Chinglish International Airport revisited

I’ve just heard from a well-placed source that the official English name for Taiwan’s main international airport, formerly Chiang Kai-shek International Airport, has been finalized. The form “Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport” will not be used after all. Instead, it will be “Taipei/Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.”


I’m still seeking confirmation.

a shameless proposal

A Taipei city councilor with the KMT on Tuesday launched an attack on President Chen Shui-bian disguised as a signage proposal. His idea: Change the name of Ketagalan Boulevard (?????? K?idágélán Dàdào), the street leading to the Presidential Office.

The city councilor, Yang Shi-qiu (???, Yang Shih-chiu), called for a change to L?-yì-lián Dàdào, which is literally Propriety, Righteousness, [and] Honesty Boulevard. While that might sound nice, it’s actually a disguised insult.

John DeFrancis was all over this word play a long time ago in “The Singlish Affair,” the biting satire that leads off his essential book The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. DeFrancis explains assigning the name Li Yilian to a person in his story:

The most complex is the name L? Yìlián. Those who know Chinese may get the point if it is written in characters: ??? or, in simplified characters, ???. The three characters mean respectively “propriety, morality, modesty” and form part of a four-character phrase listing a number of Confucian virtues of which the fourth is ? (ch? “a sense of shame”). The omission of the fourth character is part of a Chinese word game in which the reader is supposed to guess the last item when it is omitted — much as if we had to tell what is lacking in the list of the three Christian virtues of “Faith, Hope, and ______.” The omission of the fourth character is expressed as ?? or ?? (wúch? “lacking a sense of shame”). In short, calling someone Mr. L? Yìlián seems to praise him as Mr. Propriety, Morality, and Modesty but actually insults him as Mr. Shameless.

By renaming the street “people will know that the person who works at the Presidential Office at the end of the boulevard has no sense of chi [?, shame],” Yang said.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, who also serves as chairman of the KMT, didn’t care for the idea of his city having a L?-yì-lián Dàdào or Wúch? Dàdào (both of which could be translated as “Shameless Boulevard” — the first figuratively, the second literally) but said that the name L?-yì-lián-ch? Dàdào (“Propriety, Righteousness, Honesty, and a Sense of Shame Boulevard”) could be discussed.

The name of Ketagalan Boulevard is especially interesting from a number of standpoints.

  • Since the street is named after a tribe that lived long ago in what is now Taipei, Ketagalan Boulevard is one of the only road names in all of the capital of Taiwan that has much of anything to do specifically with Taiwan, as opposed to China. (Jilong/Keelung Road is the only other one that springs to mind at the moment.)
  • It is one of the only Taipei street names that isn’t bisyllabic.
  • The street itself is not really independent as much as an extention of Ren’ai Road. (Don’t forget that apostrophe.)
  • The name has been changed before. As Mark Caltonhill notes in What’s in changing a name?, “the vast majority of the island’s streets and even many towns were simply renamed by the KMT regime”. But in this case I’m referring to a relatively recent renaming. In 1996, Chen Shui-bian, who was then mayor of Taipei, oversaw the renaming of the street from Jieshou Road (??, Jièshòu Lù, i.e., “Long Live Chiang Kai-shek Road”).
  • Chinese characters aren’t a good fit for “Ketagalan,” which comes out ???? (K?idágélán).

Here’s a Mandarin-language story on this:

Miànduì dào Chén Shu?-bi?n huódòng bùduàn, Táib?i Shìyìyuán Yáng Shí-qi? j?nti?n bi?oshì, t? y? zh?nk?i lián sh?, tí’àn b? Ketagalan Dàdào g?ngmíng wéi L?-yì-lián Dàdào; Táib?i shìzh?ng M? Y?ngji? su? rènwéi y?u chuàngyì, dànshì y?u màrén “wúch?” zh? xián, t? bù zànchéng.

Táib?i Shìyìhuì xiàw? j?xíng shìzhèng z?ng zhìxún shí, Yáng Shí-qi? zhìxún bi?oshì, Chén Shu?-bi?n z?ngt?ng zài Táib?i shìzh?ng rènnèi zài wèij?ng mínyì zh?ngxún xià, jiù b? jièshòu lù g?imíng wéi Ketagalan Dàdào, rìqián yòu làngfèi X?n Táibì shàng yì yuán, b? Zh?ngzhèng Guójì J?ch?ng g?ngmíng wéi Táiw?n Táoyuán J?ch?ng. Yáng Shí-qi? y? lián sh? tí’àn, y?oqiú shì-f? ji?ng Ketagalan Dàdào g?ngmíng wéi “L?-yì-lián Dàdào”.

