Hakka romanization used for new Hanzi input method

Chinese character associated with Hakka morpheme ng?iTaiwan’s Ministry of Education has released software for Windows and Linux systems that uses Hakka romanization for the inputting of Chinese characters.

This appears to be aimed mainly at those who wish to input Hanzi used primarily in writing Hakka, such as that shown here.

See also Taiwanese romanization used for Hanzi input method.


back to Tamsui

photo of sticker with 'Tamsui' placed over the old map's spelling of 'Danshui'It’s time for another installment of Government in Action.

What you see to the right is something the Taipei County Government (now the Xinbei City Government, a.k.a. the New Taipei City Government) set into action: the Hanyu Pinyin spelling of “Danshui” is being replaced on official signage, including in the MRT system, by the old Taiwanese spelling of “Tamsui.” I briefly touched upon the plans for “Tamsui” a few months ago. (See my additional notes in the comments there.)

I have mixed feelings about this move. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see a representation of a language other than Mandarin or English on Taiwan’s signage. “Tamsui” is the traditional spelling of the Taiwanese name for the city. And it hardly seems too much for at least one place in Taiwan to be represented by a Taiwanese name rather than a Mandarin one.

On the other hand, the current move unfortunately doesn’t really have anything to do with promoting or even particularly accepting the Taiwanese language. It’s not going to be labeled “Taiwanese,” just “English,” which is simply wrong. It’s just vaguely history-themed marketing aimed at foreigners and no one else. But which foreigners, exactly, is this supposed to appeal to? Perhaps Taiwan is going after those old enough to remember the “Tamsui” spelling, though I wonder just how large the demographic bracket is for centenarian tourists … and just how mobile most of them might be.

So it’s basically another example — retroactively applied! — of a spelling that breaks the standard of Hanyu Pinyin and substitutes something that foreigners aren’t going to know how to pronounce (and the government will probably not help with that either): i.e., it’s another “Keelung” (instead of using “Jilong”), “Kinmen” instead of “Jinmen,” and “Taitung” instead of “Taidong.”

A key point will be how “Tamsui” is pronounced on the MRT’s announcement system. (I haven’t heard any changes yet; but I haven’t taken the line all the way out to Danshui lately.) The only correct way to do this would be exactly the same as it is pronounced in Taiwanese. And if the government is really serious about renaming Danshui as Tamsui, the Taiwanese pronunciation will be the one given in the Mandarin and Hakka announcements as well as the English one. Moreover, public officials and announcers at TV and radio stations will be instructed to say T?m-súi rather than Dànshu?, even when speaking in Mandarin.

Fat chance.

But, as years of painful experience in this area have led me to expect, my guess would be that the announcements will not do that. Instead, it will be another SNAFU, with a mispronunciation (yes, it is almost certain to be mispronounced by officialdom and those in the media) being labeled as “English”.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong about saying “T?m-súi.” But it’s a pretty safe bet that isn’t going to happen: the name will likely be given a pronunciation that a random clueless English speaker might use as a first attempt; then that will be called English. This sort of patronizing attitude toward foreigners really makes my blood boil. So I’m going to leave it at that for the moment lest my blood pressure go up too much.

So, once again, the MRT system is taking something that was perfectly fine and changing it to something that will be less useful — and all the while continuing to ignore miswritten station names, stupidly chosen station names, mispronunciations, and Chinglish-filled promotional material.

Please keep your ears as well as eyes open for instances of “Tamsui” and let me know what you observe. The city, by the way, has already started using “Tamsui” instead of “Danshui” on lots of official road signs, as I started seeing several months ago and which I noticed in increasing use just last week when I passed through that way.

I probably should have taken a more active stance on this months ago; but I was too busy working against the bigger and even more ridiculous anti-Pinyin change of “Xinbei” to “New Taipei City.” Fat lot of good that did.

