gov’t unveils online Taiwanese dictionary

Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has put online its new Taiwanese (Hoklo) dictionary, the Táiw?n M?nnány? chángyòngcí cídi?n (giving the Mandarin name) (??????????). The preliminary version, which is to be amended in six months, contains 16,000 entries.

I especially welcome the section on Taiwan place-names.

further reading: MOE launches first Hoklo-language online dictionary, Taipei Times, October 20, 2008 [Note: The headline's use of "first" is almost certainly incorrect.]

Ma administration still undecided on how to teach Taiwanese

Under the new administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has worked out its plan for teaching pretty much everything … except for Hoklo (the language better known in these parts as “Taiwanese”). There have been a lot of arguments. How early to start teaching the language? How much should be taught? Use romanization? Use zhuyin? May teachers use any kind of soap or only special kinds when washing out the mouths of students speaking the language? (OK, they don’t do that last one anymore.)

So the ministry has decided to appoint a new committee to review such questions. Decisions on these issues are expected in six months or so.

My guess would be that the ministry is going to pack the new committee with conservatives who will see to it that romanization is avoided or at least belittled, that little of the language will actually be taught, and that students will not be tested seriously on the subject. But I’ll be happy if I’m wrong.

sources:

President-elect Ma favors Hanzi-only writing of Taiwanese: report

If the Chen Shui-bian administration had bothered to do much of anything really useful to promote Taiwanese, especially as a written language, then we probably wouldn’t be faced with crap like this.

President-elect Ma Ying-jeou met last week with Chen Fang-ming (???), the chairman of the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature at National Chengchi University (Zhèng-Dà). Although Professor Chen is a former DPP official and supported Frank Hsieh in the recent election, the two reportedly found much to agree on, such as that the idea that Chinese characters are all that are needed for literature in Taiwanese; romanization and other such phonetic spellings, they agreed, aren’t necessary.

Z?ngt?ng d?ngxu?nrén M? Y?ngji? j?nti?n bàihuì Zhèng-Dà Táiw?n wénxué yánji?su? su?zh?ng Chén F?ngmíng, t? bi?oshì li?ng rén j?nti?n tándào b?nt?huà, zhu?nxíng zhèngyì, b?nt? wénxué, dàxué píng jiàn d?ng yìtí, lìng t? y?u “k?ngg?zúy?n” zh? g?n, li?ng rén h?n du? kànf? d?u bùmóu’érhé, lìrú Chén F?ngmíng rènwéi zh?yòng Zh?ngwén xi?, Héluòhuà niàn, jiùshì Táiy? wénxué, bùy?dìng kèyì yào yòng Luóm?zì, y?n lái p?n.

This is certainly discouraging though not unexpected news for romanization supporters — and for those whose idea of Taiwanese lit isn’t stuck in the Qing dynasty or even earlier. But there’s always hope that this is another of those times in which Ma is simply persuaded by or agreeing with whatever is in front of him; and he may change his mind later. Regardless, though, it doesn’t augur well for a modern Taiwanese literature or for government work on — much less promotion of — romanization over the next four years.

source and further reading:

status of Cantonese: a survey-based study

The latest new release from Sino-Platonic Papers is one that I think will be of particular interest to readers of Pinyin News. It’s an extensive study of not only the attitudes of speakers of Cantonese and Mandarin toward the status of Cantonese but also their beliefs about its future, especially in Hong Kong: Language or Dialect–or Topolect? A Comparison of the Attitudes of Hong Kongers and Mainland Chinese towards the Status of Cantonese (650 KB PDF), by Julie M. Groves.

This study reports on a comparative survey of three groups of Chinese: 53 Hong Kong Cantonese speakers, 18 Mainland Chinese Cantonese speakers, and 72 Mainland Chinese Putonghua speakers. It was found that the Putonghua speakers held more ‘classic’ views, the majority seeing Cantonese as a dialect. In contrast, only just over half the Hong Kongers and two-fifths the Mainland Cantonese speakers considered it clearly a dialect, while one-third of all respondents favoured a mid-point classification. The differing perspectives held by the groups can be traced to their different political and linguistic situations, which touch issues of identity.

The author notes, “The uncertainties in classification also reflect a problem with terminology. The Chinese word usually translated dialect, fangyan (??), does not accurately match the English word dialect.” Groves recommends the adoption of Victor Mair’s proposed English word for fangyan: topolect.

Although this focuses on the dialect vs. language debate, it covers much more than that. Those being surveyed were also asked questions such as:

  • Where do you think the best Cantonese is spoken?
  • Do you think Putonghua will eventually replace Cantonese as the main, everyday language of Hong Kongers?
  • Do you think it is possible for someone to consider themselves to be a Hong Konger (or Hong Kong Chinese/Chinese Hong Konger) without being able to speak Cantonese?

The results of the study may also prove useful for those interested in the future of other languages of China and Taiwan, such as Taiwanese and Shanghainese.

Here are a couple of the many graphs found in the study.

HK Cant = Hong Kong Cantonese speakers
MCant = mainland Cantonese speakers
MPTH = mainland speakers of Mandarin (“P?t?nghuà“)

graph of responses to the question 'Will Putonghua replace Cantonese as the main language of Hong Kongers?' Most say 'no' -- and this is strongest among mainland Cantonese speakers

graph of responses to the question 'Can a person be a Hong Konger without speaking Cantonese?' Most Hong Kong Cantonese speakers say no; but the answer is closer to a tie for mainland Mandarin speakers

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.

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.