Big Pinyin on Chengdu Storefronts

Fan Yiying and Gu Peng have posted a story at Sixth Tone that is both surprising and not surprising at all: State Media Criticizes Chengdu Shop Signs in Romanized Chinese.

The main points I’d like to make about this are:

  • Word-parsing matters.
  • Hundreds of millions of people in China use Hanyu Pinyin on a daily basis but still do not know how Pinyin is meant to work as an orthographic system.
  • The government of China, though it needs Pinyin, is in many ways hostile to it.
  • The fonts available for writing the Roman alphabet (and thus Pinyin) far exceed those for writing Chinese characters, so there is nothing in the least artistically limiting about Pinyin per se. (Whether Chinese characters are intrinsically more beautiful than the Roman alphabet is another matter.)

Here are some screenshots from the video mentioned in the article. Note: This isn’t the loveliest voice ever….

Sorry about the triangles on the photos, which make the shots look like videos. I wasn’t good at capturing screenshots without pausing the video, which made the triangles appear.

signs reading DIAN XIAN DIAN LAN, etc.

signs reading HONG DA TU WEN and MIAN DAO

signs reading HAO QI DENG SHI and ER LIANG WAN ZA MIAN

ER LIANG WAN ZA MIAN

ER LIANG WAN ZA MIAN sign in Chinese characters

Year of the Tiger puns, part 1

This is a cute ad for a bakery in Banqiao, Taiwan. The text in Chinese characters reads “虎年送吼禮” (Hǔnián sòng hǒu lǐ).

What’s odd about this is the character 吼, which is the character used to write the Mandarin word “hǒu” (howl, roar). So the text in English reads something like “[In the] Year of the Tiger, give roar gifts.”

This only makes proper sense when one knows that here “hǒu” is standing in for the Taiwanese word for “good” (in Mandarin: hǎo/好).

image with two cute cartoon tigers, one of which is baying. The speech bubble for that is the Chinese character 吼

Old Taipei street sign

Pinyin News reader Channing Bartlett passed along this photo he took c. 1980 in Taipei at the corner of Jianguo North Road section 1 and Chang’an East Road section 2. As you can see, inconsistencies on Taiwan street signs weren’t restricted to matters of romanization. Here we have 建國北路一段 (Jiànguó Běi Lù yī duàn) and 長安東路二段 (Cháng’ān Dōng Lù èr duàn) — or rather “段二路東安長.”

One sign is written left to right, the other right to left.

Also, if you look closely at the characters for lu and duan, you can see that the fonts are different, likely indicating the signs are of different ages. But if one sign was replaced, why not the other? Mysterious are the ways of Taiwan street signs.

Bartlett described the experience of trying to read street signs quickly back then:

As I was on a bus barreling by, I had just a quick moment to read one. But often it took up my quick moment just to see whether it was written L to R or vice versa. The practice was inconsistent, as you can see in this photo.

Follow me

I ran into a reader of Pinyin.info the other day, which has had me feeling guilty for not posting anything in recent months. So here’s something I wrote nearly a year ago but never posted. The sign is now long gone, but the linguistic points remain the same.

Near the Banqiao train station is this sign, which advertises small apartments. (At just 13 or 14 ping, counting the shares of all of the “public” spaces, they are basically tiny.) It has a lot of points of note for so little text:

  • Chinese characters are used to write an English word: 發樓 (fālóu) = follow.
  • English (“Follow me”) is used as well as Mandarin.
  • Numbers are used to write a Mandarin word: 94, i.e., jiǔ sì (九四) = jiùshì (就是). Note also that this works despite the tones being different.

發樓ME (with the English “Follow me” there for clarity as well)
13坪.14坪
收租人生94爽
告別租隊友 live your life

image of the large billboard discussed in this post

How to find Windows files that contain Chinese characters

Someone just wrote me to ask “Supposing I want to search for a Chinese name or word string across a whole DIRECTORY folder such as comes up in a windows directory search (the folder icon)?”

If you know the characters in question, the search is of course easy. Simply click in the Microsoft Windows File Explorer search box (marked in red in the image below), type in your phrase, and hit ENTER.

But what if you don’t know the phrase in question or you simply want to find all files containing Chinese characters? Normally one would turn to wildcard searches. But Windows File Explorer’s wildcard support is extremely limited, so the trick for finding Chinese characters (Hanzi) in a Microsoft Word document doesn’t work here.

I recommend running a search for an extremely common Chinese character. The most commonly used Hanzi is the one for the possessive particle de:

This won’t necessarily find every file with Chinese characters — just as searching files for the letter e won’t necessarily find every document that contains some English; but it’s the best I could think of on short notice.

I created some descriptively titled test documents and put them in a folder together:

  1. This file contains the Hanzi de but not in the title
  2. This file has many Hanzi but not the character for de
  3. This file has no Hanzi except 的 in the file name
  4. This file has no Hanzi in either the file or the file name

Then I ran a search for . The results show that Windows File Explorer uncovered the files containing 的 within the contents of the file and/or in the file name (i.e., files no. 3 and 1).

screenshot revealing the search results

Using Windows File Explorer’s search tools to refine the criteria should help speed up searches.

An alternate to de would be the character for :

Does anyone have better or alternate approaches to recommend?

Reasons Gwoyeu Romatzyh never caught on, part 39

sign with a color photograph of a woman, with 'Eel Chyi 爾旗時尚' written beneath her

Eel Chyi

Here’s a sign spotted in Banqiao, Taiwan, for what would be written “Ěrqí” in Hanyu Pinyin.

