The Guangzhou Language Committee said the city government has asked relevant departments and organizations to introduce English names for city streets, scenic spots, parks, residential areas, bus stops, metro stations, piers, museums and even public toilets.

The municipal government is striving to turn the city into an international metropolis.

Currently, most of the city’s public places have only pinyin or local Cantonese style names that confuse most foreigners.

At the same time, the language committee will soon launch a city-wide campaign to check English usage in the city.

The committee plans to set up a task force to help inspect all public places to further promote and standardize the use of English names.

The public venues that have no English names will be asked to provide one while those with inappropriate names or bad translations will be required to come up with a better alternative, an official from the committee said.

Cantonese style expressions widely used in the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions will no longer be considered English names.

New police cars are already being converted, with the pinyin of the Chinese word for police, “Jing Cha,” substituted by the word “police” on both sides of the car.

The first group of new patrol wagons were put into service in Guangzhou late last week.

By September 2006, all the patrol wagons in service will be replaced by the new 2004 versions, or re-painted in the new style that includes white, blue and yellow colours, said the official yesterday.

Meanwhile all the grass-roots police offices and sub-stations will also be required to put up signs that include their English names in front of the their gates before the end of the year to provide better service, the official added.

An English police hotline has also opened to serve the English-speaking people in Guangzhou.

From the China Daily.