X marks the spot?

In December Taiwan will be getting a new city. In fact, it will be the most populous city in the entire country: Xīnběi Shì (新北市).

For those not familiar with the situation, I should perhaps give a bit of background. Taiwan won’t suddenly have more people or buildings. Instead, the area known as Taipei County (which does not include the city of Taipei but which occupies a much greater area than Taipei and has a much greater total population) will be getting a long-overdue official upgrade to a “special municipality,” which means that it will get a lot more money and civil servants per capita from the central government. And as such the area will be dubbed a city, even though in appearance and demographic patterns it isn’t really a city at all but still a county containing several cities (which are to become “districts” despite having hundreds of thousands more inhabitants than some other places labeled “cities”), lots of towns, and plenty of empty countryside.

The Mandarin name will change from Táiběi Xiàn to Xīnběi Shì. (Xīn is the Mandarin word for “new.” Xiàn is “county.” Shì is “city.” And běi is “north.”)The official so-called English name is, tentatively, “Xinbei City.” Hanyu Pinyin! Yea!

Talking about “English” names is often misleading, since many people conflate English and romanization of Mandarin; and the usual pattern of Taiwanese place names not written in Chinese characters tends to be MANDARIN PROPER NAME + ENGLISH CATEGORY (e.g., “Taoyuan County”). So, at least in this post, I’m going to be a bit sloppy about what I’m calling “English.” Forgive me. OK, now back to the subject.

A couple of days ago, however, both major candidates for the powerful position of running the area currently known as Taipei County (Táiběi Xiàn) had a rare bit of agreement: both expressed a preference for using “New Taipei City” instead of “Xinbei City.” Ugh.

And to top things off, a couple dozen pro-Tongyong Pinyin protesters were outside Taipei County Hall the same day to protest against using Xinbei because it contains what they characterize as China’s demon letter X. Actually, that last part of hyperbole isn’t all that much of an exaggeration of their position. The X makes it look like the city is being crossed out, some of the protesters claimed.

This is, of course, stupid. But unfortunately it’s the sort of stupidity that sometimes plays well here, given how this is a country that pandered to the superstitious by removing 4′s from license plate numbers and ID cards and by changing the name of a subway line because if you cherry-picked from its syllables you could come up with a nickname that might remind people of a term for cheating in mah-jongg (májiàng). (Why bother with letting competent engineers do things the way they need to be done when problems can be fixed magically through attempts to eliminate puns!)

pro-Tongyong protesters hold up signs against using Hanyu Pinyin

The protesters would prefer the Tongyong form, Sinbei. I suspect foreigners here would rapidly change that to the English name “Sin City,” which I must admit would have a certain ring to it and might even be a tourist draw. Still, Tongyong has already done enough damage. Those wanting to promote Taiwan’s identity would be much better off channeling their energy into projects that might actually be useful to their cause.

The reason the government selected “Xinbei City” is that “New Taipei City” would be too similar to “Taipei City,” according to the head of the Taipei County Government’s Department of Civil Affairs. And, yes, they would be too similar. Also, Xinbei is simply the correct form in Hanyu Pinyin, which is Taiwan’s (and Taipei County’s) official romanization system. It would also be be much better still to omit “city” altogether.

Consider how this might work on signs, keeping in mind that Taipei and Xīnběi Shì are right next to each other. So such similar names as “New Taipei City” and “Taipei City” would run the risk of confusion, unlike, say, the case of New Jersey and Jersey. I wonder if the candidates for mayor of Xinbei are under the impression that they should change the name of the town across from Danshui from Bālǐ to something else because visitors to Taiwan might otherwise think they could drive to the Indonesian island of Bali from northern Taiwan.

They probably said they liked “New Taipei City” better because it sounds “more English” to them. And it is more English than “Xinbei.” But that’s not a good thing.

Once again it may be necessary to point out what ought to be obvious: The reason so-called English place names are needed is not because foreigners need places to have names in the English language. If it were, I suppose we could redub many places with appropriate names in real English: “Ugly Dump Filled With Concrete Buildings” (with numbers appended so the many possibilities could be distinguished from each other), “Nuclear Waste Depository,” “Armpit of Taiwan,” “Beautiful Little Town that Turns Into a Tourist Hell on Weekends,” etc. The possibilities are endless, though perhaps some of the nicer places would need to be given awful names — following the Iceland/Greenland model — lest they be overrun. The problem is that Chinese characters are too damn hard, and people who can’t read them (i.e., most foreign residents and tourists) need to be able to find places on maps, on Web pages, through signs, etc. And they need to be able to communicate through speech with people in Taiwan about places. Having two different names — the Mandarin one and the so-called English one — is just confusing. Having one name in Mandarin written in two systems (Chinese characters and romanization), however, makes sense and works best. (If Taiwan were to switch to using Taiwanese instead of Mandarin, that would be a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)

But things that make sense and politicians don’t often fit well together.