“Ěrqí shíshàng” means “Erqi Fashion” (爾旗時尚), with the first word pronounced roughly like the English name “Archie.”

The doubled vowel (“ee”) is a marker of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system (or “GR” for short), in which doubled vowels indicate the third tone. Thus, “ee” in Gwoyeu Romatzyh equals “ě” in Hanyu Pinyin. As for the -l, that’s GR’s way of indicating -r. For those of you wondering why GR didn’t just use -r for -r, that’s because GR uses -r to indicate second tone … except when it uses other letters to do the same thing. It’s kinda complicated. For example:

  1. ēr = el
  2. ér = erl
  3. ěr = eel
  4. èr = ell

And

  1. qī = chi
  2. qí = chyi
  3. qǐ = chii
  4. qì = chih

Of course, Hanyu Pinyin’s q isn’t intuitive for most people used to reading in an alphabetic script but must be learned. Once learned, though, q is entirely consistent. And it must be noted that as quirky as Gwoyeu Romatyzh can be, its oddities are nothing compared to those of Chinese characters.

Tai vs Tai

Taipei’s MRT system, wonderful though it is, continues to find new ways to irritate me. Today I present the case of

台 vs. 臺

Semantically, there is no difference between these two characters. They both represent the tái in Taipei/Taibei and Taiwan. But the 台 form is more common in Taiwan, where it is seen as a variant form and thus not as one of the “simplified” characters used in China.

So why is the MRT’s new airport line using a huge “臺” on its signs when a normal “台” would do just as well? In fact, the regular 台 form is found six times on the same sign, with the fourteen-stroke “臺” seen just once.

To show that this isn’t just a one-off, I’m providing photos of a few more signs in a station along the “purple” (airport) line.

So, in the first sign alone, we have:

  • 臺北 (×1),
  • 台北 (×4),
  • 月台 (yuetai, platform), and
  • 台鐵 (×1), for Tai-Tie, Taiwan’s railroad company, and thus any ordinary train line.

I blame Ma Ying-jeou.

How to find Chinese characters in an MS Word document

Recently someone wrote me with a problem. She had a book-length manuscript, most of which was in English. It also had some Chinese characters interspersed throughout the text. She needed to make some alterations to just the parts in Chinese characters and was hoping to avoid going through the entire Microsoft Word document line by line and changing the Chinese characters phrase by phrase. That could have taken hours or even days.

Fortunately, there’s a much easier and much faster way. So here’s how to search for Chinese characters inside a Microsoft Word document.

First, the simplest and easiest way. Copy the following line:
[⺀-■]{1,}

In Microsoft Word, use Ctrl+H to bring up the Find and Replace box.

  1. Paste the text you just copied in the Find what box.
  2. Click on the More >> button to reveal additional options.
  3. Select Use wildcards.

find_chinese_characters_word

find_chinese_characters_word_wildcard

Then Find away. That’s all there is to it. You can alter all the Chinese characters you find at the same time if you so desire.

Pro tip: If you want to change something about the Chinese characters, you might be better off in the long run making a new Word style and changing all the relevant characters to that style and then adjusting the style to meet your needs. Use ReplaceFormatStyle....

———–

Now comes a longer explanation, which you can safely ignore if the above worked fine for you.

But in case the special code above didn’t work for you or if you’d like to understand this a little better, here’s some more information on how to enter [⺀-■]{1,} yourself and why it works.

Basically, what you’re searching for is a range of characters, such as everything from A to Z. But in this case you’re going to be looking for everything from the start to the finish of Unicode’s set of graphs related to Chinese characters. Word calls this a wildcard search. Others refer to the use of wildcards as “regular expressions,” or “regex” for short.

Searches for ranges go in square brackets, with a hyphen between the first character and the last one, e.g. [A-Z].

The part at the end, {1,}, just tells Microsoft Word to look for one or more of the previous expression, so it will locate entire sections in Chinese characters, not just one character at a time. That will save you a lot of time and trouble.

OK, to get those special characters in a Word document, use

  1. Insert
  2. Symbol
  3. More Symbols

insert_symbol_more_symbols

Next,

  1. Under Font, select (Asian text).
  2. Under Subset, scroll down until you can select the CJK Radicals Supplement.
  3. Word should have already selected ⺀ (CJK Radical Repeat) for you. If not, you can click on it.
  4. Click the Insert button.

symbols_asian_text_cjk_insert

If needed, repeat Insert → Symbol → More Symbols.

sdsd

This time, with Font, still set at (Asian text):

  1. Under Subset, scroll all the way down until you can select the Halfwidth and Fullwidth Forms.
  2. Scroll all the way down the selection of glyphs and select the very last one.
  3. Click the Insert button.

half_fullwidth_forms

On my system at the moment that final character is a “halfwidth black square.” But as Unicode — and fonts — expand, the final character may be something else. Just use whatever is last and you should be fine. Just be sure to type in the square brackets, the hyphen, and the {1,} to complete the expression:
[⺀-■]{1,}

In case anyone’s wondering, no, you can’t just enter Unicode code numbers, because searches for those (u^ +number) won’t work when “Use wildcards” is on. So you have to enter the characters themselves.

This method can be easily adapted to suit searches for Greek letters, Cyrillic, etc.

I hope you find it useful.