important book on Pinyin to be excerpted on this site

cover image for the bookX?nhuá P?nxi? Cídi?n (???????? / ????????), is the second of Yin Binyong’s two books on Pinyin orthography. The first, Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography, is in English and Mandarin; much of it is already available here on Pinyin.Info.

Although Xinhua Pinxie Cidian is only in Mandarin, the large number of examples makes it easy to get the point even if you may not read Mandarin in Chinese characters very well.

This week I will begin posting some excerpts from this invaluable work. What’s more, I have made a version in traditional Chinese characters, which I hope that readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere will take advantage of. So those not used to reading simplified Chinese characters will have a choice (which is more than the government of Taiwan is providing these days).

I’m extremely happy to be able to bring you this information and with to acknowledge the generosity of the Commercial Press. Stay tuned.

Taoyuan International Airport to adopt new style for signs

Taoyuan International Airport (or “Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport” as it is called in Taiwan’s official Chinglish form) will be replacing its signage, adopting a new color scheme and typeface.

Currently, the signs in the airport have a black background and yellow or white letters.

The new signs will be modeled after those in the Hong Kong International Airport, with white letters on a blue background. But signs for facilities such as restrooms and restaurants will have white letters on a dark red background. (Perhaps like these?)

Taiwan will also duplicate Hong Kong’s choice of font face: Fang Song (f?ng-Sòngt? / ???). One of the reasons for this is that some Chinese characters — such as for yuán (?) and guó (?) — appear similar if viewed from a distance, according to the president of the Taoyuan International Airport Corp. “Passengers can clearly see the words on the [new] signs even if they view them from 30 meters away,” he added.

The new signs will start to go up in August, with the change scheduled to be complete by the end of 2012.

I’ve made some samples (which, by the way, contain both ? and ?) in three typefaces to help illustrate the look of Fang Song. Sorry not to have the right color scheme.

DF Fang Song:
sample of the typeface in three weights, with the text of '????????'

DF Kai Sho:
sample of the typeface in three weights, with the text of '????????'

DF Ming:
sample of the typeface in three weights, with the text of '????????'



font samples:

additional material:

By the way, the contrast between the traditional and simplified versions of the t? of f?ng-Sòngt? (??? / ???) is a good illustration that to the untrained eye the conversion from one system to another is not necessarily self apparent.

? vs. ?

Simplified Chinese characters being purged from Taiwan government sites

Taiwan’s government Web sites have begun removing versions of their content in simplified Chinese characters at the instruction of President Ma Ying-jeou (M? Y?ngji?).

This isn’t just a matter of, say, writing “??” (Taiwan) instead of “??” (which, yes, the government here is encouraging). This is much bigger. Entire pages, entire Web sites even, written in simplified Chinese characters are being eliminated.

The Tourism Bureau, for example, removed the version of its site in simplified Chinese characters from the Web on Wednesday. This comes at a time that the government’s further lifting of restrictions against individual Chinese tourists is aimed at bringing in more travelers from China.

The Presidential Office’s spokesman quoted Ma as saying “To maintain our role as the pioneer in Chinese culture, all government bodies should use traditional Chinese in official documents and on their Web sites, so that people around the world can learn about the beauty of traditional characters.” (Is that what pioneers do? I’ll try to find the original Mandarin-language quote later if I get a chance.)

It’s one thing to urge businesses not to remove traditional Chinese characters and replace them with simplified Chinese characters (as the government did on Tuesday). It’s quite another to remove alternate versions in another script — one that a very sizable target audience would have an easier time with.

During the administration of President Chen Shui-bian the government began adding versions in simplified Chinese characters of the Mandarin texts of official Web sites. The Office of the President was one such site. Now the simplified version is gone. That’s happening across government sites.

Here, for example, are some screen shots I took.

This was the language/script selection at the National Palace Museum‘s Web site as of Thursday morning. (Click to see an image of the entire front page.)
click to see image of entire front page
“????” (ji?nt? Zh?ngwén) is brighter because I had my mouse over it to highlight that text.

And here the language/script selection at the National Palace Museum’s Web site as of Thursday evening:
click to see image of entire front page
As you can see, the choice of viewing the site in simplified Chinese characters has been removed.

Here at Pinyin.Info I often have material in Hanyu Pinyin. So I’m certainly not unsympathetic to the idea that sometimes the medium really is a major part of the message. But I doubt that President Ma’s tough-love approach in this area will accomplish anything useful for Taiwan or the survival of traditional Chinese characters; indeed, I believe it will be counter-productive.

To be more blunt about this, this seems like a really, really bad idea.

some sources:

Google Translate’s Pinyin converter revisited

When Google Translate‘s Pinyin converter was first released about a year and a half ago, it sucked. Wow, did it ever suck. Since then, however, Google has instituted some changes. So it seems about time this was reexamined.

Fortunately, Google’s Pinyin converter is now much better than before.

