Shanghai considers deleting Pinyin from street signs

The Shanghai Road Administration Bureau is considering removing Hanyu Pinyin from street signs in the city.

Typically, the bureau’s division chief, Wang Weifeng, seems to be confused about the difference between Pinyin and English. He also justifies the move by claiming that larger Chinese characters would benefit Chinese citizens, ignoring the high number of people in China who are largely illiterate.

“Of course we will keep the English-Chinese traffic signs around some special areas, such as the tourism spots, CBD areas and some transport hubs,” Wang said.

A German newspaper article notes:

Ob sie die Umschrift wortwörtlich „aus dem Verkehr“ zieht, will Schanghai angeblich von einer „Umfrage“ unter „Anwohnern“ abhängig machen, ebenso vom Urteil nicht näher genannter „Experten“. Dies ist eine gängige Formulierung, wenn chinesische Regierungsstellen ihren einsamen Entscheidungen einen basisdemokratischen Anstrich geben wollen.

[Google Translate: Whether they literally “out of circulation” pulls the inscription, Shanghai will supposedly make a “survey” of “residents” depends, as of indeterminate sentence from “experts”. This is a common formulation, when Chinese authorities want to give their lonely decisions a grassroots paint.]

This is a situation all too common in Taiwan as well, such as in Taipei’s misguided move to apply nicknumbering to subway stops. “Experts” — ha!

Shanghai’s survey on Pinyin use and signage is of course in Mandarin only, with no English. The poll ends on August 30 (next week!), so add your views to that soon.

So far, public opinion seems to be largely against removing Hanyu Pinyin from signs. But that doesn’t mean this might not happen anyway. After all: Shanghai has its “experts” on the case. Heh.

If Shanghai really wanted to help the legibility of its signs, it should consider using word parsing even with text in Chinese characters. For example:

  • use 陕西 南路, not 陕西南路
  • use 斜土 路, not 斜土路
  • use 建国 西路, not 建国西路

That would also permit the use of superscript on the generic parts of names (e.g., “南路”) to save space. This could also be done with the Pinyin/English, with the Pinyin in large letters and the English “Rd” etc. in superscript.

Thanks to Michael Cannings for the tip.

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software for Shanghainese

Professor Qián Nǎiróng (Qian Nairong / 錢乃榮) of Shanghai University has just issued free software to help with the writing of Shanghainese (上海话). People may now download the 1.3 MB zip file of the program.

Some examples:

shanghe 上海
shanghehhehho 上海闲/言话(上海话)
whangpugang 黄浦江
suzouhhu苏州河
shyti 事体(事情)
makshy 物事(东西)
bhakxiang 白相(玩)
dangbhang 打朋(开玩笑)
ghakbhangyhou 轧朋友(交朋友)
cakyhangxiang 出洋相(闹笑话,出丑)
linfhakqin 拎勿清(不能领会)
dhaojiangwhu 淘浆糊(混)
aoshaoxhin 拗造型(有意塑造姿态形象)
ghe 隑(靠)
kang 囥(藏)
yin 瀴(凉、冷)
dia 嗲
whakji 滑稽

The program offers two flavors of romanization. Here are some examples of the differences between the two styles:

New Folk Old Timers
makshy 物事(东西)
bhakxiang 白相(玩)
dangbhang 打朋(开玩笑)
ghakbhangyhou 轧朋友(交朋友)
cakyhangxiang 出洋相(闹笑话,出丑)
linfhakqin 拎勿清(不能领会)
mekshy 物事(东西)
bhekxian 白相(玩)
danbhan 打朋(开玩笑)
ghakbhanyhou 轧朋友(交朋友)
cekyhanxian 出洋相(闹笑话,出丑)
linfhekqin 拎勿清(不能领会)

Here’s a brief story on this:

Xiànzài, wǒmen zài wǎngluò zhōng liáotiān de shíhou yuèláiyuè duō de péngyou dōu kāishǐ xǐhuan yòng Shànghǎihuà. Dànshì yǒushíhou shìbushì juéde xiǎng biǎodá dehuà bùzhīdào zěnme dǎ, nòng de yǒudiǎn bùlúnbùlèi ne? Xiànzài, yī ge kěyǐ qīngsōng dǎchū Shànghǎihuà de chéngxù chūlai le.

Jīngguò liǎng nián nǔlì, Shànghǎi dàxué Zhōngwénxì Qián Nǎiróng jiàoshòu jí tā de yánjiūshēng hé dādàng zhōngyú yú běnyuè wánchéng le Shànghǎihuà shūrùfǎ de zhìzuò. Zhíde guānzhù de shì, zhè tào shūrùfǎ hái bāokuò xīn-lǎo liǎng ge bǎnběn, 45 suì yǐshàng de lǎo Shànghǎi rénhé niánqīng yī dài de Shànghǎirén dōu kěyǐ zhǎodào zìjǐ de “dǎfǎ.”

