Banqiao — the Xinbei ways

Xinbei, formerly known as Taipei County and now officially bearing the atrocious English name of “New Taipei City,” has made available an online map of its territory.

Interestingly, the map is available not just in Mandarin with traditional Chinese characters and English with Hanyu Pinyin (most of the time — but more on that soon) but also in Mandarin with simplified Chinese characters. A Japanese interface is also available.

The interface for all versions opens to a map centered on Xinbei City Hall. What struck me upon seeing this for the first time was that, in just one small section, Banqiao is spelled four different ways:

  • Banqiao (Hanyu Pinyin)
  • Panchiao (bastardized Wade-Giles)
  • Ban-Chiau (MPS2, with an added hyphen)
  • Banciao (Tongyong Pinyin)

Click the map to see an enlargement.
click for larger version

I want to stress that these are not typos. These are the result of an inattention to detail that is all too common here.

The spelling for the city, er, district is also wrong in the interface, with Tongyong used. Since Banqiao is the seat of the Xinbei City Government and has more than half a million inhabitants,*, it’s not exactly so obscure that spelling its name correctly should be much of a challenge. Tongyong and other systems also crop up in some other names outside the interface.

It should be admitted, however, that the Xinbei map’s romanization is still better overall than the error-filled mess issued by GooGle.

*: including me

Going south with official Taiwan map

In the past, when I found romanization errors in official government documents I often contacted the agencies in charge so they could make improvements. But as those who live in Taiwan may have noted, this practice has had limited success. And in the process I’ve built up a great deal of bile from encountering bureaucratic roadblocks to fixing mistakes. So is it any wonder that when I see things like this map, I often think, “W? h?o xi?ng tù.” Maybe now it’s time to start going with that feeling — metaphorically speaking. And what could be more appropriate, given that we are about to have a tùnián? (I know, I know: That pun’s probably not going to make any of the New Year cards.)

So today I’ll post in public about one such mess. I recently looked over a map of southern Taiwan issued by Taiwan’s official Tourism Bureau and was not surprised to find errors — a lot of errors. (This particular map was published in June 2010 and is, as far as I know, the most recent edition.)

Most of the errors are cases of remnants of Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Cingshuei for what is written Qingshui in Hanyu Pinyin). Oddly, on this map Tongyong Pinyin is often seen in only part of a name (e.g., what is written ?? in Chinese characters is given as Fengciou, which has Hanyu Pinyin’s Feng rather than Tongyong’s Fong but Tongyong’s ciou rather than Hanyu’s qiu).

What at first glance would appear to be another example of this mixing is Xizih, a bay next to Gaoxiong. There being no xi in Tongyong Pinyin and no zih in Hanyu Pinyin, one might guess this should be Xizi. But in fact this should be Sizi (written Sihzih in Tongyong). Or is also a typo in the Chinese characters (???) and thus should be something else?

Other errors are even more mysterious, such as Tainan’s “Eternal For Cves” for ???? (yì z?i j?nchéng). I suspect they were going for “Eternal Fortress” but got lost somewhere along the way.

I estimate the map has about 100 errors. Of course, here I’m referring to just the map side itself and not the text on the reverse, which is filled with similar mistakes. Also, it’s just for southern Taiwan. The other two or three maps needed to cover most of the country likely each have just as many mistakes or more.

Turning back to the map at hand, here are some errors in just the area covering the southern tip of Taiwan (map sections C8 and C9).

On the map Should be
Haikau Desert Haikou Desert
Kenting National Forest Recreation Area Kending National Forest Recreation Area
Kenting National Park Kending National Park
Kenting National Park Administration Kending National Park Administration
Natural Center Nature Center
Ping-e Ping’e
(Shizih) (Shizi)
Shuangliou Shuangliu
Sihchongxi Sichongxi
Sihchong River Sichong River
Sihchongxi Hot Springs Sichongxi Hot Springs
Syuhai Xuhai
Syuhai Hot Springs Xuhai Hot Springs
Syuhai Prairie Xuhai Prairie

Keep in mind that more than half of the area in sections above is water and thus lacking in any place names that could be misspelled.

I should note that Kenting for what should be Kending appears to be what might be labeled an official error — another case of the government mistakenly believing that using old, misleading spellings from the days of bastardized Wade-Giles is necessary lest foreigners be confused. (The worst examples of this are the names of counties and many cities, such as Taichung rather than Taizhong, Pingtung rather than Pingdong, Hualien rather than Hualian, and Chiayi rather than Jiayi.) But if Kenting somehow ended up being official, then the map is still wrong, because the correct Hanyu Pinyin spelling “Kending” (which is also the correct spelling in Tongyong Pinyin) is also seen.