‘dialects’ wasting ‘important neurons’ needed for Mandarin, English: Lee Kuan Yew

In 1979 Singapore launched its campaign for people there to “Strike Hard Against Hoklo, Cantonese, and Other Languages that Your Government Says Are Puny and Insignificant Because They Have Only Tens of Millions of Speakers Apiece,” er, “Speak Mandarin” (Ji?ng Huáy? Yùndòng / ?????). The city-state has been marking the the 30th anniversary of this with some speeches, such as one a couple of weeks ago by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew (L? Gu?ngyào), now “minister mentor.”

Lee described the situation:

Thirty years ago I launched the Speak Mandarin campaign. [Singaporean] Chinese students learned Mandarin at school. Unfortunately, they used to speak dialects amongst themselves, at home, and with their friends — a variety of dialects.

Here, “dialects” is of course the standard misnomer for Sinitic languages other than Mandarin.

Lee said that he himself was setting a bad example during the 1960s and 1970s by doing such highly irresponsible things as giving speeches in the native language of the majority of Singapore’s citizens. So he stopped all that. And he had the government shut down almost all broadcasts in Hokkien (Hoklo) and other such languages.

Lee said that although he understands “the strong emotional ties to one’s mother tongue … the trend is clear. In two generations, Mandarin will become our mother tongue.”

Actually, no, that’s not clear at all. Rather, a very different trend is apparent. During his speech Lee displayed the graph below, with data taken from surveys conducted by Singapore’s Ministry of Education.

Dominant Home Language of Singaporean Chinese Primary-1 Students (1980 to 2009)
graph showing English in a steady climb from 10% -- all numbers are approximate -- (1980) to 60% (2009); 'Chinese dialects' in steep decline from 1980 (62%) to 1988 (9%) and continuing to decline to only 1% or 2% in 2009; and Mandarin, which begins in 1980 at 28% and quickly tops 60% in 1985, with slower growth until 1988 (69%), after which it enters a steady decline to 39% (2009)

As the primary language of the home for young students, Mandarin has dropped steadily since the late 1980s, while English has risen steadily since 1980, with English surpassing Mandarin in 2004. (Language data for the whole population is more complicated. See, for example, the 2005 General Household Survey.)

Of course the government and Lee recognize this. But they don’t want to fight against English, which is crucial to Singapore’s success. So what Lee is proposing is that parents — both parents — speak Mandarin, not English, to their children.

(I see from my stats that this site gets lots of visitors from Singapore. Can any of you comment on how well you think the public will respond to Lee’s proposal.)

Lee explained in his speech that people have only so many “gigabytes” in their brains to devote to languages.

Though stating that speaking “dialects” in some situations can provide “extra warmth,” he warns that by using such languages: “You are losing important neurons with data which should not be there. And like the computer, when you delete it, it doesn’t really go away. It’s there at the back, and you’ve got to go to the rubbish channel and say ‘destroy.’ And it’s still disturbing your hard disk.”

Thus, those rubbish languages must be destroyed “dialects” must be let go, he said.

On March 8 a linguist at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “Although Singaporeans are still multilingual, 40 years ago, we were even more multilingual. Young children are not speaking some of these languages at all any more…. All it takes is one generation for a language to die.” But even after all these years, with Sinitic languages other than Mandarin fading fast there, this is apparently still no time to be slacking off, as Lee’s principal private secretary, Chee Hong Tat, promptly responded, “It would be stupid for any Singapore agency or NTU to advocate the learning of dialects, which must be at the expense of English and Mandarin.”

Part of the reason behind Lee’s call, however, is a basic misunderstanding. Setting aside the matters of educating children in a language not native to them and how many languages most people are capable of speaking effectively, the main difficulty with learning Mandarin is not the language itself (especially for those who speak other Sinitic languages) but Chinese characters as its near-exclusive script.

