Google improves its maps of Taiwan

Two years ago when Google switched to Hanyu Pinyin in its maps of Taiwan, it did a poor job … despite the welcome use of tone marks.

Here are some of the problems I noted at the time:

  • The Hanyu Pinyin is given as Bro Ken Syl La Bles. (Terrible! Also, this is a new style for Google Maps. Street names in Tongyong were styled properly: e.g., Minsheng, not Min Sheng.)
  • The names of MRT stations remain incorrectly presented. For example, what is referred to in all MRT stations and on all MRT maps as “NTU Hospital” is instead referred to in broken Pinyin as “Tái Dà Yī Yuàn” (in proper Pinyin this would be Tái-Dà Yīyuàn); and “Xindian City Hall” (or “Office” — bleah) is marked as Xīn Diàn Shì Gōng Suǒ (in proper Pinyin: “Xīndiàn Shìgōngsuǒ” or perhaps “Xīndiàn Shì Gōngsuǒ“). Most but not all MRT stations were already this incorrect way (in Hanyu Pinyin rather than Tongyong) in Google Maps.
  • Errors in romanization point to sloppy conversions. For example, an MRT station in Banqiao is labeled Xīn Bù rather than as Xīnpǔ. (埔 is one of those many Chinese characters with multiple Mandarin pronunciations.)
  • Tongyong Pinyin is still used in the names of most cities and townships (e.g., Banciao, not Banqiao).

I’m pleased to report that Google Maps has recently made substantial improvements.

First, and of fundamental importance, word parsing has finally been implemented for the most part. No more Bro Ken Syl La Bles. Hallelujah!

Here’s what this section of a map of Tainan looked like two years ago:

And here’s how it is now:

Oddly, “Jiànxīng Jr High School” has been changed to “Tainan Municipal Chien-Shing Jr High School Library” — which is wordy, misleading (library?), and in bastardized Wade-Giles (misspelled bastardized Wade-Giles, at that). And “Girl High School” still hasn’t been corrected to “Girls’ High School”. (We’ll also see that problem in the maps for Taipei.)

But for the most part things are much better, including — at last! — a correct apostrophe: Yǒu’ài St.

As these examples from Taipei show, the apostrophe isn’t just a one-off. Someone finally got this right.

Rén’ài, not Renai.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Rén'ài (rather than the incorrect Renai) is used

Cháng’ān, not Changan.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Cháng'ān is used

Well, for the most part right. Here we have the correct Dà’ān (and correct Ruì’ān) but also the incorrect Daan and Ta-An. But at least the street names are correct.
click for larger screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Dà'ān (and correct Ruì'ān) is used but also the incorrect Daan and Ta-An

Second, MRT station names have been fixed … mostly. Most all MRT station names are now in the mixture of romanization and English that Taipei uses, with Google Maps also unfortunately following even the incorrect ones. A lot of this was fixed long ago. The stops along the relatively new Luzhou line, however, are all written wrong, as one long string of Pinyin.

To match the style used for other stations, this should be MRT Songjiang Nanjing, not Jieyunsongjiangnanjing.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the Songjiang-Nanjing MRT station is labeled 'Jieyunsongjiangnanjing Station' (with tone marks)

Third, misreadings of poyinzi (pòyīnzì/破音字) have largely been corrected.

Chéngdū, not Chéng Dōu.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct 'Chéngdū Rd' is used

Like I said: have largely been corrected. Here we have the correct Chéngdū and Chóngqìng (rather than the previous maps’ Chéng Dōu and Zhòng Qìng) but also the incorrect Houbu instead of the correct Houpu.
screenshot from Google Maps, showing how the correct Chóngqìng Rd and Chéngdū St are used but also how the incorrect Houbu (instead of Houpu) is shown

But at least the major ones are correct.

Unfortunately, the fourth point I raised two years ago (Tongyong Pinyin instead of Hanyu Pinyin at the district and city levels) has still not been addressed. So Google is still providing Tongyong Pinyin rather than the official Hanyu Pinyin at some levels. Most of the names in this map, for example, are distinctly in Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Lujhou, Sinjhuang, and Banciao, rather than Luzhou, Xinzhuang, and Banqiao).

Google did go in and change the labels on some places from city to district when Taiwan revised their names; but, oddly enough, the company didn’t fix the romanization at the same time. But with any luck we won’t have to wait so long before Google finally takes care of that too.

Or perhaps we’ll have a new president who will revive Tongyong Pinyin and Google will throw out all its good work.

