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:

Táiw?n ei lìliang
Shìjiè d? t?nggu?n

M? Y?ngji? — Xi?o Wàncháng

.

?????
?????

??? ???

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): ? (ei). But the ? is basically just for show, since it doesn’t serve any linguistic purpose that the expected Chinese character — ? (de), indicating the possessive — wouldn’t provide. The sign is still in Mandarin. (D? t?nggu?n, for example, is not a Taiwanese expression, according to several native speakers I questioned about this.)

For those who don’t know, M? Y?ngji? and Xi?o 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 Xi?o 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.

Taipei City Government screws the English language again

In addition to skewering Tongyong Pinyin in his latest column, Johnny Neihu reports on a new Web site from the Taipei City Government with bizarre romanization and completely crappy English.

However, it hasn’t taken long for things [in Taipei's English-language environment] to start deteriorating — 11 months to be precise. Mayor Hau Lung-bin (???) has already begun to make his mark, if the English moniker of the metropolis’ most recent culinary fiesta is anything to go by.

I am talking about Taipei’s “Newrow Mian” Festival, which, for those ignorant of Mayor Hau’s personal Romanization system, means beef noodles. “Newrow”? It sounds more like the sort of French-accented Mandarin you would expect from a badly congested Inspector Clouseau if they ever made The Pink Panther in Beijing. But then what can you expect from a mayor with a master’s degree in food science?

Any laowai getting into a cab and asking for a lift to the nearest “newrow” store will no doubt be greeted with a look more vacant than that of Hau at a council meeting.

My guess is that the city government brokered some sort of deal on purchasing livestock for the festival with “La New” of shoes fame. The city got the right to use La New’s dodgy transliteration of the Mandarin word for cow, and so the carcasses were split, with the shoe company getting the leather and the noodle festival getting the beef, so to speak.

But the title of the noodle extravaganza was not the only questionable translation circulating last week. One of the festival’s contests was named the “International Teamwork Intercourse Competition.” What that has to do with beef noodles is anyone’s guess, but I bet the tickets sold pretty fast.

The Web site was set up to promote a “festival” for one of Taipei’s standard foods: niúròumiàn (beef noodle soup / ???).

This is yet another example of Taiwan trying to promote its English-language environment by using machine-generated Chinglish, and by coming up with Anglicizations that don’t work as romanizations of Mandarin and mean nothing to local Mandarin speakers. Although the sound of the English word “row” is not too far from that of the Mandarin ròu, “new” for niú is a much bigger stretch. In fact, “new” is probably closer to n? (?), meaning female, which would give us a female flesh festival (n? ròu jié). Maybe the organizers could work in that International Teamwork Intercourse Competition after all. Now that would likely be a successful tourist draw, albeit the wrong sort.

This gives me an excuse to toss in something for lagniappe: niúròu ch?ng (???), which literally means “beef area” but which is actually a slang term for a place with strippers — a place to see “meat” on display. (Compare this with English, in which “beefcake” refers to men, not women.) Even within the not-so-high-class world of strip joints, niurou chang are relatively low class.

According to the 2005 Mandarin-language article linked to below, niurou chang began in Taiwan in 1984. The article also provides an etymolgy, though perhaps an invented one.

Bi?oy?n de nèiróng d?u g?n niúròu wúgu?n, wèihé jiào niúròu ch?ng?

Yuánlái niúròu de Táiy? jiù zuò “y?u ròu,” su?y? lù “ròu,” mài ròu de su?zài jiù jiào “niúròu ch?ng.” Zhèige bù mài ròu què jiào “niúròu ch?ng de sèqíng ch?ngsu?.”

This states that such places were originally called in Taiwanese “have meat,” which sounds like “reveal flesh.” Perhaps Taffy, A-giâu, or someone else who knows Taiwanese can comment.

Just in case the Taipei City Government should develop a sense of shame and fix the English on this Web site (ha!), click on the image for a screen shot of the first page of the English site.
website image reading '2007 Taipei International Newrow Mian Festival' and '????????' (i.e., Taibei guoji niuroumian jie)

sources:

Tailingua.com: an introduction to Taiwanese

My friend Michael Cannings has just unveiled his new Web site on the Taiwanese language, Tailingua. Here is how he introduces it:

Taiwanese is a Chinese language spoken by two-thirds of the population of Taiwan. It forms one dialect of the group known as Southern Min, which has a total of around forty-nine million native speakers, making it the twenty-first most widely-spoken language in the world.

However, there is very little information in English available on the internet (or in print, for that matter) about Southern Min in general, and Taiwanese in particular – a lack that Tailingua is designed to remedy, at least in part.

The site provides concise summaries of romanization and other methods for writing Taiwanese. It also offers fonts, input methods, a list of useful books, and more.

A very promising beginning!

A nose for foreign food?

Imagine some white guys in a fairly large U.S. city open a restaurant named “Mr. Taiwan Slant-Eyes Asian Cuisine.” And imagine that this restaurant specializes in distinctly Americanized dishes such as egg foo yong, fortune cookies, and California wraps. Now imagine the response. Isn’t this fun?

OK, now imagine a different situation: In Taiwan’s fifth-largest city some locals open a place specializing in Taiwanized Western food and dub their restaurant “Miss UK Cafe Pointy-Nose Foreign Food.”

As you’ve probably guessed, the second scenario is real. The “Miss UK Cafe ??? ????” (Miss UK Cafe a-tok-a yìguó m?ishí) recently opened not far from my apartment in Banqiao.