Consider the signs. What a @#$% mess this could be. Let’s compare a few ramifications of using Xinbei and Taipei vs. using New Taipei City and Taipei City.

Xinbei and Taipei.

  • basically no chance of confusing one with the other
  • short (6 characters each), thus fitting better on signs
  • preexisting “Taipei [City]” signs wouldn’t have to be changed
  • Xinbei would be the correct romanization and not repeat the misleading pei of bastardized Wade-Giles
  • definitely no need to add “city” to either name, because there would be no “Taipei County” that might need to be distinguished from the city of Taipei, nor would there be a “Xinbei County” that would need to be distinguished from the city of Xinbei

Now let’s look at the case of New Taipei City and Taipei City.

  • relatively easy to confuse at a glance
  • relatively easy to confuse in general
  • long, and don’t fit as easily on signs (“New Taipei City” = 15 characters, including spaces; “Taipei City” = 11 characters, including the space)
  • “New Taipei City” would continue to ill-advised and outdated practice of using bastardized Wade-Giles spellings
  • any time the common adjective new needs to be applied to something dealing with “New Taipei City” or “Taipei City” the chances for confusion and mistakes would increase even more, esp. in headlines
  • the worst choice

The Taipei County Council will determine the final version of the name in September.


See also

(By the way, if any Taiwan reporters want to pick up on this blog post, please don’t just follow the usual practice here of simply asking one or two random foreigners if they think the name “New Taipei City” sounds OK, so then you conclude that there’s no problem. Try to get people who’ve actually thought about the situation for more than a few seconds and who could give you an informed opinion. My apologies to those reporters who of course know better.)

65 thoughts on “X marks the spot?

  1. Sin City would have been nice…

    I know Taiwan is isolated in many aspects, and the media here are not helping in this situation, but I still can not understand how educated people who should have been to more places than the US and Australia can still cling to this yingwenzi/yingwen mingzi nonsense. (Funnily, there is no “yingyu mingzi”, and despite all the US love also no “meiyu mingzi”…)

    Have they never been to Rome? “Hey, look, those Italians use English to write Italian! Now that’s funny!” But they probably do not even know that Romans had poems, public baths, sewage system and more when Rod Steward’s Great-great-great-grandfather was still swinging sticks and barely knew how to make rudimentary clothing.

    And Germans use English too, of course. But as a developed nation, they have their own “dewenzi”, those cute thingies with the dots above them (äöü). Which probably means that Hungarians use English and German to write Hungarian…

    This whole weird “system” should in theory collapse as soon as their world would include more than Taiwan, PRC, US, and Australia. Japan should cause them headache already – but it does not. I suppose they borrowed Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field – and that is immune to anything…

  2. You have presented some very clear and reasonable arguments in favour of Xinbei. My complaint is not against Hanyu Pinyin, but the lack of originality in the name. I think we will probably end up with “New Taipei City” because there is seen to be more prestige attached to it. The practical problems will probably be ignored.

  3. Why “New Taipei City” anyway? Surely the correct English translation would be “New Northern City”. They don’t normally use literal translations of place names, so why start now? I would strongly support Xinbei.

  4. I think the name is fine, but I wonder what is so “new” about it anyway, other than renaming all of Taipei county…Why not call it “???” After all that’s what it will be “the big northern city”.

  5. Yes, I quite agree that “Xinbei” sorely lacks originality. I’d welcome something more creative and interesting — as long as the authorities wouldn’t have two different names for it (one for locals, one for foreigners).

    I think those protesters would have have been much better off protesting for a distinctly Taiwanese-language name — something that wouldn’t work well in Mandarin. And, maybe, to drive home the point, to insist that the name be written only in romanization, with no Chinese characters, to help ensure that the Taiwanese form is the one that gets used.

    Of course, I know that wouldn’t get anywhere. And it would be considered weird. But at least in that case they would have a valid point, one that might get people thinking more about the real issue they’re concerned about: Taiwan’s identity (not spelling).

  6. New Taipei » Yay!
    Xinbei » Ugh…
    Sinbei » ew..

    The point about confusion of Taipei and New Taipei is totally nonsense. Are York and New York capable with each other just because there is an ocean across to them? Not really. As we know, Delhi and New Delhi are 2 cities locate just beside each other as well, according to Wikipedia:

    ?????????? ??????????New Delhi????????????????????????????????????????????????

    Well, is that confusing for native Indian people or travellers around the world?

    Besides, “Delhi” is an Indian word. Putting a “New” in front of it conflicts your “two-language-in-a-translated-name” point. Why didn’t they pick “Nay?” (as “new” in English) as their Romanization name?

    We all know that Taiwan still uses Wade-Giles for provincial cities'(???) and counties’ name, which would not be changed in the future. Since Taipei County is going to be upgraded not “downgrade”, use the old form for its translated name can be a legal exception. Also, it meets the criteria of where Wade-Giles can be used.

    I don’t really think calling easy form of Wade-Giles “bastardized” is rational. There are a lot of Europe cities being called in two ways: “English” and “French” or their own language names. For example, Guinea-Bissau is an African country, which goes well with its two spellings “Guinea-Bissau(English)” and “Guiné-Bissau(French)”, Beyoncé is oftenly written as Beyonce in formal news paper. You can see the mess in Hanyü Pinyin as well, Luhe(??) should be formally written as Lvhe or Lühe, but mostly we use Luhe. These bastardization happens all the time, not only in Wade-Giles not only in Taiwan.

    Using “New Taipei” as Taipei Hsien’s new name is not only legally right, but there’s also an example (New Delhi) we can follow. Plus Wade-Giles is the previous tradition of Taiwan. There’s no way we do not use “New Taipei”.

  7. Gosh, I thought ??? was just a nickname, like ??? for Expressway No. 3.

    Hmmm, Ah, so that is finally the way to get them to use Hanyu Pinyin:???, ???, ???, ????.

    Anyway, why can’t ??? just absorb more neighboring districts like it has in the past? That way everybody gets the prestigious ??? address, which is the whole point of the exercise in the first place. Plus the ones with the classy address needn’t change their advertisements etc.

    Actually they should just combine their governments with no need to change ? to ?, but I suppose it just doesn’t feel right to them.

    Anyway they get a kinky thrill of ripping up their addresses every several years. Keep ’em fresh, I suppose. The Fengchia University team has already visited my here high on my mountaintop as you see on my website I have written http://jidanni.org/geo/house_numbering/ articles so I am the house numbering expert and lots of house renumbering will be needed for their?99???????????????????????????????but I promised not to reveal their wacky plans until after the election.

    Sinbei sounds like “Sinbad the sailor”.

  8. Sinbei does sound and look stupid. Xinbei same same. New Taipei City gets my vote with reservations (for two, please, table in the back, thanks!). Best would be Alphaville. New Taipei City just does not cut it. Alphaville! This is all a tempest in a stinky tofu cup! Who cares? It’s their country. Let me duke it out. Anyways, when Dalu takes over, they will rename it New Shanghai….. or East Shanghai. So foregttaboutitit.

  9. I think they really should have thought of a different name altogether if they were so concerned about how foreigners (=English speaking westerners) would react to it. A name that avoids all the usual x, q, and c nonsense and sticks to the initials that English speakers can instantly pronounce without a hassle (basically all of them except for zh, x, q, c, and z). If Xinbei ever gets a mention outside Taiwan or China, you can be sure the reporters will say the x like they do for every other Pinyin initial that is unfamiliar…as the sound of “s” in “treasure”! One of the top bandits (CCP) came here last week and the Austrlain media all called him something that sounded more like Sza Sza Gabor than his real name (Xi Jinping)!

    Actually my real wish is that they’d just give up all the Mandarin Pinyin and write it and all other names in Taiwan in either Hokkien or Hakka!