In short, this map is, regrettably, another example of the Taiwan government’s failure to maintain quality control in its use of romanization. It’s been said before but perhaps it needs to be said again: It’s a sad state of affairs when a country can’t manage even the simple task of correctly spelling the names of its own towns and special attractions on its own maps — not that anyone else has managed to get their maps of Taiwan correct either; and some that should be good remain awful. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, GooGle.)

Wenlin releases major upgrade (4.0)

Wenlin logoOne of my favorite programs, Wenlin (which bills itself as “software for learning Chinese”), has just released a major upgrade for both Mac and Windows versions. This doesn’t happen often; it has been three-and-a-half years since the most recent big change was issued (Wenlin 3.4) and heaven only knows how long since 3.0 came out. So, yes, this release has many substantial improvements.

One of the features nearest and dearest to my heart is that Wenlin 4.0 features greatly improved handling of Pinyin. I was among the field testers for the new version, so I’ve already spent a lot of time examining this feature. Here are a few important aspects of this:

  • Conversions from Chinese characters follow Hanyu Pinyin orthography much more closely than before. This is a major change for the better. (There’s still some room for improvement. But I don’t think we’ll have to wait years for this.)
  • In the past, using Wenlin to convert long texts in Chinese characters into Pinyin could be a real chore, with users having to examine example after example of Chinese characters with multiple pronunciations in order to select the proper pronunciation for that particular context. But now users may, if they so desire, tell Wenlin not to ask users for disambiguation input. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Wenlin will always guess right; but many users will be happy that this trade-off allows them to skip the frustration of, for example, having to tell the program over and over and over that, yes, in this case ? is pronounced shu? rather than shuì.
  • Relative newcomers to Mandarin may appreciate that for common words tone sandhi is indicated in Wenlin with additional marks (a dot or line below the vowel). This feature can also be turned off, for those who want standard Pinyin.

There are, of course, many improvements beyond the area of Pinyin. Here are a few:

  • One limitation of Wenlin 3.x was that its English dictionary wasn’t very large. But Wenlin 4.0 includes not only the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary but also the excellent new ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary (now finally in stock in the printed version).
  • The flashcards are now set up to handle not just individual characters but polysyllabic words.
  • There’s full Unicode Unihan 6.0 support for more than 75,000 Chinese characters.
  • And for those who think 75,000 just isn’t enough, users can now access Wenlin’s CDL technology. Through this, users can create new, variant, and rare characters; moreover, these can be published and shared with other Wenlin users or CDL-friendly devices.
  • Seal script versions of more than 11,000 characters are provided.
  • Wenlin contains an e-edition of the Shuowen Jiezi (Shu?wén Ji?zì / ???? / ????).
  • Coders will be interested to know that Wenlin appears to be headed toward becoming open-source.
  • Both Mandarin and English entries are marked with grade levels, which aids learners by indicating relative frequency of use. The levels for Mandarin words are based on the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (Hàny? Sh?ipíng K?oshì / ?????? / ?????? / HSK).

The full version (i.e., the CD with the program comes in a box and is likely packaged with a hard copy of the manual) is US$199, or US$179 if you download it from the Wenlin Web store. Upgrades from 3.x cost US$49.

For more information, see the summary of features and outline of what’s new in Wenlin 4.0.

screenshot from Wenlin 4.0 -- click for larger version

Hanyu Pinyin Cihui

image of the cover of this book, which gives 'HANYU PINYIN CIHUI', followed on the next line in larger characters by '??????', followed on the next line, in smaller letters, by '???' -- the text is white against a blue backgroundToday, for all you orthography junkies (Hello? Hello? Anybody there?), I have added a selection from the 1963 edition of Hanyu Pinyin Cihui (?????? / Hàny? P?ny?n Cíhuì).

The book, which is fully alphabetized by Hanyu Pinyin (i.e., like the ABC dictionary series, not like the Hanzi-by-Hanzi Pinyin ordering seen in most dictionaries published in the PRC), is a long list of Mandarin words as written in Hanyu Pinyin and Chinese characters. It’s meant as a reference for word division and other such orthographic concerns. It’s the sort of thing that just cried out to have been made into a full dictionary (especially since that’s what it looks like, minus definitions); but, unfortunately, it never was. But it was an important influence on the ABC series.