A-tok-a (???) is Taiwanese for “pointy nose” (i.e., Westerner), though perhaps the common translation of “big nose” conveys the spirit a little better. As Tempo Gain explains in the Forumosa thread on this word, “the initial ‘a’ often preceds names, and the final ‘a’ often is attached to nouns like the Mandarin ‘zi’ haizi, chezi, etc.”

Although most foreigners I know in Taiwan find the use of a-tok-a offensive to some degree, reactions are usually tempered by the knowledge that the word is very seldom used intentionally as a pejorative. It’s just the word most Hoklo speakers would use for “Westerner,” and they mean nothing bad by this and perhaps even see it as “cute” in a favorable way. So since I’m certain the restaurateurs didn’t intend any insult in choosing this name, I’m not going to carp about this any more than I already have — which is not to say that I will ever buy anything from that restaurant.

It’s still an interesting name, though. (Actually, this is probably two names: the standard one (??? ????), which is for most people, and the English one (Miss UK Cafe), which is probably there in an attempt to look modern/foreign/cool.)

For those keeping count, that’s three scripts and as many languages on just one sign.

  • Miss UK Cafe: English, in the Roman alphabet
  • ???: Taiwanese, in a mixed script of zhuyin (?) and Chinese characters
  • ????: Mandarin, in Chinese characters

The mixing of scripts in “???” is representative of the sad fact that most people in Taiwan are unsure how to write Taiwanese. Here are some of the ways this word gets written, along with the number of Google results and Baidu results for that exact phrase.

  • ??? Google 555 / Baidu doesn’t recognize the ?
  • ??? 3,440 / Baidu 1,320
  • ??? 6,730/ Baidu 13,400
  • ??? 11,300 / Baidu 2,810
  • ??? 12,500 / Baidu 24,700
  • ??? 12,500 / Baidu 24,700 (Google and Baidu apparently refuse to differentiate ? and ?)

Also interesting is the use of yìguó (??) instead of the more common wàiguó (??), for “foreign.”

  • “??” Google 1,510,000 / Baidu 14,700,000
  • “??” Google 6,420,000 / Baidu 46,500,000

Yìguó m?ishí, however, is more common than wàiguó m?ishí.

  • “????” Google 41,100 / Baidu 26,400
  • “????” Google 114,000 / Baidu 152,000

This, I suspect, is because yìguó m?ishí “sounds fancier” because of how relatively common the word waiguo is.

photo of the storefront of the restaurant discussed in this post

further reading:

blog: Talking Taiwanese

Talking Taiwanese is a great new blog featuring long, detailed posts that often compare and contrast Taiwan’s linguistic situation with that of other places (e.g., Catalonia, Friesland, Galicia). Taiwan’s failure to institute meaningful language programs in Taiwanese is another frequent topic.

Talking Taiwanese started so strong, with a torrent of posts, that I more than half expected the author, Johan, to burn out. But although the rate of new posts there has slowed a little, Talking Taiwanese is still going strong. Check it out.

My only excuse for not mentioning this earlier is that I’m behind on everything lately. I first heard about this blog from David of David on Formosa, who often puts up great links.

linguistic nationalism and Hoklo (Taiwanese, Minnan)

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased its August 1991 issue: Linguistic Nationalism: The Case of Southern Min.

An excerpt from the introduction:

In this paper, I will explore aspects of the social value of Southern Min. I draw on data collected in three Southern Min-speaking communities in which I have done participant-observation fieldwork: Penang, Malaysia; Tainan, Taiwan, and Xiamen (Amoy), the People’s Republic of China, focusing in particular on the political importance of Southern Min in Tainan. I take as one goal that of drawing attention to the importance of regional identities and differences in Chinese society, differences all too often disregarded by those who seek to reify ‘Chinese culture’ as a monolithic entity.

Also, the color scheme of the online catalog for Sino-Platonic Papers has been adjusted a little in order to make clearer which issues are presently available for free download.

Shanghai metro told to end language service

This week’s news provides a good example of how petty China’s language police can be.

Workers in Shanghai’s metro service must often deal with Chinese who do not speak either Shanghainese or standard Mandarin, so they began to collect useful phrases so staff members could better understand and answer some questions. They focused on Cantonese, Hoklo (a.k.a. Minnan, Southern Fujianese, Taiwanese, etc.), Wenzhouhua (although this is generally classified as part of the same language that contains Shanghainese, it is largely incomprehensible to most people in Shanghai), Wuhanhua (although classified as a Mandarin dialect, it is far removed from standard Mandarin), and Changsha (a dialect of Hunanese). More than fifty metro employees are to study the phrases.

This caught the attention of Shanghai’s Spoken and Written Language Work Committee (Y?yán Wénzì G?ngzuò W?iyuánhuì). On Tuesday, Zhu Lei (??), a committee official, reported that her office had “contacted the Metro management …, stating that the program could violate the country’s language policy to promote the use of Putonghua [i.e., Mandarin].”

“The right way to solve communication barrier is to speak Putonghua,” she is quoted as saying.
sources:

university Web site on Taiwanese

National Taichung University (Guólì Táizh?ng Jiàoyù Dàxué / ????????) has a new Web site on Taiwanese. Unfortunately, parts of it — especially the sound files — appear to require the use of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser and ActiveX. But it’s still a useful resource.

further reading: M?nnány? Luóm?zì p?ny?n f?ng’àn jí f?y?n xuéxí w?ng jiàn zhì wánchéng (????????????????????), CNA, June 15, 2007