back to Tamsui

photo of sticker with 'Tamsui' placed over the old map's spelling of 'Danshui'It’s time for another installment of Government in Action.

What you see to the right is something the Taipei County Government (now the Xinbei City Government, a.k.a. the New Taipei City Government) set into action: the Hanyu Pinyin spelling of “Danshui” is being replaced on official signage, including in the MRT system, by the old Taiwanese spelling of “Tamsui.” I briefly touched upon the plans for “Tamsui” a few months ago. (See my additional notes in the comments there.)

I have mixed feelings about this move. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see a representation of a language other than Mandarin or English on Taiwan’s signage. “Tamsui” is the traditional spelling of the Taiwanese name for the city. And it hardly seems too much for at least one place in Taiwan to be represented by a Taiwanese name rather than a Mandarin one.

On the other hand, the current move unfortunately doesn’t really have anything to do with promoting or even particularly accepting the Taiwanese language. It’s not going to be labeled “Taiwanese,” just “English,” which is simply wrong. It’s just vaguely history-themed marketing aimed at foreigners and no one else. But which foreigners, exactly, is this supposed to appeal to? Perhaps Taiwan is going after those old enough to remember the “Tamsui” spelling, though I wonder just how large the demographic bracket is for centenarian tourists … and just how mobile most of them might be.

So it’s basically another example — retroactively applied! — of a spelling that breaks the standard of Hanyu Pinyin and substitutes something that foreigners aren’t going to know how to pronounce (and the government will probably not help with that either): i.e., it’s another “Keelung” (instead of using “Jilong”), “Kinmen” instead of “Jinmen,” and “Taitung” instead of “Taidong.”

A key point will be how “Tamsui” is pronounced on the MRT’s announcement system. (I haven’t heard any changes yet; but I haven’t taken the line all the way out to Danshui lately.) The only correct way to do this would be exactly the same as it is pronounced in Taiwanese. And if the government is really serious about renaming Danshui as Tamsui, the Taiwanese pronunciation will be the one given in the Mandarin and Hakka announcements as well as the English one. Moreover, public officials and announcers at TV and radio stations will be instructed to say T?m-súi rather than Dànshu?, even when speaking in Mandarin.

Fat chance.

But, as years of painful experience in this area have led me to expect, my guess would be that the announcements will not do that. Instead, it will be another SNAFU, with a mispronunciation (yes, it is almost certain to be mispronounced by officialdom and those in the media) being labeled as “English”.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong about saying “T?m-súi.” But it’s a pretty safe bet that isn’t going to happen: the name will likely be given a pronunciation that a random clueless English speaker might use as a first attempt; then that will be called English. This sort of patronizing attitude toward foreigners really makes my blood boil. So I’m going to leave it at that for the moment lest my blood pressure go up too much.

So, once again, the MRT system is taking something that was perfectly fine and changing it to something that will be less useful — and all the while continuing to ignore miswritten station names, stupidly chosen station names, mispronunciations, and Chinglish-filled promotional material.

Please keep your ears as well as eyes open for instances of “Tamsui” and let me know what you observe. The city, by the way, has already started using “Tamsui” instead of “Danshui” on lots of official road signs, as I started seeing several months ago and which I noticed in increasing use just last week when I passed through that way.

I probably should have taken a more active stance on this months ago; but I was too busy working against the bigger and even more ridiculous anti-Pinyin change of “Xinbei” to “New Taipei City.” Fat lot of good that did.

A clang on the Taipei MRT announcements

photo of a sign at the Zhongxiao Xinsheng MRT stationPeople generally don’t listen carefully to the announcements on the Taipei MRT, a subway/elevated train mass-transit system. With four languages to get through — Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and English — that’s a lot of talking. And anyway, the cars can be so full that it’s hard to hear such things clearly over all the background noise anyway. Still, you’d think that at least the people who make the recordings would be paying attention.

Below is a link to a recording of a relatively new announcement, advising people on the Danshui line that Minquan West Road is the place to change trains for the Luzhou line, which opened late last year: Mínquán West Road Station. Attention: passengers transferring to Sānchóng, Lúzhōu, or Zhōngxiào-Xīnshēng please change trains at this station.

Or at least what I typed above is what the announcement is supposed to give. As you may have noticed, however, “Zhōngxiào-Xīnshēng” is rendered “Zhongxiao-Xinshang,” with a very un-Mandarin shang that rhymes with the English words clang, pang, hang, and sang. And that’s without getting into the matter of tones.

I pointed out this error to Taipei City Hall and the authorities in charge of the MRT. As usual, I had to spend some time repeatedly explaining: “No, Xinshang is not the English pronunciation of Xīnshēng. Xīnshēng isn’t English. It’s Mandarin. What the announcement gives is simply an error….” I was pleasantly surprised, however, that the main person I spoke to at TRTS did not require the usual explanations. He understood the problem and said it would be fixed.

This, however, was a couple of months ago. The recordings have not yet been changed. I haven’t been holding my breath over this, though, because the official with the MRT system warned that it would take time to run a public bid notice for a new recording, make the new recording, and then install the recording in the front and back cars of some 100 trains. Still, the system has been known to move fairly quickly; unfortunately, this usually happens only when the change is for the worse, such as renaming Xindian City Hall as Xindian City Office (now Xindian District Office), or renaming the whole Muzha line because some superstitious nitwits thought that a joking, non-official nickname was bringing the system bad luck.

For longtime residents of Taipei, the shang mispronunciation will likely bring back memories of the bad old days when the MRT system first opened. Back then the signage was predominantly in bastardized Wade-Giles, with the pronunciations in the English announcements matching what a clueless Westerner might say when shown names like Kuting and Nanking (properly: Gǔtíng and Nánjīng, respectively). Perhaps the most offensive pronunciation on the system then was given to Dànshuǐ, which at the time was [mis]spelled Tamshui on the MRT system. This was pronounced as three syllables: Tam (rhymes with the English word “dam”) + shu (“shoe”) + i (as in “machine”).

By the way, the Xinbei City Government has been changing signs around Danshui from Danshui to the old Taiwanese spelling of Tamsui (note: not Tamshui). But more about that in a different post.