Háishi tóngyàng 26 ge zìmǔ de jiànpán, 8 yuè 1 rì qǐ xiàzài le Shànghǎihuà shūrùfǎ zhīhòu, nín jiù kěyǐ tōngguò shūrù “linfhakqin” dǎchū “līn wù qīng,” shūrù “dhaojiangwhu” dǎchū “táo jiànghu” děng yuánzhī yuán wèi de Shànghǎihuà le. Zuótiān, jìzhě tíqián xiàzài dào gāi ruǎnjiàn. Ànzhào shǐyòng shuōmíng, yòng quánpīn de fāngshì chángshì shūrù “laoselaosy” zhèxiē zìmǔ, píngmù shàng, lìjí chūxiàn le “lǎo sānlǎo sì” (Shànghǎihuà, yìsi shì “màilǎo, chōng lǎochéng de yàngzi”).

Jùxī, yóuyú Shànghǎihuà yǔ Pǔtōnghuà de dúfǎ yǒusuǒbùtóng, suǒyǐ zài pīnyīn pīnxiě fāngshì shàng háishi xūyào shǐyòng shuōmíng de bāngzhù. Bǐrú jìzhě fāxiàn, fánshì yǔ Pǔtōnghuà shēngmǔ, yùnmǔ xiāngtóng de zì, zài Shànghǎihuà shūrùfǎ zhōng zuìzhōng yòng de háishi Pǔtōnghuà pīnyīn, bùtóng de zé cǎiyòng Shànghǎihuà shūrùfǎ de pīnxiě fāngshì. Rú “chénguāng” de “chén,” “huātou” de “tóu” dōu fāchéng zhuóyīn, Shànghǎihuà pīnyīn shūrùfǎ zhōng yàozài shēngmǔ zhōng jiā yī ge zìmǔ h, pīnchéng “shen,” “dhou;” fánshì rùshēng zì, zé zài pīnyīn hòu jiā zìmǔk, rú “báixiāng” de “bái” jiù pīnchéng bhek.

Bùguò, dàjiā bùyào juéde tài nán. Jìzhě fāxiàn, Shànghǎihuà shūrùfǎ yǔ Pǔtōnghuà de shūrùfǎ zuìdà xiāngtóng zhī chǔzài yú, zhǐyào liánxù shūrù shēngmǔ hé yùnmǔ jiù kěyǐ, bùxū shūrù shēngdiào. Cǐwài, Shànghǎihuà pīnyīn shūrù xìtǒng háiyǒu lèisì “zhìnéng” yōudiǎn, kěyòng suōlüè fāngshì bǎ cíyǔ pīnxiě chūlai.

Zhǔchí Shànghǎihuà shūrùfǎ kāifā de Shànghǎi dàxué Zhōngwénxì Qián Nǎiróng jiàoshòu gàosu jìzhě, zhè tào shūrùfǎ bùjǐn néng dǎchū Shànghǎihuà dà cídiǎn zhōng 15,000 duō ge cítiáo, érqiě hái néng yòng Shànghǎihuà pīnyīn dǎchū Shànghǎihuà zhōng shǐyòng zhe de, yǔ Pǔtōnghuà cíyì xiāngtóng dàn yǔyīn bùtóng de chángyòng cíyǔ. Rú “Huángpǔ Jiāng” shūrù “whangpugang” , “lǐxiǎng” zéshì lixiang děng, gòngjì 10,000 duō ge cítiáo.

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Shanghai metro told to end language service

This week’s news provides a good example of how petty China’s language police can be.

Workers in Shanghai’s metro service must often deal with Chinese who do not speak either Shanghainese or standard Mandarin, so they began to collect useful phrases so staff members could better understand and answer some questions. They focused on Cantonese, Hoklo (a.k.a. Minnan, Southern Fujianese, Taiwanese, etc.), Wenzhouhua (although this is generally classified as part of the same language that contains Shanghainese, it is largely incomprehensible to most people in Shanghai), Wuhanhua (although classified as a Mandarin dialect, it is far removed from standard Mandarin), and Changsha (a dialect of Hunanese). More than fifty metro employees are to study the phrases.

This caught the attention of Shanghai’s Spoken and Written Language Work Committee (Y?yán Wénzì G?ngzuò W?iyuánhuì). On Tuesday, Zhu Lei (??), a committee official, reported that her office had “contacted the Metro management …, stating that the program could violate the country’s language policy to promote the use of Putonghua [i.e., Mandarin].”

“The right way to solve communication barrier is to speak Putonghua,” she is quoted as saying.
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Shanghainese are overusing English, says PRC academic

From the China Daily a few months ago.

A linguistics expert has claimed Shanghainese are overusing the English language.

“It’s a blind worship of the English language,”said Pan Wenguo, dean of Chinese as a Foreign Language School at East China Normal University, at a conference held Monday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of promoting Putonghua, or Mandarin.

He added the business sector was particularly responsible for the trend, claiming many people used English “more for following others blindly than for practical needs.”

Pan said up to one-third of Chinese are studying or have studied English, while the number of English learners in Shanghai is even higher.