One can see some interesting instances of differences between Pinyin orthography then and now. For example, in this old edition of Hanyu Pinyin Cihui de tends to be appended to words and written as d, e.g. ái’áid, rather than the current ái’ái de (???). Similarly, zi is written z at the end of a word, e.g. ?igèz, rather than the current ?igèzi (???).

Also interesting is the mixed use of simplified and traditional Chinese characters. (It will be easier to see what I’m referring to if you open the PDF file of the introduction and A’s of Hanyu Pinyin Cihui.) The title on the cover is given as ?????? in Chinese characters — perfectly standard. But below this is ??? (z?ngdìng g?o / revised edition); note how dìng is written as ? rather than as ?.

More striking, though, for the modern reader is the script in the foreword. Here, what was written ?????? on the cover is written ??????, mixing traditional and simplified forms. The full traditional version of this would be written ??????. The text of the introduction is similarly mixed. This is because this was published before many simplified forms that are now standard were fully accepted officially.

The selection from this book here on Pinyin.info comprises the introduction and all of the entries beginning with the letter a.

image of a few entries

ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary out soon

front cover of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English DictionaryThe ABC Chinese-English Dictionary was published ten years ago. It was revolutionary in that, for the first time, a Mandarin-English dictionary was ordered entirely by the headwords’ pronunciation as written in pinyin. (Stroke and radical indexes are also there to aid finding a character when its shape is known but not its pronunciation.) Other dictionaries in the DeFrancis ABC series have followed. But up to now there been no ABC dictionary with an English to Mandarin section as well as a Mandarin to English one.

At the end of this month the University of Hawai`i Press is releasing the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary. The new dictionary, which is 1,252 pages long, has 29,670 entries in its English-Mandarin section and 37,963 entries for Mandarin-English (total 67,633 entries). (The much larger ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary has some 196,000 entries — all Mandarin-English).

This is a big year for Mandarin-English dictionaries, with the forthcoming release of the ABC ECCE and the release three months ago of the massive Oxford Chinese Dictionary. From the standpoint of Pinyin, however, the Oxford dictionary is a disappointment. For example, the Oxford dictionary has no Pinyin in the English-Mandarin section, just Chinese characters; in some other places tone marks are missing from some of the Pinyin, where it appears at all. Perhaps this will be rectified in the online edition, which has yet to appear. At the moment, though, the Oxford looks like a fairly traditional dictionary — albeit a huge one — aimed mainly at English learners in China, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you happen to be among that very large group of people. For more on the Oxford, see the video at Danwei and the entries at Chinese Forums (with some images) and Language Log.

Unlike the Oxford dictionary, the ABC ECCE offers both Pinyin and Chinese characters for all entries and sample sentences. (See samples below. Click on those for more extensive examples in PDF files.)

From what I’ve seen so far of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary, I expect it to become the dictionary for English-speaking students of Mandarin. I’ll write more about this once I’m able to see a hard copy.

The ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary retails for only US$20, compared to US$75 for the Oxford.

From the Mandarin-English section. But don’t expect the text in the printed edition to be this large. I’ve enlarged the image to make it easier to read on the Web.
examples of entries in the Mandarin-English section of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary

From the English-Mandarin section:
examples of entries in the English-Mandarin section of the ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary

(ISBN-10: 0824834852; ISBN-13: 978-0824834852)

See also:

Xin Tang 6

cover of Xin Tang, no. 6My previous post linked to a new HTML version of Homographobia, an essay by John DeFrancis. The work was first published in November 1985, in the sixth issue of Xin Tang (New China).

Xin Tang (X?n Táng) is an especially interesting journal in that it is primarily in Mandarin written in romanization. A variety of romanization systems and methods are employed over the course of the journal. Indeed, over the course of its run one can see many questions of systems and orthographies being worked out.

I want to stress, though, that the journal does not restrict itself to material of interest only to romanization specialists. It also features poetry, illustrated stories, philosophy, letters to the editor, children’s material, and much more.

English and a few Chinese characters are also found; and there are even articles in languages such as Turkish (with Mandarin and English translations).

Most of what appears in English is also translated into Mandarin — romanized Mandarin, of course. So DeFrancis’s essay also appears, appropriately, in Pinyin:

Homographobia is a disorder characterized by an irrational fear of ambiguity when individual lexical items which are now distinguished graphically lose their distinctive features and become identical if written phonemically. The seriousness of the disorder appears to be in direct proportion to the increase in number of items with identical spelling that phonemic rendering might bring about….