  10. My thoughts are in line with David’s. A de novo name with no relevance to its predecessor not only adds confusion, but also abandoned all the inheritable aspects of the old Taipei County. I have to say, though they’re working on it, Taipei still is not a major tourism spot compared to its neighbouring asian countries. Therefore if Xinbei is used, instead of potential tourists saying “oh, Taipei, I’ve heard of it before, would like to go there and have a look”, we get .. “Xinbei? WTF”

  11. Frankly I think this whole upgrade thing is nonesense- if anything the urban areas of Taipei County should be merged with the city, which would reflect reality, especially since the MRT opened. I suspect they chose New Taipei City as opposed to something more distinctive because they are totally uninterested in history or local character. They want something that suggests a future full of economic development and shiny highrises and high-end malls- in other words, they want to be Taipei City.
    My vote would be for calling it Danshui City, as Danshui is the oldest town in the county, and much of the county lies along the Danshui River and its tributaries.

  12. I can’t believe it. Now I find that ?????????????????(Taipei County is turning into Xinbei City on its own without any relation to Taipei City.) I must have thought it was a joke. ???????????????????????Everybody change their addresses without any boundary changes. What’s the point other than “feel good”. Gee, why don’t they change it to Golden City, that would bring them more luck.

    ????????????????? Anyway, I wish them good luck. Hope they remember to use Hanyu Pinyin.

    Here’s some groups people can join, pro and con.

  13. @Ethan
    Why should lv for lü be correct? This is even more wrong than lu (and it just looks ugly and is impossible to pronounce how do you want to pronounce two consonants? (with the exception of maybe ng)). Just because the best keyboard in the world (US) doesn’t have a ü?
    What I sometimes just see is that if lazy reporters from Germany just adapt the spelling how it is in English newspapers… So ? still stays Lu instead of Lü. How weird. We could easily pronounce Lü and it would not be weird to read it. I wonder why they don’t check on Wikipedia.
    In my opinion, this bastardizing stuff is only laziness. We still write French accents in German newspapers, just because we are used to it. They could also do that for Chinese or whatever. It’s just because nobody does it (and because they are too lazy) that nobody does it.

    And I think this entire „English name“ stuff is so discriminating against other foreigners. I don’t even want to start talking about it. Every time I have to write my „English name“ in an application (which is not too serious), I just write that I don’t have an English name.

  14. @Ethan: I think New Delhi is a district of Delhi. It was a citadel created to house the government of India. Each country has its own way of organising cities, territories, counties, etc. so it’s hard to compare one situation with another.

    Anyway, how many people actually know the difference between Delhi and New Delhi? Not many. Most people use them interchangeably. It illustrates perfectly the confusion where two adjacent places have similar names.

    @Nongandwong: I won’t go into details of the advantages of pinyin, given that this entire website is dedicated to just that. All I will say is that it isn’t supposed to be a system of Anglicisation. Try to pronounce a Spanish name containing many of those letters you mention: I certainly wouldn’t have a clue how to pronounce them. Why should Chinese have to conform to English pronunciation any more than any other language?

  15. Another example:

    If there can be a place named Xinbeitou Station (????), why can’t ??? be Xinbei City? It is not fair if it can’t be named Xinbei.

  16. Thanks for the update, Meow. So now Zhou Xiwei (Chou Hsi-wei), the current Taipei County magistrate, says that he likes “Greater Taipei City.” Ugh. Awful, awful, awful. “Greater Taipei” already means something in English, i.e. the city proper and adjoining densely populated areas such as Banqiao, Zhonghe, Yonghe, and Xindian. But it certainly wouldn’t be correct to call, say, Jiufen part of “greater Taipei”, though Zhou would call it part of “Greater Taipei.”

    Also, this still would not do anything to solve what I think is one of the main problems: the fact that the Mandarin and so-called English names are fundamentally different. As Jonathan noted above, “New Taipei City” isn’t a straight translation of X?nb?i Shì. I hope it’s not too much to expect that at least we can all agree that “New Northern City” wouldn’t be a great choice for the new English name. To get “New Taipei City” they’d have to be using “X?n Táib?i Shì” in Mandarin, which, though it would get rid of some the problem of fundamentally different names, would certainly not help the problem of potential confusion.

    This is starting to give me a headache.

    I wanted to bring up, too, the example of Delhi and New Delhi, which has been mentioned here and elsewhere. There’s a simple explanation that particular example keeps popping up: As far as adjacent “new” cities go, that’s about it. On the other hand, it’s gotta be something like 99% of pairs of cities near to each other that don’t follow the CITY NAME / “NEW” CITY NAME pattern. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a good reason for that.

  17. @Jonathon

    I thought this website was devoted to the promotion of Romanised Chinese, and that Pinyin was the winner not because of any inherent superiority, but just because it is so widely used that it is the best candidate to replace character writing.

    Also I should have written about the choice of name slightly differently: Taiwanese usually only think of speakers of English when they think of foreigners, and that they should have thought of another name if they started out with this prejudice. Even though Romanisation doesn’t equal Anglicisation, in most people’s minds in Taiwan it still does. With English as the most commonly taught and studied of the languages in the world written in the Roman alphabet, it’s only natural that people will continue think that way.

  18. @Pinyin Info (and others): I’ll admit I’m not 100% up on Taiwanese administrative areas. Am I right in thinking that Taipei City will NOT be part of Xinbei City/New Taipei/Greater Taipei/whatever?

    New Delhi is part of Delhi. The City of London is certainly part of Greater London. Manchester is part of Greater Manchester. This is where the analogy (and the logic in the alternative names for Xinbei) falls down.

  19. @Jonathan:

    New Delhi (Hindi: ?? ??????, nai d?li; Punjabi: ???? ?????, nav?? d?lli) is the capital of the Republic of India. It serves as the center of the Government of India and the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

    By this, we get to know that New Delhi is an independent city from India, also a district from Delhi “National Capital Territory”. Maybe your point is to figure it out that Taipei County cannot be called “New Taipei City” because it is not a part of Taipei; however, this is definitely wrong. When we nowaday use “Taipei” verbally and formally, it includes Taipei “City”, “County” and Keelung. Taipei means more than just a city. The government also uses “?????” in official documents, the subway(MRT) system is shared, not to mention there are many people working in the city but living in the county.

    Although there is no certain law for us to follow, our daily life has made them relative and this is reason enough for us to choose “New Taipei”.

  20. After several long years in this place, I have nothing but the utmost confidence that Taiwan will choose the single dumbest name, and probably in the single dumbest romanization, and even then still not be happy and probably rename it three or four times to slightly less stupid names before either reverting to the dumbest or forging a whole new path into stupidity and proving that there is in fact no bottom to this barrel.

  21. Actually for we couchsurfers, Jilong and Tai[pb]ei are all one concept.
    P.S., I’m in command of Pinyin there
    P.S.S. sign up http://www.couchsurfing.org/ if you want me to surf your bedroom.
    P.S.S.S., as I was just telling my Mom (mom: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp8XcAKYsKo ),
    just last night it dawned on me. Why don’t they just call ??? “???”.
    They could save millions of NT$, and all they need to do is on the books make it a
    “???”. Then all the jollies of this `mental masturbation’ could be accomplished.
    And if somebody says that ? is not as classy as ? tell them that ?
    has that `country feeling’ that will be even more valuable in the coming
    years than ?. Problem solved.

  22. @Meow:
    Is that what really means to people, or you decide what people think? It’s kind of like New York City and State of New York, when you say New York, it can mean either of the two, depends on the whole sentence or contents.

    If in Chinese, “Taipei” can stand for Taipei metropolitan area, we are allowed to use the same concept in English too. The definition of the romanization names should be defined by the government and the native people (but maybe not them to decide which name is better because they know nothing about pinyin and romanization).

  23. @ Gerrit
    Sorry I didn’t see ur comments at first. lv is a right simple form for lü. When we need to type Chinese characters, there’s no ü in keyboard, lv is the best way to separate lu’s and lü’s characters from showing up together. But if you use lu, you can still find ? in select list. I guess teachers from Mainland are asked to teach this way as well. Maybe, maybe in Mandarin, v is a vowel too..lol

    https://pinyin.info/news/2009/v-for-u/ « You can see this.

    I assume that the German journalist does not know ? spells lü due to the rareness of correct form in Taiwan.

  24. Pingback: New Taipei City and Political Linguistics | Sara in Taipei

  25. I just don’t get, how they could lump together suburbs of a big city and call it a new city. I don’t like any of the names, for me everything together is Taipei, period. From Xindian to Danshui, from Banqiao to Neihu. I’ll never call it New Taipei City or Xinbei city, I’ll call it either Taipei or Banqiao, Xinzhuang, Xindian etc..

  26. Pingback: ?????? » ??? » ???????New-Taipei City?

  27. @Gerrit
    Right, people like us from non-English-speaking countries show how ridiculous this whole “English name” game is. I usually do the same, I cross “English name” out, because I don’t have one. Even funnier: although I’m a German, my name is not “German”, but comes from Scandinavia.