“English is not bad in itself, but the present mania of learning English is really too much,”said Pan.

Last Sunday, more than 50,000 Shanghai locals sat the English Interpreter Test of middle to high levels, an increase of 20 per cent on last year.

The time set a side for English learning has been on the rise for students at various levels….

In the increasingly competitive job market, the English Certificate has become one of the most important qualifications employees look for, ranking only behind diplomas.

Many employers, especially in the business sector, tend to hire only people with good English communication abilities….

source: Linguist criticizes ‘blind worship’ of English, China Daily, September 23, 2006

Shanghai theater puts on play in Shanghainese

It’s a sad situation that it’s newsworthy when a play is presented in the native language of most of those in one of the world’s largest cities. But in this case it’s also an occasion for hope.

Recently, for the first time in decades, a drama primarily in Shanghainese was presented in Shanghai. (I would guess that local operas, however, have been performed in Shanghainese with little interruption.) Unfortunately, as the Shanghaiist reports, there were some problems with this production of ??????? (Mandarin title: W?y? y? Máquè; English title: The Crow and the Sparrow).

[T]he blame is being assigned to the fact that the production was too hastily prepared, leading them to overlook things like subtitles.

You might ask, why, if most of the dialogue is in Shanghainese, would people other than non-locals need subtitles? It turns out that aside from standard Shanghai dialect, Ningbo, Suzhou, Shandong and other dialects were also thrown in—the story takes place during the Republic period (1911-1949) at a time when many immigrants were first putting down roots in Shanghai. The production team also prepared a putonghua version of the play, which they used during the last performance here and will use if they take the play to other parts of China. All in all, it seemed as if this was a less than ideal way to restart this tradition.

Nonetheless, I’m encouraged that the authorities allowed this play to be staged in Shanghainese. Perhaps its roots as a popular film from the late 1940s and its anti-KMT storyline helped it get by the censors.

The Shanghaiist also mentions an interesting-sounding book: Rendering the Regional: Local Language in Contemporary Chinese Media, by Edward M. Gunn. The introduction (663 KB PDF) is available online. I look forward to reading the entire book once I can find it in a library or locate an inexpensive copy.

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prospects for Chinese writing reform: important new work

John DeFrancis — whose name should be familiar to most readers of this site, especially for his essential work The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy, which contains his refutation of the ideographic myth — has just published a new article: “The Prospects for Chinese Writing Reform.”

This article is the first in the new, electronic-format releases of Sino-Platonic Papers. Moreover, these new issues will be available free of charge.

I strongly recommend reading this.

Mandarinization law used as pretext for silencing TV host

Larry Lang (Lang Xianping / ???), a professor of finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has had his popular television show on economics taken off the air in China, allegedly because the show fails to meet regulations on the use of Mandarin on the airwaves.

Lang, who was born in Taiwan and has his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Taiwan universities, is fluent in Mandarin. He has a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and has taught at a number of U.S. universities.

He often used his television show, broadcast in Shanghai, to criticize the way the sales of PRC state enterprises are conducted.

source: Chat show economist forced off China TV, Financial Times, March 14, 2006 (via Kenyon’s Chinese list)

Shanghai moves against English-only signage, ads

The official Shanghai Language Works Commission has been keeping busy. In addition to ordering severe restrictions on the use of the language native to most people in the area, yesterday it decreed that beginning next month all companies, stores, and entertainment venues in Shanghai must include Chinese characters on their signs and in their notices and advertisements.

The regulation is aimed primarily against English-only signage.

What’s not clear, though, is if the rules declare what the Chinese characters must say or how much space must be given to them. Can the English be much larger? Can there be a full page of copy in English but just, say, the address in Chinese characters?

Those who violate the rule will be warned and told to fix the problem immediately. Repeat offenders will have their names added to a black-list published in local media outlets, but they face no fines or jail terms, according to the rule.

“Foreign-language-only signboards will probably hamper people’s understanding and deliberately set up communication barriers for most Chinese,” said Sun Xiaoxian, an official with the language works commission.

Many entertainment facilities that target foreign consumers have never set up Chinese signs, and others deliberately use English only to demonstrate they are the so-called “high-class” places, Sun said.

Only 15 of the 39 signs for businesses in front of the Shanghai Center, an office and hotel complex on Nanjing Road W., have Chinese characters on them.

Of 14 bars and restaurants along Tongren Road, only Blue Frog has a Chinese name — Lan Wa — on its sign.

A manager at Blue Angel, a bar next door to Blue Frog, said he had never heard of the new regulation.

“Most of our customers are foreigners, so we don’t need to worry that they cannot recognize the English signs,” said the manager who refused to disclose her name.

Many bars in the city don’t even have Chinese menus, according to Sun.

Blue Angel only added Chinese to its menu a few months ago, the manager said.

The language commission officials said they conduct regular spot checks beginning next month to ensure the regulation is being followed.

English only signs outlawed, Shanghai Daily, February 24, 2006