Tongyinci-kongjuzheng shi yi zhong xinli shang d shichang, tezheng shi huluande haipa yong pinyin zhuanxie dangqing kao zixing fende hen qingchu d cir hui shiqu tamend bianbiexing. Kan qilai, zhei ge bing d yanzhongxing gen pinyin shuxie keneng zaocheng d tongxing pinshi shuliang d zengjia cheng zhengbi….

All of the issue with the DeFrancis essay is now online: Xin Tang no. 6.

illustration of a dragon reading a copy of Xin Tang, from an illustrated story
Note the occasional employment of a tonal spelling (shuui).

Homographobia

Twenty-five years ago, John DeFrancis wrote a terrific essay on what he aptly dubbed homographobia (in Mandarin: tóngy?ncí-k?ngjùzhèng). It’s a word that deserves wider currency, as the irrational fear he describes still affects a great many people.

Homographobia is a disorder characterized by an irrational fear of ambiguity when individual lexical items which are now distinguished graphically lose their distinctive features and become identical if written phonemically. The seriousness of the disorder appears to be in direct proportion to the increase in number of items with identical spelling that phonemic rendering might bring about. The aberration may not exist at all among people favored by writing systems that are already closely phonemic, such as Spanish and German. It exists to a mild degree among readers of a poorly phonemic (actually morphophonemic) writing system such as English, some of whom suffer anxiety reactions at the thought of the confusion that might arise if, for example, rain, rein, and reign were all written as rane. It exists in its most virulent form among those exposed to Chinese characters, which, among all the writing systems ever created, are unique in their ability to convey meaning under extreme conditions of isolation

That the fear is a genuine phobia, that is an irrational fear, is attested to by the fact that it is confined only to those cases in which lexical items that are now distinguished in writing would lose their distinctiveness if written phonemically, as in the case of the three English homophones mentioned above. Quite irrationally, the fear is not provoked by lexical items which are not now distinguished in writing, even though the amount of already existing homography might be considerably greater than in projected cases, such as the mere three English words pronounced rane. The English graphic form can, for example, has at least ten different meanings which to a normal mind might appear as ten different words. But no one, either in or out of his right mind in such matters, suffers any anxiety from the problems which in theory should exist in such extensive homography.

The uncritical acceptance of current written forms as an immutable given ignores the accidents in the history of writing that have resulted in current graphic differentiation for some homophones and not for others. Such methodological myopia cannot lead to any useful consideration of ambiguity….

The complete essay is now online: Homographobia.

new book in Pinyin

image of the cover of the printed edition of Pinyin Riji DuanwenI’m very pleased to announce the publication of a new book, P?ny?n Rìjì Du?nwén, by Zh?ng Lìq?ng. Other than one introductory letter in English, the work is entirely in Mandarin.

This is perhaps the world’s first Mandarin-language book to be published in Hanyu Pinyin without so much as one Chinese character. Thus, it is of historic importance. But it’s also a wonderful collection of stories. The author generously granted Pinyin.info the right to release all of this book online.

The work will also soon be available in an inexpensive printed edition.

Some of you will recall Zhang’s lovely story Dàshu? Guòhòu (“After the Flood”), which first appeared here three years ago. It leads the new collection. The remaining twelve memoirs/stories are mainly in the same vein, recalling a childhood in China and Taiwan.

Zhè shì y? gè l?o gùshi. Shìqing f?sh?ng zài 1946 nián xiàti?n. Nà nián w? ji?ngjìn shí suì, zhù zài Sìchu?n Chéngd? ji?oq? d B?ihu? Qiáo. Zh?ngguó K?ngj?n T?ngxìn Xuéxiào d j?dì zài nàli. W? bàba shì nà ge xuéxiào d j?ngu?n….

The author died earlier this year. She was able to view proofs of the work, though her illness prevented her from making any corrections herself. Fortunately, several people stepped in, contributing substantially to the checking of the Pinyin and other aspects of the work. I’d like especially to thank the following people: David W. Goodrich, Jiao Liwei, Kuo Hsin-chun, Melvin Lee, and Victor H. Mair. Any errors found in the book should be considered my own.

Please report any divergences from the Pinyin orthography established by Yin Binyong and the spellings used in the ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary (Zhang was, after all, one of the associate editors of that massive work) to me. I’ve made very few intentional departures from those.

Please note that the use of “d” (where most authors would use “de”) is intentional. This is not a bug but a feature, something I came to understand better the more time I spent with this text. The use of “d” is explained in the second introductory letter (Li?ng F?ng G?i Bi?nzh? d Xìn: 2).