Ni neibian ji dian?

Here are some photos of a large, elaborate, and no-doubt expensive sundial outside the Nangang high-speed rail station (next door to the Nangang train station and Nangang MRT station).

These were taken at 11 a.m. (The one of the sundial itself was taken on a different day.) But as you can see below, the sundial certainly isn’t indicating the time is 11:00. Rather, it’s pointing toward 9:20 or so.

The disc labeled IX is actually XI (11). I took the photo from a reverse vantage point, so the number is upside down in the photo.

This vantage point puts the number upside down. So you should read this as XI, not IX.

Perhaps whoever erected the main part of the sundial doesn’t know Roman numerals. (Sorry: that’s about as close as this post gets to talking about scripts.) But that wouldn’t account for the dial indicating 9:20 instead of 9:00.

I contacted the Taipei City Government about this. They said to contact the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation, which I did. They, in turn, responded that I’d reached the wrong office and should write a different office; but they didn’t forward the message or provide me with the correct e-mail address. Once I’d tracked down another office I e-mailed the folk there. That was more than a week ago. There has been no response.

I spoke with someone at the site who appeared to be in a position of authority. He told me that the sundial hadn’t been adjusted yet and that they would get to it next year. He was too busy to answer any more questions though, such as “Next year?” Also, I suspect that it won’t be easy to rotate that huge thingamajig, so why didn’t they get it right the first time?

Still, at least someone in authority seems to understand there’s a problem.

*For anyone who doesn’t recognize the title of this post, it’s an allusion to the 2001 movie N? nèibi?n j? di?n (???????/ What Time Is It There?).

Banqiao — the Xinbei ways

Xinbei, formerly known as Taipei County and now officially bearing the atrocious English name of “New Taipei City,” has made available an online map of its territory.

Interestingly, the map is available not just in Mandarin with traditional Chinese characters and English with Hanyu Pinyin (most of the time — but more on that soon) but also in Mandarin with simplified Chinese characters. A Japanese interface is also available.

The interface for all versions opens to a map centered on Xinbei City Hall. What struck me upon seeing this for the first time was that, in just one small section, Banqiao is spelled four different ways:

  • Banqiao (Hanyu Pinyin)
  • Panchiao (bastardized Wade-Giles)
  • Ban-Chiau (MPS2, with an added hyphen)
  • Banciao (Tongyong Pinyin)

Click the map to see an enlargement.
click for larger version

I want to stress that these are not typos. These are the result of an inattention to detail that is all too common here.

The spelling for the city, er, district is also wrong in the interface, with Tongyong used. Since Banqiao is the seat of the Xinbei City Government and has more than half a million inhabitants,*, it’s not exactly so obscure that spelling its name correctly should be much of a challenge. Tongyong and other systems also crop up in some other names outside the interface.

It should be admitted, however, that the Xinbei map’s romanization is still better overall than the error-filled mess issued by GooGle.

*: including me

X marks the spot?

In December Taiwan will be getting a new city. In fact, it will be the most populous city in the entire country: X?nb?i Shì (???).

For those not familiar with the situation, I should perhaps give a bit of background. Taiwan won’t suddenly have more people or buildings. Instead, the area known as Taipei County (which does not include the city of Taipei but which occupies a much greater area than Taipei and has a much greater total population) will be getting a long-overdue official upgrade to a “special municipality,” which means that it will get a lot more money and civil servants per capita from the central government. And as such the area will be dubbed a city, even though in appearance and demographic patterns it isn’t really a city at all but still a county containing several cities (which are to become “districts” despite having hundreds of thousands more inhabitants than some other places labeled “cities”), lots of towns, and plenty of empty countryside.

The Mandarin name will change from Táib?i Xiàn to X?nb?i Shì. (X?n is the Mandarin word for “new.” Xiàn is “county.” Shì is “city.” And b?i is “north.”)The official so-called English name is, tentatively, “Xinbei City.” Hanyu Pinyin! Yea!

