writing Taiwanese: language, script, and myths

I’ve been fortunate to be able to add to this site a major essay on Taiwan’s language situation, etymology, and scripts: “How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language,” by Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here is the abstract:

The concept of guoyu (“national language”) is deeply embedded in the consciousness of everyone who has grown up in Taiwan during the past half century. Lately, however, people have begun to speak of their muyu (“mother tongue”) as being worthy of inculcation. Guoyu, of course, refers to Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), which in China is called putonghua (“common speech”). Mandarin is not native to Taiwan, yet it is the national language of Taiwan’s citizens and is the sole official written language. In contrast, the citizens of Taiwan are discouraged from writing their native languages (viz., Taiwanese, Hakka, and various aboriginal languages) and it is only recently that it has been possible to teach them in the schools. This paper will examine the complicated processes whereby the citizens of Taiwan are transformed from speakers of their mother tongues to speakers and writers of the national language. This transformation does not rely purely on educational activities carried out in the schools, but involves political, social, and cultural factors as well. The transformation of Cantonese and Shanghainese speakers into Mandarin speakers and writers will also be examined for comparative purposes.

This, however, hardly does justice to the scope of the essay.

I strongly recommend reading this. Again, here is the link to the full essay.

first anniversary of Pinyin News

Pinyin News is one year old today. (The main site, Pinyin Info, is several years older and continues to grow. But I’ve lost track of just when it began.)

I’d like to take advantage of this occasion to thank the many people who’ve written — in comments, in their own blogs, or through e-mail — about the site. I’m grateful for your interest and, well, thankful that anyone at all reads any of the things I post here.

Comments and questions are always welcome — as are links to news items of possible interest.

I hope the coming year of Pinyin News will be even better received than the first.


temporary look for Pinyin News

Dear readers,

I apologize for Pinyin News not matching the look of the rest of the site. I had to rush through an upgrade to my blogging software. So please bear with me while I get things looking the way they should.

Until I get the main navigation back, you can access the rest of the site here: Pinyin.info.

As always, I welcome your comments. But please be patient; to stop spambots, I need to read and approve everything before it appears on the site.

Beijing Olympics slogan

Professor Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania has just released an interesting piece analyzing the somewhat odd choice of wording for the slogan for the 2008 Olympics in China:
Remarks on the slogan for the Beijing Olympics.

Mair is also editor of Sino-Platonic Papers.

Mandarin pop/rock lyrics in Pinyin

Lately I’ve been adding the lyrics to some songs, including titles by Cui Jian, Faye Wong, Wu Bai and China Blue, and Jay Chou.

I haven’t included Chinese characters. Keep in mind that songs are meant to be heard, not read. Also, tones generally disappear when words are sung. Thus, these songs should be considerably easier to understand when read in Pinyin transcriptions than when listened to alone. (It’s the same with other languages, too, of course.) If you find you’re having trouble, liànxí, liànxí.