Simplified or traditional characters for Malaysian heritage zone road signs: poll

Parts of Penang, Malaysia’s George Town are scheduled to get some new street signs that will include Chinese characters. (Penang has a high concentration of ethnic Chinese.) Controversy over whether to pick traditional Chinese characters or simplified Chinese characters has led authorities there set up an online poll to help resolve the matter.

Voting began today and will continue until Sunday, October 25, at www.heritageroadsign.com.

The site also provides some photos of signs.

The signage project, which involves putting up a total of 300 bilingual road signs on 82 roads, is expected to cost RM45,000 (US$13,400, or about US$45 per sign).

source: Online poll to pick Chinese road signs, The Star, October 10, 2009

Taiwan train stations and the switch to Hanyu Pinyin

Although Hanyu Pinyin has been Taiwan’s official romanization system since the beginning of this year, progress in implementation on signage has so far been little to none (at least in what I’ve witnessed). So I was pleased to see this sign earlier this week at the remodeled train station in Zhunan, Miaoli County.

sign atop train station reading 'ZHUNAN STATION' in large letters

Those big letters unmistakably spell out the name of the city in Hanyu Pinyin. Good.

But what about the use of romanization inside the station? Here’s a shot of part of a board listing the stations near Zhunan.

train_station_names

Let’s look at the systems used in the names above:

  • Xinfong — Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin mix
  • Zhubei — Hanyu Pinyin
  • Hsinchu — Wade-Giles
  • Xiangshan — Hanyu Pinyin
  • Qiding — Hanyu Pinyin (BTW, that’s a terrible Q, as it’s too little distinct from an O, especially at a distance.)
  • Zhunan — Hanyu Pinyin
  • Zaociao — Tongyong Pinyin
  • Fongfu — Tongyong Pinyin
  • Miaoli — same in most systems

Once again we see the government’s incompetence when it comes to such simple things as spelling names correctly on signage.

But since at least “Zhunan” was right, what about signage for the same name beyond the train station?

Well, there’s still Tongyong Pinyin (“Jhunan”):

directional sign reading 'Central Jhunan'

And there’s still Tongyong’s predecessor, MPS2 (“Junan”), along with other systems, typos, and sloppy English:

signs reading 'Junan', 'West Sea Shore Highway.', 'Lung-Shan Rd.', and 'Chi Ding Bathing Beath.'

And there are still spellings that are simply wrong (“Jhuan”), regardless of the system:
directional sign above the highway, reading 'Jhuan Brewery'

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: “Taiwan’s romanization situation: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion: the Beijing trip

To my relief, I saw very little in the way of the orthography-killing cancer that is InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion while I was in Beijing.

The worst offender I spotted was the cover to Q?yè y? xíngzhèng j?gu?n chángjiàn yìngyòngwén xi?zuò dàquán (???????????????? / ????????????????), which to me just screams out “UGly NightMare”. But at least the word parsing is right, which is more than can be said for many uses of Pinyin in China.

intercapped_book_title

Note that the image is flipped:
detail from the above photo, showing how the title on a book spine is mirrored

More troubling, because it is on official signage, is the use of intercaps on some station guides above the doors of subway cars.

Route Map Of Bei Jing Subway Line 5
The capitalization of “Of” demonstrates that the bro-ken and InTerCaPiTaLized “Bei Jing” is probably due more to standard sloppiness than design. At least I certainly hope no one did that on purpose.

Fortunately, that usage isn’t found throughout the subway system, as this photo from a map of another line shows.
Route Map of Beijing Subway Line2

Reports of what style is to be found on other Beijing subway lines — especially the newest ones — would be welcome.

And Randy spotted this one:
'BeiJing Vikings Football' in black letters on a red van door, with Hanzi

But that appears to be a one-off, since the Beijing Vikings don’t use that style on their Web site or elsewhere that I noticed.

v for ü

Typing the letter v to produce ü is pretty standard in most Pinyin-related software — the letter v not being used in Pinyin except for loan words, and the letter ü not being found on traditional qwerty keyboards.