Talking about “English” names is often misleading, since many people conflate English and romanization of Mandarin; and the usual pattern of Taiwanese place names not written in Chinese characters tends to be MANDARIN PROPER NAME + ENGLISH CATEGORY (e.g., “Taoyuan County”). So, at least in this post, I’m going to be a bit sloppy about what I’m calling “English.” Forgive me. OK, now back to the subject.

A couple of days ago, however, both major candidates for the powerful position of running the area currently known as Taipei County (Táib?i Xiàn) had a rare bit of agreement: both expressed a preference for using “New Taipei City” instead of “Xinbei City.” Ugh.

And to top things off, a couple dozen pro-Tongyong Pinyin protesters were outside Taipei County Hall the same day to protest against using Xinbei because it contains what they characterize as China’s demon letter X. Actually, that last part of hyperbole isn’t all that much of an exaggeration of their position. The X makes it look like the city is being crossed out, some of the protesters claimed.

This is, of course, stupid. But unfortunately it’s the sort of stupidity that sometimes plays well here, given how this is a country that pandered to the superstitious by removing 4’s from license plate numbers and ID cards and by changing the name of a subway line because if you cherry-picked from its syllables you could come up with a nickname that might remind people of a term for cheating in mah-jongg (májiàng). (Why bother with letting competent engineers do things the way they need to be done when problems can be fixed magically through attempts to eliminate puns!)

pro-Tongyong protesters hold up signs against using Hanyu Pinyin

The protesters would prefer the Tongyong form, Sinbei. I suspect foreigners here would rapidly change that to the English name “Sin City,” which I must admit would have a certain ring to it and might even be a tourist draw. Still, Tongyong has already done enough damage. Those wanting to promote Taiwan’s identity would be much better off channeling their energy into projects that might actually be useful to their cause.

The reason the government selected “Xinbei City” is that “New Taipei City” would be too similar to “Taipei City,” according to the head of the Taipei County Government’s Department of Civil Affairs. And, yes, they would be too similar. Also, Xinbei is simply the correct form in Hanyu Pinyin, which is Taiwan’s (and Taipei County’s) official romanization system. It would also be be much better still to omit “city” altogether.

Consider how this might work on signs, keeping in mind that Taipei and X?nb?i Shì are right next to each other. So such similar names as “New Taipei City” and “Taipei City” would run the risk of confusion, unlike, say, the case of New Jersey and Jersey. I wonder if the candidates for mayor of Xinbei are under the impression that they should change the name of the town across from Danshui from B?l? to something else because visitors to Taiwan might otherwise think they could drive to the Indonesian island of Bali from northern Taiwan.

They probably said they liked “New Taipei City” better because it sounds “more English” to them. And it is more English than “Xinbei.” But that’s not a good thing.

Once again it may be necessary to point out what ought to be obvious: The reason so-called English place names are needed is not because foreigners need places to have names in the English language. If it were, I suppose we could redub many places with appropriate names in real English: “Ugly Dump Filled With Concrete Buildings” (with numbers appended so the many possibilities could be distinguished from each other), “Nuclear Waste Depository,” “Armpit of Taiwan,” “Beautiful Little Town that Turns Into a Tourist Hell on Weekends,” etc. The possibilities are endless, though perhaps some of the nicer places would need to be given awful names — following the Iceland/Greenland model — lest they be overrun. The problem is that Chinese characters are too damn hard, and people who can’t read them (i.e., most foreign residents and tourists) need to be able to find places on maps, on Web pages, through signs, etc. And they need to be able to communicate through speech with people in Taiwan about places. Having two different names — the Mandarin one and the so-called English one — is just confusing. Having one name in Mandarin written in two systems (Chinese characters and romanization), however, makes sense and works best. (If Taiwan were to switch to using Taiwanese instead of Mandarin, that would be a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)

But things that make sense and politicians don’t often fit well together.

Consider the signs. What a @#$% mess this could be. Let’s compare a few ramifications of using Xinbei and Taipei vs. using New Taipei City and Taipei City.

Xinbei and Taipei.

