Platform on tai?

President Ma Ying-jeou’s re-election campaign slogan is “Táiw?n ji?yóu,” so one can see that all around Taiwan these days, as the election is only about two weeks away.

The Ma campaign has decided that the English translation of “Táiw?n ji?yóu” is “Taiwan, Bravo,” which isn’t quite right but at least sounds positive. Of Ma’s two opponents, Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Y?ngwén / ???) of the anti-Hanyu-Pinyin Democratic Progressive Party chose the somewhat cryptic English slogan of “Taiwan next,” while third-party candidate James Soong (Sòng Ch?yú / ???) chose as his slogan “Me, me, me!”

OK, I made that last one up, but only because I couldn’t find the real one, other than maybe it’s “Renew.” (Does anyone know for sure?)

What I really want to talk about here, though, is how Ma’s slogan gets written: ????.

There is of course nothing unusual about that — except that Ma likes to make a big deal out of using traditional Chinese characters rather than simplified ones. Every year or so Ma talks about how he wants to get the United Nations to declare traditional Chinese characters a super-duper world something-or-other. He has already purged government Web sites of versions that people in China and Singapore could read more easily than versions in traditional Chinese characters. And if he criticizes the PRC, it’s often to tell Beijing that people in China really ought to use traditional characters. Ma’s devotion to people in China being able to have traditional Hanzi reminds me of George W. Bush during the Hainan incident:

“Do the members of the crew have Bibles?” “Why don’t they have Bibles?” Can we get them Bibles?” “Would they like Bibles?”

In other words, while that might be a concern, I sometimes wonder about his priorities.

By now a lot of you are probably thinking, “But ? is one of those simplified characters that is not only OK to use in Taiwan but also by far more commonly seen than ?. So what’s strange about this?”

That’s entirely correct. In most cases there would be nothing noteworthy about using “????” rather than “????.” It seems entirely normal. What’s strange here is that the Ma administration actually has a position on the matter of ? vs. ?: Although the ? form can be tolerated in some instances, ? is supposedly better and is mandatory in certain cases.

About a year ago, for example, the Ministry of Education reported that official government documents (g?ngwén/??) would have to use the ? form. And textbooks would need to be updated to change instances of ??, ??, ??, ??, etc., to ??, ??, ??, ??…. Webmasters of some government Web sites scurried to perform a whole lot of search-and-replace. There were not, however, so many instances of ?? to change to ?? because Ma had already declared that in Mandarin pages “??” (Taiwan) was out and “????” (Zh?nghuá Mínguó / the Republic of China) was in; so mainly this was visible in city names in addresses.

Predictably, though, lots never got changed. (“Close enough for government work.”)

Yes, I know: None of you are deeply shocked by the notion that a politician would tell people to do one thing but do something else himself. And the way the premier downplayed the policy makes me suspect many find it pointless or even embarrassing. Still, the fact remains that the administration did decide not to leave well enough alone and went out of its way to favor ? over ?.

Supposedly this is because after the Ministry of Education studied the origins of ? and ?, it decided that the tai in the name Taiwan should be written as ?, according to Chen Hsueh-yu (Chén Xu?yù / ???), executive secretary of the ministry’s National Languages Committee.

This doesn’t much sense. Whichever form got used first — which is a dubious method for determining the correctness of usage for something now — the tai in Taiwan doesn’t have anything to do semantically with platforms, terraces, tables, stations, etc. In the case of the origin of the name of Taiwan, there’s no more meaning inherent in ? than there is in ? — or than there is in the Roman letters Tai, either, for that matter. As Victor Mair has noted:

Superficially (according to the surface signification of the two characters with which the name is customarily written), “Taiwan” means “Terrace Bay.” That sounds nice, even poetic, but it is an inauthentic etymology and has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual origins of the name. (This is a typical instance of the common fallacy of wàngwénsh?ngyì ????, whereby the semantic qualities of Chinese characters interfere with the real meanings of the terms that they are being used to transcribe phonetically.) The true derivation of the name “Taiwan” is actually from the ethnonym of a tribe in the southwest part of the island in the area around Ping’an. As early as 1636, a Dutch missionary referred to this group as Taiouwang. From the name of the tribe, the Portuguese called the area around Ping’an as Tayowan, Taiyowan, Tyovon, Teijoan, Toyouan, and so forth. Indeed, already in his ship’s log of 1622, the Dutchman Comelis Reijersen referred to the area as Teijoan and Taiyowan. Ming and later visitors to the island employed a plethora of sinographic transcriptions to refer to the area (superficially meaning “Terrace Nest Bay” [Taiwowan ???], “Big Bay” [Dawan ??], “Terrace Officer” [Taiyuan ??], “Big Officer” [Dayuan ??], “Big Circle” [Dayuan ??], “Ladder Nest Bay” [Tiwowan ???], and so forth). Some of these transcriptions are clever, others are fantastic, but none of them should be taken seriously for their meanings.