Here’s an official sign not far from Tian’anmen Square in Beijing that provides an example of an unconverted v.

official directional sign reading '?????? ZHINVQIAODONGHEYAN' in white letters against a blue background

Of course there’s the usual word-parsing trouble as well, which can indeed be tricky in some cases (but not so much that everythingneedstobewrittensolidlikethis).

This should be “Zh?n? Qiáo d?ng héyán” (?????? / ?????? / Weaver Girl’s Bridge, east bank) or perhaps “Zhinü Qiao Dong Heyan” or “ZHINÜ QIAO DONG HEYAN”.

Some people might not think this is worth categorizing as a problem. My position, however, is that government has an obligation to write things properly on its official signage. (If this were on some ad hoc sign put up privately it would still be interesting but less problematic.) So, if anyone’s OK with the V, would you also be OK with, say, “??????”?

OTOH, as mistakes go, at least v remains distinct, unlike when ü gets incorrectly written as u, which is so common in Taiwan that I don’t recall ever having seen a ü on official signage. (Pinyin has the following distinct pairs: and nu, and lu; nüe (rare) and lüe are also used but not nue or lue since the latter two sounds are not used in modern standard Mandarin.

Korea may make some spellings mandatory

I’ve been doing so much on signage lately that I’ve been neglecting the issue of romanization. (Remember romanization?) Here’s something just in from South Korea, a country that rivals Taiwan in making a national pastime of screwing around with its romanization system.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness on Wednesday discussed plans to make the Korean language more accessible worldwide, including working out a Romanization standard for family names, compiling a new Hangul dictionary with about 1 million entries, and building a Hangul cultural center.

The government will come up with standard Romanization for family names this year that will become mandatory for people when they apply for new passports and for government offices that use both Hangul and English on official documents such as birth records and residence registration cards.

In Taiwan, people can choose among romanization systems for the name on their passport. Employing romanization for Hoklo, Hakka, or a language of one of Taiwan’s official tribes is also permitted.

An earlier Romanization project for family names was suspended in 2000 due to controversy over exceptions. The new standard will cost a huge amount of money as the Romanized names of businesses, schools and individuals as well as road signs will have to be changed.

A new Hangul dictionary is to be compiled by 2012, adding a large number of words to the last official dictionary published in 1999, which has about 500,000 entries, and adding easy sample sentences.

Experts have said that the younger generation have trouble understanding the conventional dictionary, as there are too many difficult Chinese characters in explanations and definitions.

The government also plans to compile a multilingual web dictionary comprising about 20 different foreign language sections — such as Vietnamese-Hangul and Thai-Hangul — to help foreigners and Korean nationals overseas.

A Hangul cultural center, to be built at a cost of W35.2 billion [US$27.5 million] by 2012, is to give visitors hands-on experience of the Korean language.

source: Standard Romanization for Korean Names Planned, Chosun Ilbo, June 25, 2009

Photo of street signs in Namyangju, Gyeonggi-do (Namyangju, Ky?nggi-do) courtesy of Robert Badger.
korean_streetsigns

photos of and around Xindian City Hall MRT station

My friend David of David on Formosa kindly sent me lots of photos of the current signage at Xindian City Something-or-other Station. Here they are.

Note that some of the signage at the station itself gives the Tongyong Pinyin form (Sindian) as well as the Hanyu Pinyin form; but other signage does not. And the newest signs give Xindian City Office rather than Xindian City Hall.

MRT station main entrance, marked 'Xindian City Hall Station'

MRT station side entrance, marked 'Xindian (Sindian) City Hall Station'

Sign of things to come?
photo of station operation hours, with station name marked 'Xindian City Office Station'

sign on a pillar on the MRT platform reading 'Xindian City Hall'

closeup of a new map on a station wall, with the station called 'Xindian City Office'

map_detail

exit2

area_map

This closeup from the map above reveals that even city hall itself (not the MRT station) is labeled “City Hall.”

closeup from the photo above, as described

More than three years ago Taipei County Magistrate Zh?u X?w?i (Chou Hsi-wei / ??? / Zhou Xiwei) said that Taipei County should use the same romanization system as the city of Taipei (i.e., Hanyu Pinyin). But nothing has happened yet — not unlike his administration in general. So here we still see the Tongyong Pinyin form of “Sindian” rather than the Hanyu Pinyin form (now official at the national level) of “Xindian.”
photo of Xindian City Hall (the actual building, not the MRT station). It's labeled 'Sindian City Office'

Taipei County Police Bureau Sindian Precinct

You can’t fight city hall, er, office

This follows up my previous post: new Taipei MRT stations and wordy names.

