Languages, scripts, and signs: a walk around Taipei’s Shixin University

Recently I took some trails through the mountains in Taipei and ended up at Shih Hsin University (Shìxīn Dàxué / 世新大學). Near the school are some interesting signs. Rather than giving individual posts for each of these, I’m keeping the signs together in this one, as this is better testimony to the increasing and often playful diversity of languages and scripts in Taiwan.

Cǎo Chuàn

Here’s a restaurant whose name is given in Pinyin with tone marks! That’s quite a rarity here, though I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this in the future. The name in Chinese characters (草串) can be found, much smaller, on a separate sign below.

cao_chuan

二哥の牛肉麵

Right by Cao Chuan is Èrgē de Niúròumiàn (Second Brother’s Beef Noodle Soup). Note the use of the Japanese の rather than Mandarin’s 的; this is quite common in Taiwan.

erge_de_niuroumian

芭樂ㄟ店

This store has an ㄟ, which serves as a marker of the Taiwanese language. Here, ㄟ is the equivalent of 的 — and of の.

Bālè ei diàn
bala_ei_dian

A’Woo Tea Bar

awoo_tea_bar

I couldn’t find a name in Chinese characters for this place. The name is probably onomatopoeia, as in “Werewolves of London — awoo!”

Every which way

Here’s a photo (blurry, I know) of the side of a bus in Taipei. I took this because the bus has text in Chinese characters running in three different directions: top to bottom, right to left, and left to right.

Taiwanese wouldn’t find this particularly confusing, as this sort of thing is not entirely uncommon here, though right-to-left horizontal writing is seen less and less.

photo of the side of a bus in Taipei, Taiwan's Nangang district, showing text in Chinese characters running top to bottom, right to left, and left to right

same image as above, but with arrows superimposed to show the directions of the text

I’m posting this mainly so I can refer to this example later if need be.

Taiwan presidential campaign logos

I’m far behind on writing about Taiwan’s upcoming election. The logos for the two main candidates in the presidential race were revealed about a month ago.

First up is the presidential campaign logo for Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文 / Cài Yīngwén): “LIGHT UP TAIWAN 點亮台灣” (Diǎn liàng Táiwān).

light_up_taiwan

And here is the campaign logo for the Kuomintang’s presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu (Hóng Xiùzhù / 洪秀柱), er, Eric Chu (朱立倫 / Zhū Lìlún): “ONE TAIWAN 台灣就是力量” (Táiwān jiùshì lìliang).

one_taiwan_taiwan_jiushi_lishi

It’s hard not to be struck by the fact that both prominently feature English slogans even though Taiwan has a distinct shortage of English-speaking Westerners who are eligible to vote here. (And, anyway, most such immigrants can read the Chinese characters.) For that matter, in both logos the English slogan comes first. That’s how cool and modern English is seen to be in Taiwan, even though it’s not an official language here. Coincidentally, one of the candidates is even named “Ing-wen” (“English language” / Yīngwén / 英文).

Sure, it’s window dressing; but it’s still window dressing in English.

In 2012 both major candidates had English slogans. Ma Ying-jeou used “Taiwan bravo;” and Tsai Ing-wen used “Taiwan next,” though Ma didn’t make such prominent use of English then as Chu is doing this year. My impression is that the Democratic Progressive Party embraced English much earlier than the Kuomintang but the KMT has since caught up with the DPP in this.

And, as was the case in the previous election, I’d like to note that both candidates used “台灣” rather than “臺灣” for “Taiwan,” despite the Ma administration’s declaration that the latter is the proper form.

further reading: Platform on tai?, Pinyin News, December 30, 2011

New Zealand, language, and ‘Chinese’

Raymond Huo, who served as a member of New Zealand’s parliament from 2008 to 2014, was born in China and moved to New Zealand twenty-one years ago from Beijing. His biography at the New Zealand Chinese Language Week Charitable Trust, an organization at which he is a co-chairman, states that he “has published seven books including two Chinese-English dictionaries as joint editor/translator.”

