Taiwan’s MPS2 romanization system is not the same as Yale

Taiwan does not now nor has it ever officially used the Yale romanization system. But that hasn’t stopped the relatively common belief that the Yale romanization system for Mandarin can be found on some official signage here.

What most people take as Yale is in fact MPS2, a Taiwan-devised romanization system that dates from the mid 1980s. MPS2 was developed Taiwan in a vain attempt to counter the growing popularity around the world of Hanyu Pinyin. In other words, it was basically the Tongyong Pinyin of the 1980s, though its supporters (there must have been some) never embraced it with the same level of nationalistic fervor as Tongyong Pinyin has received from some quarters. Little wonder, then, that most people — including many who really should know better — don’t seem to have noticed that MPS2 even exits, much less that a great deal of the island’s signage remains in this system.

To some degree the confusion of MPS2 for Yale is understandable, given that the two systems have many points in common on which they differ with Hanyu Pinyin. Here are some examples.

-au rather than -ao

MPS II and Yale Hanyu
au ao
bau bao
chau chao
dau dao
gau gao
hau hao

-ung rather than -ong

MPS II and Yale Hanyu
chung chong
dung dong
gung gong
hung hong

chr, jr, r, shr

MPS II and Yale Hanyu
chr chi
jr zhi
r ri
shr shi

ts- instead of c-

MPS II and Yale Hanyu
tsai cai
tsan can
tsau cao
tseng ceng
tsou cou
tsu cu
tsung cong
tsz ci

And neither uses Hanyu Pinyin’s abbreviated vowel forms (such as -ui for -uei, -iu for -iou, and -un for -uen). But here we can begin to see some of the differences between MPS2 and Yale.

MPS II Yale Hanyu
chuei chwei chui
duei dwei dui
tzuei dzwei zui

Yale often uses w as a medial where other systems would use u.

MPS II Yale Hanyu
shuei shwei shui
suan swan suan
guang gwang guang

Yale often uses y as a medial where other systems would use i

MPS II Yale Hanyu
jia jya jia
niau nyau niao
chiung chyung qiong

This sign, in Banqiao, would read Shrjyan in Yale, not Shrjian, which is MPS2.
street sign reading 'SHR JIAN RD'

To review all of the similarities and differences among these and other systems, see my comparison chart of romanization systems.

To close, here are some more signs in MPS2. What in Hanyu Pinyin is written zhong is jung in both MPS2 and Yale. What in Hanyu Pinyin is xiao, however, is written differently in MPS2 and Yale: shiau and syau, respectively.

photo of street signs in Jilong. One sign reads 'JUNG 1 RD', the other 'SHIAU 1 RD'
This photo was taken in Jilong.

Banqiao street names

Although Banqiao — spelled “Panchiao” in bastardized Wade-Giles and “Banciao” in Tongyong Pinyin — is one of Taiwan’s most populous cities, it doesn’t get much attention, overshadowed as it is by its neighbor Taipei.

To a certain degree that’s deserved: With a population of some 542,000 (which, if it were transplanted to the United States, would make it that nation’s 26th largest city), Banqiao really ought to have more of interest. But, still, it has been my home for about nine years and it isn’t completely awful. (How’s that for a recommendation?) And the city has been improving, especially with the development around the enormous new train station and the equally enormous Taipei County Government Hall. (David has a few additional photos of Banqiao. I’m amazed I have yet to run into him on the street, especially since foreigners tend to stick out here.)

Until a few years ago, street signs in Banqiao were relatively uniformly in MPS2 (often confused with the Yale romanization system), along with the usual assortment of mistakes and smatterings of other systems. Then signs in Tongyong Pinyin began to replace some but not all of those in MPS2. Last year’s elections, however, saw the DPP lose power in both Taipei County (Banqiao is the county’s largest city) and Banqiao itself. So a move toward Hanyu Pinyin can be expected — eventually. As far as I know, though, the city’s department of transportation, which is in charge of such signage, is still under the erroneous belief that the city must follow the central government’s guidelines and thus use Tongyong. Jilong (Keelung) is another example of a city under a pan-blue administration that thinks it has to use Tongyong.

For people’s reference, I have compiled a list of Banqiao street names in Chinese characters, Hanyu Pinyin (with tone marks), and the mix of romanization and English generally seen in Taiwan.