I’m not sure how best to characterize — sorry — the differences between “????” and “????.” Although using the ? form would definitely come across as more formal, it wouldn’t be exactly the equivalent of “Fight Fiercely, Harvard.” Yet the use of the ? form isn’t really the equivalent of a campaigning politician droppin’ his g’s either.

? vs. ?

Additional sources:

Please don’t write to comment for or against simplified characters in general. This post isn’t about that really, even though ? could serve as a poster child for Hanzi simplification.

DPP position on romanization

(BTW, this is my 7 KB JPG version of the 442 KB(!) BMP(!) file used on the DPP's site.)With Taiwan’s presidential election less than six months away and various position papers being issued, perhaps it’s time to take a look at where the opposition stands on romanization.

Sure, various politicians rant from time to time. But they may or may not be taken seriously. What about the party itself and its candidate?

Google doesn’t find any instances of “??” (“p?ny?n”) on the official Web site of the Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate, Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Y?ngwén / ???). But searching for “??” on the DPP’s official Web site does yield at least a few results. (See the “sources” at the end of this piece.) It’s probably no surprise that none of them contain anything but bad news for those who support Taiwan’s continued use of Hanyu Pinyin.

Typical is the “e-paper” piece from 2008 that states the change to Hanyu Pinyin will cost NT$7 billion (about US$240 million). (If the DPP candidate wins, will the DPP follow its own assertions and logic and say that it would be far too expensive for Taiwan to change from the existing Hanyu Pinyin to Tongyong Pinyin?) I have no more faith in that inflated figure than I have in the other claims there, such as that the use of Hanyu Pinyin would not be convenient for foreigners and that there is no relationship between internationalization and using the world’s one and only significant romanization system for Mandarin (Hanyu Pinyin).

Then there’s the delicious irony that the image of a Tongyong Pinyin street sign the DPP chose to use in that anti-Hanyu Pinyin message has a typo! The sign, shown at top right, should read Guancian, not Guanciao. (In Hanyu Pinyin it would be “Guanqian.”) That’s right: The DPP says Taiwan needs to use Tongyong — but the supposed expert who put together that very argument apparently doesn’t know the difference between Tongyong Pinyin and a hole in the wall..

That document is a few years old, though. What about something more recent? Just three months ago the DPP spokesman, Chen Qimai (Chen Chi-mai / ???), complained that the Ma Ying-jeou administration had replaced Tongyong Pinyin with Hanyu Pinyin, calling this an example of removing Taiwan culture and abandoning Taiwan’s sovereignty. So there’s nothing to indicate a change in position over time.

It’s worth remembering that there’s a lot of blame to go around for the inconsistencies and sloppiness that characterize Taiwan’s romanization situation. Historically speaking, the KMT is certainly responsible for much of the mess. And the Ma administration’s willingness to go along with “New Taipei City” instead of “Xinbei,” “Tamsui” instead of “Danshui,” and “Lukang” instead of “Lugang” demonstrates that it is OK with cutting back its own policy in favor of Hanyu Pinyin. Nevertheless, it’s now the DPP — or at least some very loud and opinionated people within it — that represents the main force for screwing up perfectly good signage, etc.

Back when I was more often around DPP politicians, I would occasionally ask them privately about their opinions of Hanyu Pinyin. For the most part, they had no opposition to Taiwan’s use of it, regarding this as simply a practical matter. But they would not say so publicly because President Chen Shui-bian’s dumping of Ovid Tzeng made it clear what fate would meet those who opposed Chen on this issue.

Even though Chen is no longer in the picture, I fear that many in the DPP have come to believe their own propaganda on this issue.

I urge individuals (esp. those with known pro-green sentiments) and organizations (Hey, ECCT and AmCham: that means you especially!) that want to avoid a return to the national embarrassment that is Tongyong Pinyin to tell Cai Yingwen and the DPP now that Taiwan’s continued use of Hanyu Pinyin is simply good policy and is supported by the vast majority of the foreign community here, including pro-green foreigners.

sources: