Gwoyeu Romatzyh in the wild

Although Gwoyeu Romatzyh was technically the ROC’s official romanization system for most of the twentieth century (through 1986), it’s very seldom seen in Taiwan. The most common place for it to appear is on the side of coach buses. But here’s an example of Guoyeu Romatzyh on a shipping box for thousand-year-old eggs:



Guoyeu Romatzyh is often most easily identified by the doubled vowel in most (but not all) third-tone syllables. But this example doesn’t have any of those. The y indicates second tone (except when it doesn’t). And the doubled final n is a marker of fourth tone. (Have I ever mentioned that Gwoyeu Romatzyh often reminds me of “The Name Game“?)

In Hanyu Pinyin, songhua pyidann is sōnghuā pídàn.

Another technical point, this photo wasn’t taken in Taiwan proper but rather on Kinmen (金門), which provides an example of a romanization system older than Gwoyeu Romatzyh, older than Wade-Giles even. It’s postal romanization, which I regard as too mixed up to properly be called a system. In Hanyu Pinyin, Kinmen is Jinmen. The island is also known as Quemoy.

Diing Dong

A doubled vowel is a sure sign of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system — except when it’s a sign of someone wrongly omitting an apostrophe in Hanyu Pinyin or simply making a typo. But today’s example is certainly Gwoyeu Romatzyh, as, oddly enough, the side of a coach bus is one of the most likely places in Taiwan to spot an example of that romanization system. I’m seeing it less and less as the years go by, though, which saddens me.

Here, however, is a nice example that looks fairly new. I took the photo along Taidong’s lovely coastline a couple of weeks ago.

Diing Dong Bus (Pinyin: Ding3 Dong1; lit. ancient three-legged round cauldron, east)

Note, too, the mixing of Mandarin and English (rather than the loanword form of bashi), and those hideously misplaced g’s.

photo of a coach bus, with 'Diing Dong Bus' in large letters on the side, with the bottom of the descenders on the g's sitting on the baseline

Bing Maps for Taiwan

The maps of Taiwan put out by GooGle are plagued with errors in their use of Pinyin. But what about that other big company with deep pockets? You know: Microsoft. How good a job does Microsoft’s Bing do with its maps of Taiwan?
map of Taiwan from Bing, showing Wade-Giles place names

I won’t keep y’all waiting: After examining Bing’s maps of Taiwan the two words that came first to mind were incompetent and atrocious.

The country-level map is odd, offering Wade-Giles. And although the use of the hyphen is irregular, I will give Bing points for getting at least Wade-Giles’ apostrophes right. So, although some place names on the map are decades out of date (e.g., Hsin-chuang, Chungli, Chunan, Kuang-fu), at least they’re not horribly misspelled within that system.

It’s at the street level that Bing’s weirdness becomes most apparent. For example, below is part of Bing’s map of Banqiao.

I added the highlighting.

click for larger map

This tiny but representative fragment of the map has not one but four romanization systems:

  • MPS2: Gung Guang, Min Chiuan, Shin Fu (Even within MPS2, none of those should have spaces or extra capital letters.)
  • Hanyu Pinyin: Banqiao (This is the only properly written place name on this map fragment.)
  • Tongyong Pinyin: Jhancian, Sianmin, Sin Jhan
  • Gwoyeu Romatzyh(!): Shinjann (This is the same road as the one marked “Sin Jhan”. In Hanyu Pinyin, which is what officially should be used here, this is written “Xinzhan”.)

A few more points about this small fragment of the map:

  • Wen Hua could be either MPS2 or Hanyu Pinyin, but not Tongyong Pinyin. And it should be Wenhua.
  • Minan is missing an apostrophe. (It should be Min’an.)
  • Banchiao is just wrong, regardless of the system. They were probably going for MPS2 but erroneously used an o instead of a u: Banchiau.
  • Sec 1 Rd should be Rd Sec. 1.
  • Mrt should be MRT.

So that’s four systems, plus additional errors.

There’s much, much more that’s wrong with this than is right. That’s even more evident on a larger map — and that’s without me bothering to mark orthographic problems in the Pinyin (e.g., Wen Hua instead of the correct Wenhua).
click for larger view

Here bastardized Wade-Giles (e.g., “Mrt-Hsinpu” at top, center — and, FWIW, in the wrong location) has been added to the mix, making a total of five different romanization systems, as well as some weird spellings, e.g., U Nung, Win De, Bah De, Ying Sh — and that’s without including my favorite, JRLE, because that one is correct in MPS2 (“Zhile” in Hanyu Pinyin).

The main point is that vast majority of names are spelled wrong. And among the few that are spelled correctly, those that are written with correct orthography can be counted on one hand. So, to the words above (incompetent and atrocious) let me add FUBAR.

The copyright statement lists not only Microsoft but also Navteq. The Taiwan maps on the latter company’s site, however, are different from those on Bing. Navteq’s are generally in Hanyu Pinyin, though almost invariably improperly written (e.g., Tai bei Shi, Ban Qiao Shi). And despite the prevalence of Hanyu Pinyin, they still contain other romanization systems (e.g., Jhong Shan) and outright errors (e.g., Shin Jahn).

So an update from Navteq wouldn’t be nearly enough to fix Bing’s problems, which are fundamental.

Xin Tang no. 1: articles in Gwoyeu Romatzyh

click to view the PDFI’ve just put up another issue of Xin Tang.

As you may have noticed already, the name on the cover is given not as Xin Tang but as Shin Tarng. That’s because the journal started out being published in the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system. But using the Hanyu Pinyin spelling here helps me keep track of these better.

Almost all of this issue is in Mandarin written in Gwoyeu Romatzyh. One article also has an en face translation into English. And as is the case with the other issues of Xin Tang, a variety of topics are covered.

Shin Tarng no. 1 (September/Ji?yuè 1982)

weiird typos

The Qíngtiāngāng part of Yangming Shan National Park (Yángmíng Shān Guójiā Gōngyuán / 陽明山國家公園), to the north of Taipei, is distinguished by grasslands high in the mountains — the sort of open, natural place that, though not spectacular, might still make someone used to living in crowded northern Taiwan want to do the Julie-Andrews-hills-are-alive twirl. But, as usual, I’m only going to show you some signs. Here goes.

wooden directional signs reading '擎天崗遊客服務站 Ciingtiangang Visitor Center / 許顏橋 Siyuiannciiao / 上磺溪停車場 Parking-Lot Shanghuangsiyi'

wooden directional sign reading '金包里大路城門 The Gate Of Jiinbaolyi Road'

wooden directional signs reading '風櫃口 FenggueiKou' and '竹篙山 Mt.Jhwugao'

Ciingtiangang, Siyuiannciiao, Jiinbaolyi. Normally the presence of doubled vowels indicates the use of Gwoyeu Romatzyh (e.g., rice-flour noodles as miifeen rather than Hanyu Pinyin’s mǐfěn). But these signs are most definitely not in Gwoyeu Romatzyh. They’re just really screwed-up Tongyong Pinyin.

Sign Tongyong Pinyin Hanyu Pinyin Gwoyeu Romatzyh
Ciingtiangang Cingtiangang Qíngtiāngāng Chyngtiangang
Siyuiannciiao Syuyan ciao Xǔyán qiáo Sheuyan chyau
Shanghuangsiyi Shanghuangsi tingchechang Shànghuángxī tíngchēchǎng Shanqhwangshi
The Gate Of Jiinbaolyi Road Jinbaoli dalu chengmen Jīnbāolǐ dàlù chéngmén Jinbaulii dahluh cherngmen
FenggueiKou Fongguei Kou Fēngguì kǒu Fengguey koou
Mt.Jhwugao Jhugao Shan Zhúgāo Shān Jwugau Shan

Two of Tongyong Pinyin’s most distinctive features are the use of jh– for what in Hanyu Pinyin is zh– and the use of fong rather than the feng found in Hanyu Pinyin, MPS2, Wade-Giles, Yale, and Gwoyeu Romatzyh. But whoever produced these signs couldn’t get even those right, as shown by Jhwugao and FenggueiKou.

A few misc. notes:

  • FenggueiKou: Die, InTerCaPiTaLiZaTion, die! Or in this case perhaps I should write IntercapitalizaTion.
  • It’s supposed to be “km”, not “Km”.
  • Even the signs that got “km” correct left out the necessary space before it.
  • The Gate Of Jiinbaolyi Road: An initial “The” is almost never needed on such signs; indeed, its presence is counterproductive. And the capitalized “Of” is amateurish.
  • Parking-Lot Shanghuangsiyi: Oh, that’s just too depressing.
  • Ciingtiangang Visitor Center: Leaving out that extra i would help the missing s fit in, as would abbreviating “center” or simply leaving out Qingtiangang altogether. It’s not like there are any other visitors’ centers around there to confuse people. But since the English-speaking world is filled with places marked “visitor center”, it’s probably not worth having mentioned.
  • Siyuiannciiao: I’m puzzled that ciao/qiao wasn’t translated as bridge (and written with a space before it). Is there not actually a bridge there?
  • Mt.Jhwugao: Again, are spaces really all that difficult?
  • I could probably talk about the orthography of a few of the names (e.g., Jinbao Li vs. Jinbaoli, Shanghuang Xi vs. Shanghuangxi, Fenggui Kou vs. Fengguikou); but that’s something well beyond the common awfulness of these signs. And it might also require some research, such as finding the answer to “Is there really a stream [] at Shanghuangxi/Shanghuang Xi?”)

The government’s list of Pinyin and English terms related to Yangming Shan National Park, Yángmíng Shān Guójiā Gōngyuán xiāngguān míngcí, doesn’t give any of those incorrect forms. (Anyway, the list, which is in Tongyong Pinyin, is now outdated because of the switch — at least on paper — to Hanyu Pinyin.) And I can’t think of any good reason for the doubled i’s, the interposed y’s, or the other errors. Apparently, these signs are just plain-ol’ awful.

So I don’t have anything particularly interesting to note about the linguistics of this. But I do have a point other than that some typos are weiird weird enough that I can’t help but mention them. Rather, it’s worth noting that just because over the past few years many signs — but not nearly as many people believe — went up in tòng yòng, er, Tōngyòng Pinyin, this doesn’t mean the signs were done properly and wouldn’t require replacement even if Taiwan weren’t switching to Hanyu Pinyin.

Wulai — or something like that

All of the romanization systems commonly seen in Taiwan — bastardized Wade-Giles, MPS2, Tongyong Pinyin, and Hanyu Pinyin — use the same spelling (tones aside) for the unnecessarily ugly but scenically situated Taipei County town of Wulai (Mandarin: Wūlái / 烏來鄉). And the formerly official but little-seen Gwoyeu Romatzyh isn’t so different: Ulai. So getting this one spelled correctly shouldn’t be a big deal.

But on a recent trip there I saw the spelling of “Ulay” on relatively recent official signage.

two brown (culture) signs with 'Ulay Old Street' and 'Ulay Atayal Museum', along with their respective Chinese characters

three brown (culture) signs with 'Ulay Waterfall', 'Lover's Trail', and 'Ulay Hot Spring', along with their respective Chinese characters

Actually, none of those particular signs really needed any spelling of Wulai. For example, if you’re in Wulai and a sign points toward “Old Street”, you don’t really need to wonder if perhaps it’s pointing toward the Old Street in Sanxia or some other town instead. But officialdom here relies on its lists of official names and seldom exercises anything in the way of imagination or even just common sense. (That reminds me: I really must finish that half-completed post on wordy signage.)

So, about the “Ulay” spelling: Could it be the correct spelling in the system used to write the language of the Atayal people indigenous to the area? A search of some Taiwan government Web sites leads to me to believe that, yes, it could be. But I asked several people in Wulai who said they were literate in Atayal script, and they said that “Wulai” was the correct spelling for the town’s name in the Atayal language.

Still, these were not linguists or teachers, and this is Taiwan, where chabuduo-ism and outright ignorance of romanization are strong. So when I returned home I went to Wulai’s official website, which only made matters worse. There I found all of the following forms: Wulai, WuLai, Wulia, Wulay, and Ulay.


  • Wulia — in big letters, no less. Remarkably, the township uses the URL of for its site, though, fortunately, also works. I doubt this is anything other than a typo that has somehow not been corrected but has instead gained force.
  • Wulai — This spelling is the one used for at least most of the text.
  • Wulay
  • WuLai — Die, intercaps, die!
  • Ulay — found in the Mandarin portion of the site.

Elsewhere I also found the form Ulai; but in these cases that spelling almost certainly has nothing to do with Gwoyeu Romatzyh.

Here are the numbers for some Google searches:

spelling domains all .tw domains any domains, but pages must include “Taipei County” or
Wulai 2,760 10,900 5,540
Wulia 381 838 307
Ulay 50 649 592
Ulai 33 237 249
Wulay 9 25 16

So, whatever the correct spelling is, that is the government should be using, not this mishmash. And it should let people know how to pronounce it correctly in the original language, not just Mandarin. Perhaps it’s too late for this name, though, as “Wulai” is so well known.

Regardless of the spelling, though, the name is another example of Chinese characters being used to represent a name that did not originate with a Sinitic language. Thus, the name doesn’t really have anything to do with crows (?) coming (?). Instead, it refers to the hot springs in the area.

Y.R. Chao’s responses to arguments against romanization

Y.R. Chao. Also, FWIW, Wikipedia took this image from Pinyin.Info, not the other way around.Pinyin.Info has a new reading: Responses to objections to romanization, written by the brilliant linguist Y.R. Chao in 1916, when he was a young man of 24.

It’s an unfortunate irony that another writing associated with Chao, the famous “stone lions” (a.k.a. shi, shi, shi) piece, is often mistakenly cited as evidence that the author opposed romanization. In fact, Chao favored using romanization for Mandarin, as his essay reveals.

It’s written in the form of 16 “objections,” each followed by Chao’s reply. For example:

Obj. 8 Alphabetized Chinese loses its etymology.

Rep. 8 This argument is like that often urged against simplified English spelling and is to be met similarly. In actual usage, how much attention do we give to etymology in words like 學, 暴, 發, 旋, 之, through, draught, etiquette, row, disaster? Of how many of these very common words do you know the original meaning? It is not to be denied, of course, that it is useful to know the etymology of words by looking them up, and our future dictionaries of alphabetized polysyllabic words should no doubt give their derivations.

The etymology of disaster (which is pretty cool) is certainly easy enough for an educated person to guess, if you stop to think about it. But I must admit I never had.

I have added notes following the text.

Lugang signs

My wife and I also recently traveled to Lugang (Lùgǎng / 鹿港 / often spelled “Lukang”). This is in Zhanghua (Changhua) County, not far from Taizhong. It makes a nice day trip from Taipei, especially if using the high-speed rail for transportation.

Despite this being the second photo-laden post in a row, I haven’t dropped my general love of low-bandwidth entries. These photos are in part evidence toward an important point that I think is getting overlooked in the discussions of how much it will cost Taiwan to change to Hanyu Pinyin: The signs in much of Taiwan remain inconsistent and something of a mess despite the at-best partially instituted change several years ago to Tongyong Pinyin. More on that in a later post.

Now for the signs.

Lugang, whose name means “deer harbor,” put deer signs atop some signposts.

Many of the signs in Lugang are in Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Jhongshan and Mincyuan, for what in Hanyu Pinyin would be Zhongshan and Minquan). Note that other signs are in English — or in Chinese characters with no romanization at all. (Note, too, that the two signs for Minquan Road (民權路) — one of which is partially covered — point in different directions!)

But Tongyong Pinyin certainly isn’t the only romanization system found there. Here, for example, we have Wade-Giles (“Longshan,” “Zhongshan”). (Note that there’s no romanization given for Sānmín Road / 三民路.)
Lungshan Temple, Jhongshan Road Old Street, 三民路, Folk Arts Museum

And here’s yet another romanization system on official signage within Lugang. In the photo below the top sign is in the rarely seen Gwoyeu Romatzyh: Cherng-Hwang Temple, which in Hanyu Pinyin is Chénghuáng (“city god”) Miào (城隍廟). The sign below that (“San-Shan Kuo-Wang”) is in Wade-Giles. And the two signs below that don’t have any romanization at all. None of these signs are likely very old.

About 150 years ago “bilingual” signage meant something very different in Taiwan than it does today. Back then it was Literary Sinitic and Manchu, as seen on this stela outside a temple in Lugang.

While in the Lugang Folk Arts Museum I spotted a photo from the Japanese era of a building with romanization. Note, too, the “Huang” (黃) at the top, which marks the ownership of the Huang family. Many buildings in Lugang bear that mark.

Here’s the whole building:

I didn’t notice that particular building while I was walking around the town. But I did see this one, with “CHIN” in large letters:

No less interesting are the letters, now largely effaced, near the top of the same building (click to enlarge). They were used to write something in Taiwanese.

After leaving Lugang, what should I see at the Taizhong high-speed rail station but InTerCaPiTaLiZation. That practice is a cancer on romanization everywhere.
exit sign at the Wuri (Taizhong) high-speed rail station, reading 'Bus to Taichung County, ChangHua, NanTou'

I feel a little guilty because much of Lugang — at least its historic section — is lovely and worth visiting. But here I’ve been showing you a bunch of signs. If you’d like to see what Lugang looks like beyond its signs, try parts one, two, and three of Craig Ferguson’s posts on his visit there.