So when you hear that he is unhappy about how Statistics New Zealand is handling Mandarin, Cantonese, etc., in its count of languages, you might be inclined to think he is an expert who is battling ignorance in the bureaucracy. But read on.

“Treating Mandarin, Yue or other Chinese dialects as independent languages is deeply flawed,” Mr Huo said.

“It is similar to making statistical inferences about the difference between Northern English, Oceania English and Indian English, or … between pub talk and the King’s English.

“As such, English may not be the most widely spoken language if each ‘dialect’ was treated as an independent language as in the case of Mandarin and Cantonese.”

This is simply wrong. English as spoken in India, English as spoken in Oceania, and English as spoken elsewhere are all one language. Mandarin and Cantonese are not.

As expected, here comes something about Chinese characters.

The Chinese written script is broadly the same, but a single character can be pronounced in over 1000 different ways across China, according to Mr Huo.

That, however, doesn’t make “Chinese” one language. And focusing on Chinese characters is often a sign that someone has lost track of the language itself — or languages themselves, in this case.

Huo said the ranking order of English, te reo Maori, Samoan, and Hindi as the top four most spoken languages in New Zealand by Statistics NZ was “incorrect, misleading and deeply flawed.” He wants them all counted together, which would move “Chinese” into third place.

Census general manager Denise McGregor, however, said it is important to have a system of classification that enables languages to be either grouped or looked at individually.

“It’s incredibly useful to know that in a school zone, or at a specific library, or on a particular bus route there will be people who speak specifically Mandarin or Chinese,” she said.

“Just knowing they speak ‘Chinese’ isn’t likely to be as useful in targeting services.”

In the last Census, 52,263 people spoke Northern Chinese which includes Mandarin, 44,625 spoke Yue that includes Cantonese and 42,750 spoke a “Sinitic” language.

Mrs McGregor said of the 171,204 people in New Zealand of Chinese ethnicity, 45,216 were born here.

“The majority of these people do not speak any language other than English,” she said.

“We think the rich picture of the different Chinese languages and dialects is a valuable thing to have.”

Amen to that last thought. And I welcome the use of the phrase Sinitic language.

The author of the news article on this spoke with several other people.

David Soh, editor for Auckland-based Chinese language daily Mandarin Pages, said the Census figures for Mandarin speakers were “too low” to be correct.

“The figure that just over a quarter of the Chinese population are Mandarin speakers sounds too low to be accurate or true,” Mr Soh said.

“The fact is Chinese who speak Chinese dialects are often also able to converse in Mandarin, but the Census figure doesn’t seem to reflect that.”

AUT’s head of the School of Language and Culture, Sharon Harvey, said linguists would consider Chinese dialects as independent languages.

“It suits the Chinese Government to say all these languages are ‘only’ dialects but most linguists would say many are languages in their own right.”

Cantonese is a language with nine spoken tones but in Mandarin there are four, said Dr Harvey, and it would be hard to learn Cantonese and “make all those sounds” if someone hasn’t learned them as a child.

The article closes with some figures, taken from New Zealand’s Census 2013, of possible interest:
NEW ZEALAND CHINESE BY NUMBERS

  • 171,204 — population total
  • 122,964 — speak at least one or more Chinese languages
  • 45,216 — NZ born, most speak only English
  • 52,263 — speak Northern Chinese, including Mandarin
  • 44,625 — speak Yue, including Cantonese
  • 42,750 — speak a Sinitic language without further defining

source: How many people in NZ speak Chinese?, New Zealand Herald, December 3, 2015

Sign in seal script

It’s time again to play What’s That Character?

Feel free to ask others what they think, though enlisting the aid of historians and calligraphy masters would count as cheating, as all of these examples are not from a museum or a calligraphy scroll but from a sign outside a building meant to be read by all.

Chinese character number one:
mystery_hanziv

Chinese character number two:
mystery_hanziii

And Chinese character number three:
mystery_hanziiv

OK? Ready?

Here are the answers:

How’d you do?

*** SPOILERS BELOW ***

If you got even one right, hái bùcuò. That’s probably as well as or better than the average person literate in Chinese characters.

Here is the entire sign, which will probably make things much clearer.

If you’re a Mandarin speaker and used to reading Chinese characters, you can probably tell what the entire sign says without too much effort. But as this exercise may help to show, that is not because most people can truly read all the characters but because they can fill in the blanks, as it were, when presented with adequate context. Yes, those are all written in seal script, not in a modern style; but seal script is all that is given on the sign.

I want to stress that this isn’t a sign for a historical museum or even the Cultural Bureau. Nope, it’s for the Xinbei City Government’s Environmental Protection Department, here in lovely Banqiao. Those used to the ways of Taiwan (or maybe just the ways of the world) have probably already correctly guessed that it was the director who thought a seal-script font would be a good idea. (See the news stories below for more on that. Although the reports are from a couple of years ago, I took the photos just a couple of weeks ago.)

Don’t forget: If you want to put Chinese characters or tonal Pinyin in your comments, use the encoder first and copy and paste the results into the comments box.

News stories:

Dissolving Pinyin

Late last week, Victor Mair — with some assistance from Matt Anderson, David Moser, me, and others — wrote in “Lobsters”: a perplexing stop motion film about a short 1959 film from China that gives some Pinyin. In some cases, the Pinyin is presented for a second and then is quickly dissolved into Chinese characters. Since Victor’s post supplies only the text, I thought that I’d supplement that here with images from the film.

See the original post for translations and discussion.

The film often shows a newspaper. The headline (at 7:57) reads (or rather should read, since the first word is misspelled):

QICHE GUPIAO MENGDIE
DAPI LONGXIA ZHIXIAO

longxia_pinyin_757

But since the image above doesn’t show the name of the paper, I’m also offering this rotated and cropped photo, that allows us to see that this is the “JIN YUAN DIGUO RI-BAO”
longxia_ribao

Elsewhere, there are again some g’s for q’s. For the first example of text dissolving from Pinyin to Chinese characters (at 2:11), I’m offering screenshots of the text in Pinyin, the text during the dissolve, and the text in Chinese characters. Later I’ll give just the Pinyin and Chinese characters.

Hongdang Louwang
Yipi hongdang zai daogi [sic] jiudian jihui buxing guanbu [sic] louwang

longxia_pinyin_211a

longxia_pinyin_211b

longxia_pinyin_211c

Soon thereafter (at 2:44), we get a handwritten note.
longxia_pinyin_244a

longxia_pinyin_244c

At 3:39 we’re shown the printed notice in the newspaper of the above text.
longxia_pinyin_339a

longxia_pinyin_339c

A brief glance at the newspaper at 3:23 gives us FA CHOU, which is probably referring to the stink the bad lobsters are giving off.
longxia_pinyin_323

Here a man is carrying a copy of Zibenlun (Das Kapital), by Makesi (Marx).
longxia_pinyin_911

Actually, it’s not really Das Kapital, just the cover of the book; inside is a stack of decadent Western material. “MEI NE” is probably supposed to be “MEINÜ” (beautiful women).
longxia_pinyin_558_meinu

I imagine that, in the PRC of 1959, the artists for this film must have inwardly rejoiced at the chance to draw something like that for a change, and that is also why there’s a nude on the wall in one scene.
longxia_pinyin_439_meinu

UTF-8 Unicode vs. other encodings over time

Some eight years ago UTF-8 (Unicode) became the most used encoding on Web pages. At the time, though, it was used on only about 26% of Web pages, so it had a plurality but not an absolute majority.

