Taipei street names and the monosyllabic myth

I spent much of the weekend revising and correcting the list of Taipei’s street names that I have on an old Web site on romanization. (I’m afraid I’ve almost completely neglected that site since getting Pinyin.info running. I’m trying to rectify the situation some because the new edition of the Taiwan Lonely Planet is to mention both sites.)

The street names (632 in all) are almost exclusively disyllabic. The only monosyllabic name is ?? (Hou St.), unless people want to count a few others like ??? (Andong St.) and ??? (Anxi St.); but even those wouldn’t work because people in Taiwan see those names as single units rather than as distinct parts: “Andong Street” and “Anxi Street,” not “An East Street” and “An West Street.” And I’m not so sure that Hou St. isn’t a typo, because it doesn’t really pass the “sounds OK” test.

The list has only three names longer than two syllables. But two of these are not “Chinese” but loan words: ???? ([Franklin Delano] Roosevelt Rd.) and ?????? (Kaidagelan Blvd., which is from one of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes). And the final example, ???? (Zhuzihu Rd.), is a good example of the exception proving the rule, because the road is named after a lake (hu) with a disyllabic name (Zhuzi); I’ve written the name solid (i.e., with no space before “hu”) only because there’s no longer any lake there alongside the road.

Yet misunderstandings about Mandarin and the other Chinese languages persist, despite refutations of the monosyllabic and other myths.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at the 20 most common street names in the United States:

Second, Third, First, Fourth, Park, Fifth, Main, Sixth, Oak, Seventh, Pine, Maple, Cedar, Eighth, Elm, View, Washington, Ninth, Lake, and Hill.

All but five of those are monosyllabic, but no one goes around claiming English is predominantly monosyllabic.

An examination of the street names reveals a few other interesting points.

Another myth is that Chinese characters are needed to resolve the supposed problem of homophony in the language. So, let’s look at the street names. Would anyone care to guess how many of the 632 names are homophonous?

The answer is zero. For that matter, just a handful would need tone marks to distinguish themselves from similar — but not identical — sounding names: Jinghua St. (Jǐnghuà and Jǐnghuá), Tong’an St. (Tōng’ān and Tóng’ān), Wanqing St. (Wànqīng Wànqìng), Wuchang St. (Wǔchāng Wǔcháng), and Xiangyang Rd. (Xiāngyáng Xiàngyáng).

Finally, I want to note that not even one ΓΌ (u with an umlaut) is needed in any of the street names.

404

I try to keep the structure of my site clear and my links valid, so chances are visitors to pinyin.info haven’t visited an invalid page here. (If you have, please let me know so I can fix it.)

Usually, when a browser encounters an invalid address, a “404” message will be displayed. You’re probably familiar with these; in Internet Explorer they say something like “The page cannot be found. The page you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed, or is temporarily unavailable….”

Some webmasters, however, like to play around with these messages, such as the popular spoof that read “These Weapons of Mass Destruction cannot be displayed.”

Pinyin.info has its own customized 404 page. Perhaps the reference — an homage to my favorite band, Talking Heads — will be too obscure for lots of my visitors, but I hope you like the page anyway.