Going south with official Taiwan map

In the past, when I found romanization errors in official government documents I often contacted the agencies in charge so they could make improvements. But as those who live in Taiwan may have noted, this practice has had limited success. And in the process I’ve built up a great deal of bile from encountering bureaucratic roadblocks to fixing mistakes. So is it any wonder that when I see things like this map, I often think, “Wǒ hǎo xiǎng tù.” Maybe now it’s time to start going with that feeling — metaphorically speaking. And what could be more appropriate, given that we are about to have a tùnián? (I know, I know: That pun’s probably not going to make any of the New Year cards.)

So today I’ll post in public about one such mess. I recently looked over a map of southern Taiwan issued by Taiwan’s official Tourism Bureau and was not surprised to find errors — a lot of errors. (This particular map was published in June 2010 and is, as far as I know, the most recent edition.)

Most of the errors are cases of remnants of Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Cingshuei for what is written Qingshui in Hanyu Pinyin). Oddly, on this map Tongyong Pinyin is often seen in only part of a name (e.g., what is written 豐丘 in Chinese characters is given as Fengciou, which has Hanyu Pinyin’s Feng rather than Tongyong’s Fong but Tongyong’s ciou rather than Hanyu’s qiu).

What at first glance would appear to be another example of this mixing is Xizih, a bay next to Gaoxiong. There being no xi in Tongyong Pinyin and no zih in Hanyu Pinyin, one might guess this should be Xizi. But in fact this should be Sizi (written Sihzih in Tongyong). Or is also a typo in the Chinese characters (四子灣) and thus should be something else?

Other errors are even more mysterious, such as Tainan’s “Eternal For Cves” for 億載金城 (yì zǎi jīnchéng). I suspect they were going for “Eternal Fortress” but got lost somewhere along the way.

I estimate the map has about 100 errors. Of course, here I’m referring to just the map side itself and not the text on the reverse, which is filled with similar mistakes. Also, it’s just for southern Taiwan. The other two or three maps needed to cover most of the country likely each have just as many mistakes or more.

Turning back to the map at hand, here are some errors in just the area covering the southern tip of Taiwan (map sections C8 and C9).

On the map Should be
Haikau Desert Haikou Desert
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area Kending National Forest Recreation Area
Kenting National Park Kending National Park
Kenting National Park Administration Kending National Park Administration
Natural Center Nature Center
Ping-e Ping’e
(Shizih) (Shizi)
Shuangliou Shuangliu
Sihchongxi Sichongxi
Sihchong River Sichong River
Sihchongxi Hot Springs Sichongxi Hot Springs
Syuhai Xuhai
Syuhai Hot Springs Xuhai Hot Springs
Syuhai Prairie Xuhai Prairie

Keep in mind that more than half of the area in sections above is water and thus lacking in any place names that could be misspelled.

I should note that Kenting for what should be Kending appears to be what might be labeled an official error — another case of the government mistakenly believing that using old, misleading spellings from the days of bastardized Wade-Giles is necessary lest foreigners be confused. (The worst examples of this are the names of counties and many cities, such as Taichung rather than Taizhong, Pingtung rather than Pingdong, Hualien rather than Hualian, and Chiayi rather than Jiayi.) But if Kenting somehow ended up being official, then the map is still wrong, because the correct Hanyu Pinyin spelling “Kending” (which is also the correct spelling in Tongyong Pinyin) is also seen.

In short, this map is, regrettably, another example of the Taiwan government’s failure to maintain quality control in its use of romanization. It’s been said before but perhaps it needs to be said again: It’s a sad state of affairs when a country can’t manage even the simple task of correctly spelling the names of its own towns and special attractions on its own maps — not that anyone else has managed to get their maps of Taiwan correct either; and some that should be good remain awful. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, GooGle.)

Tainan County signage

I recently spent a few days in Tainan County and, as is my habit, paid special attention to the signage.

Although the signage in the city of Tainan is primarily — or perhaps now exclusively — in Tongyong Pinyin (which is now supposed to be changed to Hanyu Pinyin), the situation in the remainder of Tainan County is not so clear-cut. Basically, from what I saw most Tainan County towns do not have street signs in Tongyong. Indeed, many of them don’t have street signs in any romanization system whatsoever.

In some small towns there are some local signs in Tongyong. For example, the following three:


That one’s OK, as Tongyong goes. But as for the next two address plates, is it really too much to ask that the people who make signs learn what a baseline is and what it’s for, that sizes of letters should not be altered on a whim, and that amateurish font faces are not to be used?

Jhongsiao Rd.

Pingdeng St.

(Note the “Pingdeng” spelling above. It’s relevant to the next example.)

OK, so those were in Tongyong Pinyin. But two signs about one block from where the previous shot was taken reveal more of the picture of local signage in Tainan County.

