Pinyin in space

Stories about the official approval last September of the name of “Chiayi” for an asteroid/planetoid/minor planet (not to be confused with Pluto, the “dwarf planet“) discovered by astronomers with Taiwan’s National Central University drew my attention to the fact that another minor planet already bears the name of the university — and that they named it using Tongyong Pinyin: “Jhongda” (i.e., Zhōng-Dà, the short form of the school’s name in Mandarin, Guólì Zhōngyāng Dàxué).

There are plenty of planetoids bearing names in Hanyu Pinyin, e.g. Chongqing, Guangzhou, Guizhou, Beijingdaxue [i.e., Beijing Daxue], Beishida [i.e., Bei-Shi-Da], and Zirankexuejijin [i.e., Ziran Kexue Jijin].

Omitting spaces is common in the names as a whole, though some of them have spaces. And some have hyphens.

Although the statistics of diacritical characters in minor planets’ names (a list after my own heart) shows that, as of June 1997, 667 (4.83%) of the 13,805 named minor planets had diacritical characters in their names, I didn’t spot any Hanyu Pinyin names with tone marks. The mark for first tone doesn’t appear on the list even once.

I wish they’d followed Tongyong when naming asteroid Chiayi, because that way they would have ended up with the same spelling that Hanyu Pinyin uses: Jiayi. But I guess the solar system’s big enough for Wade-Giles as well.

Here are some Google search figures from Taiwan government domains.

  • 532 from domains for “chia-i”
  • 1,380 from domains for “jiayi”
  • 2,660 from domains for “chia-yi”
  • 997,000 from domains for “chiayi”

Should Ma Ying-jeou win next month’s presidential election in Taiwan, both the executive and legislative branches of government would be in the hands of the no-longer-opposed-to-Hanyu-Pinyin Kuomintang, and the national folly of Tongyong Pinyin could soon cease to exist as an official system not just in Taiwan but everywhere throughout the known universe … except on planetoid no. 145534 (“Jhongda”), a big chunk of rock in orbit somewhere past Mars.


Unusual Venezuelan names and the law

China has attempted to block personal and now place names with unusual Chinese characters and even prevent names using a perfectly usual Roman letter and numbers, but authorities in Venezuela are trying to limit personal names themselves to just 100(!), with exemptions for Indians and foreigners, according to an article in the New York Times.

Goodbye, Tutankamen del Sol.

So long, Hengelberth, Maolenin, Kerbert Krishnamerk, Githanjaly, Yornaichel, Nixon and Yurbiladyberth. The prolifically inventive world of Venezuelan baby names may be coming to an end.

If electoral officials here get their way, a bill introduced last week would prohibit Venezuelan parents from bestowing those names — and many, many others — on their children.

The measure would not be retroactive. But it would limit parents of newborns to a list of 100 names established by the government, with exemptions for Indians and foreigners, and it is already facing skepticism in the halls of the National Assembly….

The bill’s ambition, according to a draft submitted to municipal offices here for review, is to “preserve the equilibrium and integral development of the child” by preventing parents from giving newborns names that expose them to ridicule or are “extravagant or hard to pronounce in the official language,” Spanish.

The bill also aims to prevent names that “generate doubts” about the bearer’s gender….

Not everyone denounces the bill. Temutchin del Espíritu Santo Rojas Fernández, 25, a computer programmer, explained that his first name was inspired by the birth name of Genghis Khan, often spelled Temujin in English. He said he frequently had to correct the spelling of his name on official documents.

And in Venezuela, where the tax authorities require name and national identity number for every purchase needing a receipt, pronouncing and spelling out Temutchin del Espíritu Santo can get tiring, Mr. Rojas Fernández said. “With a name this complicated, you lose time,” he said.

“It also creates social problems,” he continued. “When interacting with others, not everyone can pronounce your name. I have to pronounce my name five times and spell it twice.”

source: A Culture of Naming That Even a Law May Not Tame, New York Times, September 4, 2007

Chabuduo jiu keyi?

When it comes to signage and much else in Taiwan, the phrase chàbudu? jiù k?y? (??????) might qualify as the country’s unofficial motto. “Close enough for government work” is probably the best idiomatic translation.

The railway-station sign in this photo in many ways exemplifies this.

Hsinchu Jhubei Shiangshan

Rather than list all of the errors and oddities of this sign, I thought I’d let readers have a go at this one. How many errors and problematic points can you find?

Grace Lee — the name, the movie

Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee has made a movie about her own very common name, those who share it with her, and what cultural implications it may have, both in the West and Asia.

Here is the opening of one reviewer’s description of the film:

Smartly counterprogrammed opposite the orientalized depictions of Asian femininity in Memoirs of a Geisha, The Grace Lee Project is a breezy first-person video essay that goes in search of the average Asian American woman, all the while wondering if there is in fact such a thing. Early in her documentary, filmmaker Grace Lee points out that almost everyone knows a Grace Lee, and what’s more, is inclined to describe her the same way: nice, intelligent, quiet, sweet, studious, sort of forgettable. (Oh, and plays the violin.) Even G.L.’s often think of other G.L.’s—and of themselves—in those non- descript terms. Intrigued and disconcerted by the oppressive commonness of her name—and even more so by the perceived attributes that cling to it—Lee sets out to humanize the sociocultural abstraction and statistical mean that is “Grace Lee.”