Graph showing growth of the UTF-8 encoding

By the beginning of 2010 Unicode was rapidly approaching use on half of Web pages.
graph showing a steep rise in the use of UTF-8 and a steep decline in other major encodings

In 2012 the trends were holding up.
UTF-8_website_use_2001-2012

Note that the 2008 crossover point appears different in the latter two Google graphs, which is why I’m showing all three graphs rather than just the third.

A different source (with slightly different figures) provides us with a look at the situation up to the present, with UTF-8 now on 85% of Web pages. Expansion of UTF-8 is slowing somewhat. But that may be due largely to the continuing presence of older websites in non-Unicode encodings rather than lots of new sites going up in encodings other than UTF-8.
growth in Unicode UTF-8 encoding on Web pages, 2010-2015

Here’s the same chart, but focusing on encodings (other than UTF-8) that use Chinese characters, so the percentages are relatively low.
asian_language_encodings_2010-2015

And here’s the same as the above, but with the results for individual languages combined.
asian_language_encodings_2010-2015_by_language

By the way, Pinyin.info has been in UTF-8 since the site began way back in 2001. The reason that Chinese characters and Pinyin with tone marks appear scrambled within Pinyin News is that a hack caused the WordPress database to be set to Swedish (latin1_swedish_ci), of all things. And I haven’t been able to get it fixed; so just for the time being I’ve given up trying. One of these days….

Sources:

Popularity of Chinese character country code TLDs

Yesterday we looked at the popularity of the Chinese character TLD for Singapore Internet domains. Today we’re going to examine the Chinese character ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) for those places that use Chinese characters and compare the figures with those for the respective Roman alphabet TLDs.

In other words, how, for example, does the use of taiwan in traditional Chinese characters   .台灣 domains compare with the use of .tw domains?

Since, unlike the case with Singapore, I don’t have the registration figures, I’m having to make do with Google hits, which is a different measure. For this purpose, Google is unfortunately a bit of a blunt instrument. But at least it should be a fairly evenhanded blunt instrument and will be useful in establishing baselines for later comparisons.

A few notes before we get started:

  • Japan has yet to bother with completing the process for its own name in kanji (Japan, as written in kanji / Chinese characters), so it is omitted here.
  • Macau only recently asked for aomen in simplified Chinese characters    
  .澳门 and aomen in traditional Chinese characters    
  .澳門, so those figures are still at zero.
  • Oddly enough, there’s no taiwan_super in traditional Chinese characters   
  .臺灣 ccTLD, even though the Ma administration, which was in power when Taiwan’s ccTLDs went into effect, officially prefers the more complex form of taiwan_super in traditional Chinese characters   
  .臺灣 to taiwan in traditional Chinese characters   .台灣 — not to mention prefering it to taiwan in simplified Chinese characters    
  .台湾.
  Google Hits Percent of Total
MACAU    
.mo 18400000 100.00
aomen in simplified Chinese characters    
  .澳门 0 0.00
aomen in traditional Chinese characters    
  .澳門 0 0.00
TAIWAN    
.tw 206000000 99.86
taiwan in simplified Chinese characters    
  .台湾 67600 0.03
taiwan_super in traditional Chinese characters   
  .臺灣 0 0.00
taiwan in traditional Chinese characters   .台灣 230000 0.11
HONG KONG    
.hk 193000000 99.94
xianggang  in Chinese characters 
  .香港 118000 0.06
SINGAPORE    
.sg 97800000 100.00
xinjiapo  in Chinese characters 
  .新加坡 2 0.00
CHINA    
.cn 315000000 99.61
zhongguo in simplified Chinese characters  
  .中国 973000 0.31
zhongguo in traditional Chinese characters   
  .中國 251000 0.08

So in no instance does the Chinese character ccTLD reach even one half of one percent of the total for any given place.

Here are the results in a chart.

Graph showing that although China leads in domains in Chinese characters, they do not reach even one half of one percent of the total for China

Note that the ratio of simplified:traditional forms in China and Taiwan are roughly mirror images of each other, as is perhaps to be expected.

See also Platform on Tai, Pinyin News, December 30, 2011