M? Y?ngji? huídá shu?, dàolù y? zhèngmiàn mìngmíng wèi yuánzé, ér bù shì fùmiàn mìngmíng, yìyuán de yòngyì y?u chuàngyì, dànshì kèyì sh?nglüè jiùshì màrén “wúch?” zh? xián. Yáng Shí-qi? huíyìng shu?, ruò shì-f? y?u yíl?, Ketagalan Dàdào k? g?iwéi “L?-yì-lián-ch? Dàdào”.

M? Y?ngji? huíyìng shu?, t? bù zànchéng Ketagalan Dàdào g?iwéi “L?-yì-lián Dàdào”, zhèyàng huì biànchéng “Wúch? Dàdào”, dànshì ruòshì “L?-yì-lián-ch? Dàdào”, zhè k?y? t?olùn.

Yìyuán Ji?ng N?i-x?n suíhòu qiángdiào, Yáng Shí-qi? de tí’àn jiùshì tíx?ng wéizhèng zh? bùk? wúch?, ruò M? Y?ngji? d?nx?n bèi rén zh?wéi y?u màrén wúch? de yìsi, t? jiànyì g?iwéi “Bùk? Wúch? Dàdào”. M? Y?ngji? xiào shu?, zhèige jiànyì gèng y?u chuàngyì, dànshì x? j?ngguò shì-f? nèibù t?olùn.


Chinglish International Airport?

In what many view as a long-overdue move, Taiwan’s government has removed the name of Chiang Kai-shek, the island’s one-time dictator, from the title of the country’s main international airport. What has been reported as the new English name, however, is a bit strained in that the country’s name precedes the county/city name.

  English Pinyin Hanzi
old Chiang Kai-shek International Airport Zhōngzhèng Guójì
new Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Táiwān Táoyuán Guójì

In Mandarin, there’s nothing tremendously odd about using “Taiwan Taoyuan.” In English, however, it’s a completely different story.

exact phrase romanization no. of results in Google
Taoyuan Taiwan   241,000
Taiwan Taoyuan   42,400
臺灣桃園 Taiwan Taoyuan 43,200
台灣桃園 Taiwan Taoyuan 220,000
total for 臺灣桃園
and 台灣桃園
桃園臺灣 Taoyuan Taiwan 5,720
桃園台灣 Taoyuan Taiwan 461
for 桃園臺灣 and 桃園台灣

Almost all of the examples in English of “Taiwan Taoyuan” have punctuation (stronger than a comma, that is) or new lines separating the words, so running the two names together in that order is less common than the Google result implies, as most English speakers know intuitively.

“Taiwan Taoyuan,” when used in English, reminds me of nothing so much as the annoying term “Chinese Taipei” (Zhonghua Taibei / ????). This name represents the international kissing of Beijing’s ass diplomatic solution worked out so Taiwan’s teams can participate in international sporting events without China throwing too much of a hissyfit. (We we still get some of those anyway, of course.)

Since using anything along the lines of “Chinese Taipei” would be anathema to the present administration in Taiwan, what’s going on with the new name for the airport? The logical name would probably be simply “Taoyuan International Airport,” the airport being in Taoyuan County rather than Taipei County. But outside of Taiwan, who has ever heard of Taoyuan? (That’s probably just as well for Taiwan, because much of Taoyuan is downright ugly.) And, anyway, I think that those deciding on the new name regarded adding “Taiwan” and taking out “Chiang Kai-shek” as the top priorities.

Of course, it could be worse. Some in the KMT have called for the name to be changed to “Taiwan Taoyuan Chiang Kai-shek International Airport.” Ugh.

However, the code letters for the airport, TPE and RCTP, will not be changed. These are both rooted in the Wade-Giles romanization system, under which we have Taipei (properly T’ai-pei) rather than Taibei.

Fortunately for all concerned, both “Taoyuan” and “Taiwan” are examples of names spelled the same in most romanization systems. So, at least in this case, the current administration’s attachment to the Tongyong Pinyin romanization system won’t lead to further international embarrassment.

I spoke earlier today with someone at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, who informed me that although the Mandarin name of the airport was now officially Táiwān Táoyuán Guójì Jīchǎng, the English name has yet to be set by the Ministry of Education. So it’s possible the English name could change.

Anyone want to play Name That Airport? I’m more than half serious. The authorities here no doubt need some help with this. (Even though Taoyuan is one of the ugliest places in Taiwan, let’s keep this nice.)

Oh, in case anyone’s puzzled that “Chiang Kai-shek” and “Zh?ngzhèng” don’t look much like each other or even have the same number of syllables, the reason is that Zh?ngzhèng is a sort of assumed name, not the name by which he was known to his family, which in Mandarin is Ji?ng Jièshí (???). For more on this see the names section of the Wikipedia article on Chiang Kai-shek. (Me linking to a Wikipedia article? There’s a first time for everything, I guess.)