  • basically no chance of confusing one with the other
  • short (6 characters each), thus fitting better on signs
  • preexisting “Taipei [City]” signs wouldn’t have to be changed
  • Xinbei would be the correct romanization and not repeat the misleading pei of bastardized Wade-Giles
  • definitely no need to add “city” to either name, because there would be no “Taipei County” that might need to be distinguished from the city of Taipei, nor would there be a “Xinbei County” that would need to be distinguished from the city of Xinbei

Now let’s look at the case of New Taipei City and Taipei City.

  • relatively easy to confuse at a glance
  • relatively easy to confuse in general
  • long, and don’t fit as easily on signs (“New Taipei City” = 15 characters, including spaces; “Taipei City” = 11 characters, including the space)
  • “New Taipei City” would continue to ill-advised and outdated practice of using bastardized Wade-Giles spellings
  • any time the common adjective new needs to be applied to something dealing with “New Taipei City” or “Taipei City” the chances for confusion and mistakes would increase even more, esp. in headlines
  • the worst choice

The Taipei County Council will determine the final version of the name in September.


See also

(By the way, if any Taiwan reporters want to pick up on this blog post, please don’t just follow the usual practice here of simply asking one or two random foreigners if they think the name “New Taipei City” sounds OK, so then you conclude that there’s no problem. Try to get people who’ve actually thought about the situation for more than a few seconds and who could give you an informed opinion. My apologies to those reporters who of course know better.)

Le Grand Ricci now available on DVD

cover of le Grand Ricci numeriqueThe magnificent Grand dictionnaire Ricci de la langue chinoise, better known as le Grand Ricci, has just been released on DVD, almost a decade after its release in book form and exactly four hundred years after the death of Matteo Ricci.

The list price is 120 euros (about US$150), which is much cheaper than the printed edition. A long video in French (16:31) discusses the work. For those who would prefer something in English, a PDF gives background information on the dictionary project.

For a sample of the dictionary’s format and entries, see the 25 pages of entries for shan. Alas, as this example shows, the entries are not word parsed. But at least Hanyu Pinyin is now available for those who prefer it to Wade-Giles.

As long as I’m mentioning Ricci-related work, I might as well use the occasion to note that the Taipei Ricci Institute is putting its collection of books on permanent loan to Taiwan’s National Central Library.

Also, I’d like to note that parts of Matteo Ricci’s original dictionary can now be viewed through the Google Books scan of a publication from earlier this century of his Dicionário Português-Chinês.


image from a manuscript page of Ricci's original dictionary

Taipei County switches to Hanyu Pinyin

Street signs in Taipei County are beginning to be changed to Hanyu Pinyin. For Pinyin supporters here, this is a long-awaited development.

Here are some examples of new signs in Banqiao, the seat of the Taipei County Government. They were taken near the Fuzhong MRT station.

street sign in Banqiao, Taiwan, in Hanyu Pinyin: 'Fuzhong Rd.' 'Chongqing Rd.'

Xianmin Blvd. Sec. 1 (This is a vertical sign, too narrow for 'Xianmin' on one line, so it's hyphenated, with 'min' on the second line)

Zhongshan Rd. Sec. 1

This is one of the Tongyong signs about to be taken down. It’s at the same intersection as the “Zhongshan” sign at above right. [November 17 update: The sign is now gone.]

The first roads to receive these signs are large ones, especially those connecting one city to another. This is probably going to be a long, slow process, which is certainly to be expected given (a) how damn long it took them to get this started and (b) that most signs never got changed to Tongyong Pinyin during the previous administration. My impression is that most street signs in Taipei County, especially in smaller towns and on smaller roads, remain in MPS2 (the Tongyong Pinyin of the 1980s).

Has anyone noticed any changes yet in Xindian, etc.?

I wish I could provide links to official announcements, etc. But so far I haven’t been able to find any. I have, however, spoken with officials from the county government who confirm the new policy, so I’m going ahead and announcing this here.

Nice to see no InTerCaps. Unfortunately, the apostrophe situation is SNAFU, with those responsible for the signage using outdated guidelines (calling for a hyphen instead of an apostrophe). But I’ve forwarded the central government’s current rules on this to those concerned, which I hope will help get the problem fixed before any such signs go up.

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'




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'