Although the film premiered in late 2005 and received good reviews, it is not yet commercially available on DVD.

Courage… Cabnap… Grunplitk: zhuyin and the movie Fearless

Many Westerners are so attracted by Chinese characters, which tend to be absurdly exoticized as symbols [sic] or ideograms [sic] of deep meaning, that they place them here and there as if they were some sort of pixie dust that bestows coolness upon any object (or body). Often when they do so, they write these characters incorrectly or are mistaken about their meaning, as Tian of Hanzi Smatter continues to note. But you’d think that at least those who make trailers for Chinese movies would be a little better informed.

Fearless (Mandarin title: Huò Yuánji? / ???), which is billed as Jet Li’s final martial-arts movie, has been out in Asia since January but won’t reach the States until later this year. (I have no plans to see this movie, which appears from the trailer to be a string of the usual clichés. And, anyway, I have yet to forgive Jet Li for appearing in Hero, which is probably the biggest cinematic valentine to totalitarianism since Triumph of the Will.) One of the trailers for Fearless features a number of Chinese characters. They’re even written correctly. But, oddly enough, interspersed with the Chinese characters are zhuyin fuhao, also known as bopo mofo, a semi-syllabic script used in Taiwan mainly to help teach children to read. Odder still, the zhuyin make absolutely no sense.

Here’s how Taiwanonymous, on whose site I found this story, puts it:

Intercut with scenes from the movie was a burnt-yellow background, suggesting aged parchment, with Chinese characters flying past. Along with the Chinese characters were some Mandarin phonetic symbols (zhuyin fuhao ????). It’s bad enough that they included phonetic symbols (which are mainly used in Children’s books) in the flying sea of what wanted to be an ancient Chinese text, but the symbols flew past in strings of gibberish! Imagine the following text dramatically moving across the screen, “Integrity… Peace… Courage… Cabnap… Grunplitk… Uwsugls.” Gives you chills just thinking about it.

Here’s a screenshot from the trailer:
gibberish zhuyin in the background

Just below COMING SOON is a giant ?. For something written in English this would be the equivalent of putting a large letter G on the screen.

Along the right side of the screen is the following, in zhuyin fuhao: ?????. This, in Hanyu Pinyin, would be “maixrici,” which is complete gibberish. The other vertical lines of text are also nonsense in zhuyin fuhao.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with how these are written. It’s just that they’re no more meaningful than a random string of letters.

Here’s one more shot:
gibberish zhuyin in the background
The zhuyin fuhao on the left read, from top to bottom, ?????, which would be “chjktp” in Hanyu Pinyin. As I think should be obvious even to those who don’t know Mandarin or any other Sinitic language, this is simply nonsense.


Lysistrata in Taiwanese

Too cool. Oh, I hope this comes to Taipei.

From the troupe’s English-language introduction:

In order to make theatre more accessible to the Tainanese, the troupe has utilised various dramatic forms to explore different local issues that may concern our audiences in their daily life. We even ask our actors to speak good Min-nan-yu, or Taiwanese (as opposed to Mandarin, the official language of Taiwan), in many of our productions, so that the local audiences can easily identify themselves with the characters and feel less intimidated by the language barrier.

Good. This is a basic point but one all too seldom ignored or dismissed: Until relatively recently Mandarin was a foreign language in Taiwan. The native language for most in Taiwan has been Taiwanese/Hokkien/Hoklo.

As an aside, I note that the ticket outlet translates Táinánrén jùtuán (?????) as the “Tainaner Ensemble”. Tainaner? Is that really what gets used in English for people from Tainan?

via Lomaji

Kaohsiung to revise English signage

According to a CNA story in the Taipei Times, the Gaoxiong/Kaohsiung City Government has decided to “correct and update all English translations of signage at 132 scenic spots” in preparation for the city’s hosting of the World Games in 2009.

A “group of specialists” from an ESL magazine are the chief advisers to the city government, which I suppose is better than just one randomly selected foreigner. Still, I wonder what these “specialists” know about signage — or romanization, for that matter. And will anyone check to ensure the signs are made correctly?

Here’s what is probably going to happen: Gaoxiong will replace some old signs with poor English and worse romanization with signs in tiny, unreadable English (probably still with mistakes) and sloppy romanization in a system that most foreigners actively dislike.

Deputy Mayor Cheng Wen-lung (???), who is convener of a city committee formed to develop Kaohsiung’s English living environment, said yesterday that in addition to the changes, the committee was considering standardizing the English translations of food names in the area as a way to help foreign athletes — as well as the large number of foreign visitors who are expected at the upcoming World Games — recognize Chinese and local cuisines.

The city plans to update English translations on all of the city’s key signage within one month.

source: Kaohsiung looks to improve its English signage for games, CNA, June 28, 2006