Although the MRT system resists fixing the mistakes in its station names — such as in wordy, unnatural English names or misuse of Hanyu Pinyin — that doesn’t mean it never changes a name. It does — and here I’m referring to things beyond the usual matter of romanization systems. In recent weeks a long-established MRT station name has been undergoing a quiet change. As this case reveals, however, it appears that the authorities have a rule that opposes change unless they want to take a perfectly good name and make it worse.

I recently complained about the needless and indeed counterproductive insertion of Taipei and Nangang into station names, such as in the case of adding “Taipei” to the English name of what in Mandarin is only “Náng?ng Zh?nl?ngu?n” (?????). But that’s not the only case of “Taipei” given in an English name that doesn’t have the city name included in Mandarin. Two more instances of this are “Taipei Zoo,” which in Mandarin is simply Dòngwùyuán (???), and “Taipei City Hall,” which in Mandarin is Shìzhèngf? (???).

First let’s examine the case of “Taipei Zoo.” The Mandarin name for this is simply the word for zoo: dòngwùyuán. So in English why not call this stop simply Zoo instead of Taipei Zoo? (There’s certainly no Xindian Zoo, Banqiao Zoo, Xinzhuang Zoo, Sanchong Zoo, etc., anywhere on the MRT system.)

There’s no clear answer. Although Hanziphiles love to proclaim “Just one Chinese character is enough,” the Mandarin language is most definitely not a monosyllabic one, especially when it comes to place names. (See, for example, Taipei street names and the monosyllabic myth.) So it’s possible that what’s happening here is the habits of Mandarin are being overwritten upon English.

Interestingly, in metropolitan Taipei most native Mandarin speakers, if they had to add a geographical distinction, would probably call this the Mùzhà Dòngwùyuán (?????) rather than the Táib?i Dòngwùyuán (?????).

I’m more interested, however, in the case of “Taipei City Hall,” which in which in Mandarin is Shìzhèngf? (???) — again, no Táib?i. In this case adding “Taipei” makes sense because there really is another city hall stop on the MRT system: Xindian City Hall, which in Mandarin is X?ndiàn Shìg?ngsu? (?????).

Translated literally, shìzhèngf? is city government and shìg?ngsu? is city administrative office. They have different names in Mandarin because of Taiwan’s somewhat convoluted governmental structure, a shìzhèngf? having somewhat greater autonomy than a shìg?ngsu?. Nevertheless, in English both would usually be called simply city hall. Although New York City has hundreds of times more people than, say, Hays, Kansas (population 20,000), both places have a city hall … because usually that’s what cities have, regardless of their size or importance.

And for years the Taipei MRT has had a station named “Taipei City Hall” and another named “Xindian City Hall,” which is of course as it should be.

Unfortunately, however, Taiwan’s bureaucracy does not agree. The RDEC, keeper of the government’s bilingual stylebook for organizations, says that a shìg?ngsu? is a city office, not a city hall, which is perhaps what has prompted the authorities with the MRT to change the perfectly good English name of “Xindian City Hall Station” to the distinctly worse “Xindian City Office Station.”

Basically, if there’s a discrepancy between how something is usually said in English and how some government official in Taiwan thinks it’s supposed to be said in English, real English loses. The same applies to Pinyin, whose clear and simple rules continue to be ignored here.

Both names — Xindian City Hall and Xindian City Office — can currently be seen on signage in the MRT system. The system maps next to MRT car doors have Xindian City Hall (see image at the left below). But the new long strips above the MRT doors (right) have Xindian City Office.

I expect Xindian City Hall to disappear soon.

Can anyone tell me what’s currently on that station itself?

xindian_city_hall xindian_city_office

photo of the front of Xindian City Hall, across the street from the MRT station. The sign reads 'Sindian City Office'