If Singapore is smart about promoting Mandarin, sooner rather than later it will develop a two-track system, with most students studying how to read and write Mandarin exclusively in Hanyu Pinyin, while those who wish become more specialized can go on to study Chinese characters as well. For this to work, Singapore will need to produce plenty of material to read in Pinyin. (A newspaper, for example, would be a must — and one with real news, not just cute stories for kids.) The city-state certainly has the means and motive for this. But does it have the imagination? If it does, most students could save their precious neurons and gigabytes for other things — perhaps even their families’ traditional native languages.

Lee Kuan Yew speech:

Some Singapore blog posts:

newspaper stories:

letter to the editor:


Taming of the Shrew: the Hakka musical

What’s being touted as the first Broadway-style Hakka musical will open in October at Taipei’s National Theater. The play, “Fú ch?n jiàn?” (to give the Mandarin title) (??????, My Daughter’s Wedding), is based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

sources and further reading:

Taiwan aborigines: education and media

cover of Taiwan Review, featuring a man, woman, and child in traditional aboriginal (Amis) dressThe most recent issue of Taiwan Review has a number of articles about Taiwan’s aborigines. I found two of them particularly interesting: Giving Indigenous People a Voice, which discusses Taiwan Indigenous TV, a television station established in July 2005 for Taiwan’s aboriginal population, and Whither Aboriginal Education?, which consists of excerpts from a panel discussion.

From “Giving Indigenous People a Voice”:

[T]he station is struggling with how to broadcast to people from 13 tribes, each of which speak a different language and have widely different customs.

“It’s very difficult to be fair,” says station director Masao, himself from the Atayal tribe. “Out of 13 tribes, which tribe’s language do you choose to broadcast in? So we have no choice but to use Mandarin” (the language of the majority Han Chinese population). “Some Atayal viewers complain there’s too little Atayal news. Of course it would be best if every tribe had its own channel, but that’s impossible.”

Another problem the station faces is finding skilled aboriginal staff, especially reporters and technicians, and those who can speak their own tribal language, even if not fluently….

Kolas, who grew up in the city with no aboriginal friends, recalls realizing the importance of being able to speak her own language when she first switched from being a mainstream reporter to being a reporter covering aboriginal issues for TITV.

“I realized that, just because I was an aborigine, it didn’t mean I could get interviews with aborigines. Without speaking their language, it was very hard for me to win their trust and interview them,” she says. She is now studying the Amis language.

Less than 5 percent of aboriginal children can speak their own language, Masao estimates, but like many things concerning aborigines, no solid statistics are available. To encourage the learning of one’s own language, the station has now made it an employment requirement….

The desuetude of aboriginal languages is such a problem that the TV station is trying to devote more airtime to tribal language broadcasting. Throughout the day, tribal folk tales are told in tribal languages, although the programs are generally short, resembling commercial breaks. Once a week, there are news programs in a select number of tribal tongues. The main programs, however, including news and cooking shows, are mostly broadcast in Mandarin, unlike another Taiwanese minority channel, Hakka TV, which broadcasts almost entirely in the Hakka language.

From “Whither Aboriginal Education?”:

Sun Ta-chuan: The truth is that many of the tribes have been integrated into modern society and traditional skills such as building a slate house or building a canoe no longer exist. Children of indigenous families that have moved to the cities no longer speak their mother tongues and nor do many of those who still live in the tribal areas. The thing is that we cannot force aboriginal children to shoulder the responsibility of keeping their cultures alive. The question is, should all aboriginal children receive education about the indigenous peoples from preschool to college, or are a couple of hours a week enough? I think the way to go is a “limited two-track” system, where students are free to change track between a complete aboriginal education and regular education.

Teachers are another problem. When the College of Indigenous Studies was set up, we were hoping that it could be equipped with aboriginal faculty members but in reality most of them are not. The standard for recruiting faculty members was the same as any other university [i.e., Ph.D.s are required for most faculty positions]. But where can you find someone with a doctorate to teach an indigenous language? We complained, but to no avail. In fact, we did not know what to teach the students, because there were no textbooks about aboriginal cultures and we had to compile our own teaching materials. Currently in tribal primary and high schools, people who have completed regular normal education and receive some hours of extra courses can teach indigenous culture. That is way too easy to qualify a teacher.

The problem is that we have been making a lot of effort in education for indigenous people, but there has been little done in the way of education about them. If we are determined to work on the latter, we need to invest a lot more. The government has actually invested a lot in local education, but it is mostly about Taiwanese and Hakka cultures. From my point of view, aboriginal languages and cultures are in much greater danger than these two, but are not receiving the same level of investment. There are millions who speak Taiwanese and Hakka, but each and every one of Taiwan’s indigenous languages is in immediate danger of disappearing. Take my people, the Pinuyumayans, there are only 10,000 of us and fewer than 2,000 speak our mother tongue.

Take the preservation of languages. The government has spent considerable time and money on this. Normally, you need to have a romanization system for the languages to be able to compile the teaching materials and then you establish the tribal language certification system. But the government started to issue certificates before the romanization system came out in 2006. The same goes for the teaching materials. The fundamental reason for this waste of money and time is the lack of a policy goal, and consequently that of a blueprint and efficient process for its execution. Facing these problems, I think we had better slow down and rethink carefully our goals and priorities.

Wang Ming-huey: The key problem, I think, is that the education provided for aborigines diverges from the work of cultural transmission. Though the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act and the Education Act for Indigenous Peoples are made to promote indigenous ethnic cultures, neither the goal nor the nature of the education to be given the indigenous peoples is clearly stated therein. We hope to change the past experience of being assimilated into the rulers’ cultures–first the Japanese and then the Kuomintang, but we find no way.

Establishing a university for ethnic communities is indicative of what the new law attempts to achieve. But the curriculum taught at the College of Indigenous Studies covers such subjects as anthropology, sociology, ethnology, or political science, and Mandarin is still the language used to teach, which is no different from teaching at regular colleges. Intrinsically, we are still implementing the assimilation policy. The indigenous people have to master Mandarin, in order to learn about their tribes, whereas the knowledge still alive in the tribe is ignored.

source: Taiwan Review, Vol. 57 No. 8, August 2007

additional resources:

And they called for macaronic — groups seek new national anthem for Taiwan

The Taiwan Peace Foundation and the Taiwan Society, which are both non-governmental organizations, are holding a competition for a new national anthem for Taiwan. In the first stage, they are looking just for lyrics. They recommend the use of multiple languages of Taiwan in this and thus also recommend that the submission contain some romanization (“y? b?nguó y?yán wéizh?, fùzhù p?ny?n wéi ji?, k? ji?ohù sh?yòng bùtóng y?yán”). Given Taiwan’s linguistic situation, I think this is a reasonable approach. Of course, whether it has any chance of becoming officially enacted in the near future is another matter.

Táiw?n Hépíng J?j?nhuì hé Táiw?n Shè tu?dòng “x?n guóg? yùndòng”, j?nti?n g?ng bù “x?n guóg?” zh?ng xu?n bànf?, x?wàng jièyóu g?ngk?i zh?ngqiú hé shèhuì c?nyù, xu?nch? fúhé Táiw?n mínzhòng q?pàn, néng g?ndòng mínzhòng de x?n guóg?.

Táiw?n Hépíng J?j?nhuì bi?oshì, “x?n guóg?” yùndòng dì-y? ji?duàn ji?ng jìnxíng g?cí zh?ng xu?n, Liùyuè shí’èr rì jiézh? sh?ujiàn, zìshù y? w?shí dào y?b?i zì wéiyí, y? b?nguó y?yán wéizh?, fùzhù p?ny?n wéi ji?, k? ji?ohù sh?yòng bùtóng y?yán. Ji?ng píngxu?n y?ushèng y?zhì w? míng, ji?ngj?n x?n tái bì shíwàn yuán, ji?zuò ruòg?n míng, ji?ngj?n y?wàn yuán.

Dì-èr ji?duàn wéi g?q? zh?ng xu?n, bìx? cóng dì-y? ji?duàn y?ushèng g?cí zh?ng, xu?nzé y?zhì li?ng sh?u p?q?, chángdù li?ng zhì s?n f?nzh?ng wéiyí, w? f?nzh?ng wéixiàn, B?yuè s?nshíy? rì jiézh? sh?ujiàn. Dì-y? míng ji?ngj?n èrshí wàn yuán, dì-èr míng ji?ngj?n shíwàn yuán, dì-s?n míng ji?ngj?n w?wàn yuán, ji?zuò ruòg?n míng, ji?ngj?n gè y?wàn yuán.

Táiw?n Hépíng J?j?nhuì dìzh? wéi Táib?i Shì S?ngji?ng Lù y?b?i liùshíb? hào sì lóu, w?ngzh? www.twpeace.org.tw.

source: Táiw?n Hépíng J?j?nhuì hé Táiw?n Shè zh?ngqiú x?n guóg? (????????????????), CNA, April 20, 2007

further reading: ROC National Anthem, Wikipedia

‘dialect’ and ‘Chinese’ from a linguistic point of view

Another back issue of Sino-Platonic Papers has been released, this one of particular relevance to the themes of this site: What Is a Chinese “Dialect/Topolect”? Reflections on Some Key Sino-English Linguistic Terms (1991), by Professor Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Here is the abstract:

Words like fangyan, putonghua, Hanyu, Guoyu, and Zhongwen have been the source of considerable perplexity and dissension among students of Chinese language(s) in recent years. The controversies they engender are compounded enormously when attempts are made to render these terms into English and other Western languages. Unfortunate arguments have erupted, for example, over whether Taiwanese is a Chinese language or a Chinese dialect. In an attempt to bring some degree of clarity and harmony to the demonstrably international fields of Sino-Tibetan and Chinese linguistics, this article examines these and related terms from both historical and semantic perspectives. By being careful to understand precisely what these words have meant to whom and during which period of time, needlessly explosive situations may be defused and, an added benefit, perhaps the beginnings of a new classification scheme for Chinese language(s) may be achieved. As an initial step in the right direction, the author proposes the adoption of “topolect” as an exact, neutral translation of fangyan.

The entire text is now online as a 2.2 MB PDF: What Is a Chinese “Dialect/Topolect”? Reflections on Some Key Sino-English Linguistic Terms.

Strongly recommended.

Beijing’s reaction to Taiwan’s language-education moves

China’s unofficial propaganda machine has come up with a predictable response to Taiwan’s recent approval of an official romanization for Hoklo/Taiwanese, calling it an attempt at wenhua Tai-Du (“cultural Taiwanese independence”). And Beijing doesn’t much care for earlier developments, either:

Lìngwài jù bàodào, z?o zài 2002 nián Táiw?n d?ngjú “Jiàoyùbù” jiù zuòch? juéyì, Táiw?n xuésheng cóng xi?oxué s?nniánjí k?ish? tíqián shísh? xi?ngt? y?yán M?nnány?, Kèji?y? de “y?nbi?o fúhào” xìt?ng ji?oxué, y? tú jìny?bù qi?duàn Táiw?n y? z?guó dàlù de wénhuà ni?dài. Rúj?n yòu zài Táiw?n gè zh?ng-xi?oxué tu?xíng “Táiw?n M?nnány? Luóm?zì p?ny?n f?ng’àn”, q?tú y?c? ruòhuà y? P?t?nghuà ji?jìn de “Guóy?” zài Táiw?n de dìwèi. Zhèizh?ng kèyì zài wénhuà shàng zhìzào Táiw?n y? z?guó dàlù de ch?yì y? q?f?n, shì Táiw?n d?ngjú chìlu?lu? de “wénhuà Tái-Dú” t?xiàn.


Blah, blah, blah.

source: “Wénhuà Tái-Dú” — M?nnány? p?ny?n xìt?ng ch?lú (??????“????” ?????????), October 17, 2006, ChinaTaiwan.org