Here’s the sort of FUBAR romanization — it certainly doesn’t deserve to be called Hanyu Pinyin — Google used to produce:

tán zh?ng guó de“y?“hé” wén” de wèn tí? w? jué de zuì h?o néng xi?n li?o jiè y? xià zài zh?ng guó t?ng yòng de y? yán?… rú gu? n? sh? yòng zh?ng guó de gòng tóng y? yán p? t?ng huà? n? li?o ji? zhè ge y? yán de y? f??b? rú“de? de? de“ hé“le” de bù tóng yòng f?? ma?zh? dào zhè ge y? yán de j? b?n y?n jié?bù b?o kuò sh?ng diào? zh? y?u408gè ma?

Now the same passage will look like this:

Tán zh?ngguó de “y?” hé “wén” de wèntí, w? juéde zuì h?o néng xi?n li?o jiè y?xià zài zh?ngguó t?ngyòng de y?yán…. Rúgu? n? sh?yòng zh?ngguó de gòngtóng y?yán p?t?nghuà, n? li?oji? zhège y?yán de y?f? (b?rú “de, de, de “hé “le” de bùtóng yòngf?) ma? Zh?dào zhège y?yán de j?b?n y?njié (bù b?okuò sh?ngdiào) zh?y?u 408 gè ma?

At last! Capitalization at the beginning of a sentence and word parsing! But — you knew there was going to be a but, didn’t you? — Google’s Pinyin converter falls significantly short because it still fails completely in two fundamental areas: capitalization of proper nouns and proper use of the apostrophe.

1. Proper Nouns

Google’s Pinyin converter fails to follow the basic point of capitalizing proper nouns. For example, here are some well-known place names. I have prefixed the names with “?” because Google automatically capitalizes the first word in a line; so to see how it handles capitalization of place names something other than the name must go first.

screenshot showing what happens if the following is entered into Google Translate: '???, ???, ???, ???'. That leads to the following in Google Translate: 'in Xi'an, in Chang [sic], in Chongqing, in Beijing'. But the romanization line reads 'Zai xian, Zai changan, Zai chongqing, Zai beijing'

Google Translate gets these right, other than the odd truncation of Chang’an. But the Pinyin converter (see the gray text at the bottom of the image above) fails to capitalize these, even though it correctly parses them as units and thus must “know” their meanings.

The same thing happens with personal names.

Input this:


Google Translate provides this:

Is Ma Ying-jeou
Mao Zedong
Chen Shui-bian

Those are correct, if the missing Iss are discounted.

But the Pinyin appears as “Shì m?y?ngji? Shì máozéd?ng Shì chénshu?bi?n“. So even though the software understands that these names are units, the capitalization and word parsing are still wrong and they are still not rendered as they should be in Pinyin: “M? Y?ngji?,” “Máo Zéd?ng,” “Chén Shu?bi?n.

There is nothing obscure about capitalizing proper nouns. How did this get missed?

2. Apostrophes

The cases of Xi’an and Chang’an above already demonstrate apostrophe omission. Let’s try a few more tests, including some words that are not proper nouns.

Input this:


The Pinyin is rendered as “??rb?níy? Ránér Rénài Lián?u” rather than the correct forms of ?’?rb?níy?, rán’ér, rén’ài, and lián’?u.

As always I want to stress that, whatever you might have heard elsewhere, apostrophes are not optional. But the rules for their use are easy — so easy that I suspect a fairly simple computer script could fix this problem quickly and simply. (Only about 2 percent of Mandarin words, as written in Hanyu Pinyin, have apostrophes.)

As is the case with the mistakes with proper nouns, these apostrophe errors are all the more puzzling because Google Translate does not appear to share them. Fortunately, these problems should not be particularly difficult to fix, especially if the Pinyin converter can make better use of Google Translate’s database.

Although Google’s failures to implement capitalization of proper nouns and apostrophe use are significant problems, they could likely be corrected quickly and easily. (I strongly suspect this would take considerably less time than it has taken for me to write this post.) The result would be a vastly improved converter. So I am hopeful that Google will work on this soon.

3. Additional work

Once Google gets those basics fixed, it should focus on the simple matter of correcting spacing before and after some quotations (which would surely take just a few minutes to take care of) and any other such spacing errors, and fixing its word parsing related to numbers (which is a bit more complicated, though the basics are easy: everything from 1 to 100 is written solid).

Next would come something requiring a bit more care: the proper handling of Mandarin’s three tense-marking particles: zhe, guo, and le.

And Google should attach the pluralizing suffix -men to the word it modifies rather than leaving it separate (e.g., háizimen, not háizi men).

Then, with all of those taken care of, Google would have a pretty good Pinyin converter that I would be happy to praise. Of course even then it could still use other improvements; but those would most likely deal more with particulars than the fundamentals of how Pinyin is meant to be written.

A separate post, to be written soon, will compare the performance of several Pinyin converters (including Google’s). Stay tuned.

Oxford Chinese Dictionary goes online

cover image of the Oxford Chinese DictionaryOxford University Press has just announced that its massive Oxford Chinese Dictionary is now available through its Oxford Language Dictionaries Online subscription service.