Tongyong most certainly is not the only romanization found in Tainan County.
described below

Together on one pole we have “JIA DUNG RD. / 佳東路” and “Piandeng St. / 平等街”. “Jiadung” is MPS2 for what in Hanyu Pinyin would be Jiādōng (Jiadong), while “Piandeng” is a typo (presumably from Tongong, as this is a newer sign that doesn’t match the style used on other MPS2-era signs in the area) for what in Hanyu Pinyin would be Píngděng (Pingdeng). It would be spelled Pingdeng in Tongyong Pinyin as well, as can be seen above.

And some signs have no romanization whatsoever and should have been put out of their misery a long time ago.

But all sorts of old things can occasionally be found on the streets of Tainan County.
photo of man riding in a cart pulled down a Tainan County city street by a cow

New roads in Tainan County, Taiwan, given non-Sinitic names

On Sunday President Chen Shui-bian spoke at a ceremony marking the opening of Tackalan Boulevard, which connects the Southern Taiwan Science Park to the Sun Yat-sen Freeway. This name differs from most Taiwan road names in several ways:

Rather, it is from a language spoken in Taiwan hundreds of years ago.

Chen said giving the major road an Aboriginal name was inspiring and symbolic of the trailblazing spirit of the Aboriginal tribes known as the Pingpu.

Authorities chose the name “Tackalan” because the new road crosses Anting Township (安定), which Dutch colonizers called by the Aboriginal name.

Note: “Anting” is bastardized Wade-Giles. The proper spelling — in Hanyu Pinyin, as well as in all of Taiwan’s official romanization systems for the last twenty years is Anding (Āndìng.

Centuries ago, Tackalan was a thriving river-fishing location populated by Aboriginals. It gradually grew into a farming village as the river became congested with silt….

Another of the three major roads [around the science park], Baccloangh Boulevard, is open to traffic, while the third, Siraya East Road — named after a Pingpu tribe — is under construction.

Here are the names as well as Chinese characters given in news reports:

  • Tackalan Boulevard (in Mandarin: Zhíjiānòng Dàdào / 直加弄大道)
  • Baccloangh Boulevard (in Mandarin: Mùjiāliū Dàdào / 目加溜大道)
  • Siraya East Road (Mandarin stories give this as Siraya Boulevard: Xīlāyǎ dàdào / 西拉雅大道)

For the spellings in romanization I’m having to take the CNA story’s word for it, which is often not a good idea.

I do not know what the street signs themselves look like. The new guidelines from the Ministry of the Interior, however, do not make me confident that the spellings will follow those of the original languages. (They give, for example “Kaidagelan Boulevard” — a romanization of the Mandarinized 凱達格蘭大道 / Kǎidágélán Dàdào — rather than the proper “Ketagalan Boulevard.”) Thus, the signs may well give Mandarinized forms in Tongyong Pinyin (i.e., not Tackalan but Jhijianong, not Baccloangh but Mujialiou, and not Siraya but Silaya). I’d greatly appreciate pictures, in case any readers are ever in that area.


linguistic nationalism and Hoklo (Taiwanese, Minnan)

Sino-Platonic Papers has rereleased its August 1991 issue: Linguistic Nationalism: The Case of Southern Min.

An excerpt from the introduction:

In this paper, I will explore aspects of the social value of Southern Min. I draw on data collected in three Southern Min-speaking communities in which I have done participant-observation fieldwork: Penang, Malaysia; Tainan, Taiwan, and Xiamen (Amoy), the People’s Republic of China, focusing in particular on the political importance of Southern Min in Tainan. I take as one goal that of drawing attention to the importance of regional identities and differences in Chinese society, differences all too often disregarded by those who seek to reify ‘Chinese culture’ as a monolithic entity.

Also, the color scheme of the online catalog for Sino-Platonic Papers has been adjusted a little in order to make clearer which issues are presently available for free download.

Taiwan city and county names

As most readers of this site know, Taiwan has approached romanization and signage with a sloppiness that sometimes beggars belief. Although the situation has improved somewhat this decade, many errors remain. And even where there are not errors, people still must often contend with a variety of romanization systems.

Thus, my list of Taiwan place names may come in handy.

I made the list more than a year ago but put it on another website and never drew much attention to it. Now I’ve moved it here to Pinyin Info, where it may do more good.

The list, which is arranged by county and then by city, gives Chinese characters, Hanyu Pinyin (both with and without tone marks), Tongyong Pinyin (ugh!), and a commonly seen older form (usually bastardized Wade-Giles).

I have not bothered to include MPS2, because it is seen more on street signs than on maps. And, anyway, it’s on its way out. I strongly recommend using Hanyu Pinyin.

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 (台南人劇團) as the “Tainaner Ensemble”. Tainaner? Is that really what gets used in English for people from Tainan?

via Lomaji