I haven’t seen the online version yet myself; but from the publisher’s description it appears to be largely the same as the published edition, whose paucity of Pinyin is disappointing. The publisher, however, is promising that “Pinyin will be added to all Chinese translations” in November, which should be a major step forward.

Perhaps some of you at universities have institutional access. I would welcome reports.

source: What’s New, Oxford Language Dictionaries Online, May 2011.

old fashioned

photo of donuts and their label: 'Choco Fashioned / ??????', price NT$35 (about US$1.20)

Here’s a shot of some Hanzified, Mandarinized English I recently came across. Qi?okèlì (???) is of course a well-established loan word, from the English “chocolate” (though here the English is given in the more Japanese-English form of choco, as befits a Japanese donut chain store in Taiwan). ?uf?ixi?ng (???) is a rendering of “old fashioned.” Although the “old” is missing from the English above, it can be seen in both of the tags pictured below.

photo of donuts and their labels: 'White Cocoa Old Fashioned / ??????' and 'Old Fashioned / ?????'
Bái k?k? ?uf?ixi?ng (??????) and yuán wèi ?uf?ixi?ng (?????).

And if that’s not enough to fill you up with Hanzified English, perhaps try a piece of B?shìdùn pài (????), i.e., “Boston [cream] pie.”

Conferences in Hawaii

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Honolulu for the Zhang Liqing Memorial International Conference on Hanyu Pinyin. This promises to be a tremendously exciting event, with select scholars from throughout the United States, Asia, and Oceania participating. I’ll have more to say about this after the gathering.

While I’m in Hawaii I may drop in on the joint conference of the Association for Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asia Scholars (March 31–April 3). You might think, though, that with nearly 800 sessions on just about everything under the sun, at least a few of them would discuss romanization. (But nooo.) Still, session 282, “Beyond Cultural Essentialism: Neo-Orientalism in Chinese Studies” (Friday morning, 10:15-12:15), sounds interesting, especially Edward McDonald’s talk on character fetishization in Chinese studies. McDonald’s new book, Learning Chinese, Turning Chinese: Challenges to Becoming Sinophone in a Globalised World, also covers this topic.

If you know of anything else particularly interesting going on at the AAS-ICAS conference or in Honolulu at large, please let me know. (For example, what’s the best bookstore there?)

Spreading the good news

Behold, I bring you good tidings.

As I keep having to note, most of the things that are supposedly in Pinyin are terrible. This is not because Pinyin itself is inherently poor or difficult. It’s because most people who produce such things have a fundamental lack of understanding of Pinyin as a system. (And, yes, that includes most users in China.) So it is with amazement that I report today on a journal that not only offers dozens of pages in Hanyu Pinyin — good Hanyu Pinyin — but does so twice every month. It’s also well worth noting that the journal is aimed primarily at adult native speakers of Mandarin, not foreigners trying to pick up the language, though certainly it could also be read by people in the latter group.

From what I’ve seen so far, this journal gets right the things most commonly written incorrectly elsewhere, including:

And it doesn’t use the atrocious ? that some people mistakenly believe is required either.

Unfortunately, punctuation and alphanumerics are not included in the Pinyin. But other than that there’s very little that doesn’t follow standard Pinyin orthography, the main exception being the indication of the tone sandhi related to the special cases of y? and , (e.g., the journal gives “bú shì” and “búdà” instead of the standard “bù shì” and “bùdà,” and “yìhuíshì” and “yí wèi” instead of the standard “y?huíshì” and “y? wèi“). That said, though, tone changes related to yi and bu can be something of a pain. So although this isn’t standard, I can see why it was done and am not entirely unsympathetic to this approach.

Here are a few sample lines (click to enlarge):
screenshot of some text in the journal, showing text in simplified Chinese characters with word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin above the Hanzi. Note: Yifusuoshu/???? = Ephesians

It would be nice if this were in Unicode, to help aid searches and cutting and pasting. The text, however, appears to have been made in a system devised years ago by the people at the journal. Regardless, I’m happy to see the Pinyin.

Overall, despite the lamentable absence of punctuation and Arabic numerals in the Pinyin, this is quality work, which is perhaps all the more remarkable in that the Pinyin and simplified Hanzi edition of this journal is not truly free to circulate in the land of its target audience. That’s because its publishers are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group suppressed by the PRC (though it appears that at least at the moment their sites are not blocked by the great firewall). The journal, Sh?uwàngtái, may be more familiar to you by its English name: Watchtower. Whatever you might think of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I hope you’ll recognize the considerable accomplishment of those who put together this publication.

Getting to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Web pages that link to Sh?uwàngtái can be tricky. (Go to the magazines page, select “Chinese (Simplified)” for the language; then choose the month and file with Pinyin.) So I’m providing direct links to some documents below:

I haven’t found any Pinyin editions other than those. Perhaps old ones are taken offline.

Rénrén D?u X?yào Zh?dao De H?o Xi?oxi (I'd prefer 'de' instead of 'De' -- but that's no big deal) ???????????

With thanks to Victor Mair.