    And when one looks at the Chinese terms (because the ones used in English are not exactly equivalent), it gets even better, because “yingwen” is something like “English writing”, so that “English name” is actually a “name in English writing”. Since mine comes from Scandinavia, does that make it a “name in Scandinavian writing”?

    Things around here could be much easier if those in charge of language would finally care to learn language basics…

    I am afraid you may be right…

  28. @Gerrit, dl7und: Assuming you mean personal names now. Many of the “English” names chosen by Taiwanese or Chinese people are not English at all but are clearly from other languages; others are old-fashioned names that you’d rarely encounter in the west (or at least only among the older generations); and some are simply made up and not really names in any language. But do you have any good suggestions for a suitably neutral term? Until relatively recently, forms in the UK would commonly ask for “Christian names”, meaning forenames or given names, which could be similarly offensive to people of other faiths or none. Older people still tend to use this term.

    “Xinbei City” or “New Taipei City” are clearly true English names, though, as the words “City” and “New” are English!

  29. @Jonathan
    “City” is English, true, but please tell me, in which edition of Webster’s or Oxford do I find “Xinbei” explained? The English terms used here are misleading, as they are not equivalent to the terms used in Chinese.

    “English name” would suggest a name originating in an English-speaking country, something typically English like “Ma Ying-jeou”. If we look at the Chinese terms however, it is always “Yingwen Mingzi” (name in English writing), never “Yingyu Mingzi” (name in English language) or “Yingguo Mingzi” (name from England).

    What people here in Taiwan do is confusing language with writing system and/or thinking both are one. This may to a degree be politically motivated, after all it is the writing system that “proves” China is one. (So Greece should really leave the EU.) A short look over towards Japan should crush these views, as the Japanese use the same characters – and do not write Chinese with them…

    But it does not matter to them. English, in their opinion, is using “English writing”, with which they mean the Latin script used to write English. Following that logic, Germans, Italians etc are all using English to write their languages… Sorry, I am writing in English now, and due to the not equivalent terms used in English and Chinese it is not possible to show how ridiculous this whole “system” is, the explanation is much more “fun” in Chinese.

    Bottom line: Originally meant with “English names” were transcriptions of names in Latin script. But because of the weird naming (“Yingwen Mingzi” – “Yingwen” is indeed also used to address the English language) we are now at a point where quite often there are indeed two completely separate names – interpreters love that…

  30. @Ethan:
    But I wouldn’t say that “nv” is correct. I have to admit, it is still better than “lu” (but it looks really ugly), but I can absolut not understand why they don’t solve that problem (at least in China).
    I know that they use US Keyboards in China, but if their official writing includes an ü, why don’t they designe a Keyboard layout which includes an ü? (Ok, I now the reason… nobody cares. We don’t even have „“ on German keyboards, how can I espect China to have ü on their Keyboards… lol)
    Still, this is all just a matter of education and usage. If everyone would use a ü, no one would see this as a problem. I wonder how the pupils learn Pinyin? Do they learn it with an ü or with a v?
    I think, Taiwan is absolutely hopeless when I see that they learn the Latin alphabet with English in the same book as they learn Bopomofo. They will never learn an ü.

    Well, but I still accept “Y?ngwén” also for spoken English. They also say “Rìwén”, “Déwén”, “Hánwén” and of course „Zh?ngwén”. The meaning can be a little bit fuzzy and not be 100% correct, still it can be understood.

    Well, the “English” name of Taiwanese people is a completely another matter, in my opinion. I just think it’s ridicilous, but if they like to deny their culture… Well, let them do it. At least if you are persistant and ask them 3 or 4 times, they will eventually give you their real name (maybe – If you pass the test and don’t seem to be too stupid to pronounce their real name).
    I just wonder when they will learn that their absolute crazy weird romanization (if they have that instead of an “English” name) here is also not helping Americans to pronounce their names (or can an American pronounce “Jr” for ??)
    Ok, you can maybe say that “English name” is just a name for a romanised name. Well, I thought about teasing them by asking them about their Japanese name… might be nice.

    I once had a discussion with one another student. She was so absolutely sure that German would use English alphabet… there was almost no way to convince her otherwise.

    What I’m wondering: How do they do that in China? Is it ???? or ???? there?

  31. @Gerrit, dl7und: Now I see what you are getting at. I can’t find an English name for Ma Ying-jeou, but his wife is Christine and daughters Lesley and Kelly. Ma Ying-jeou is not an English name but a Romanised form of a Chinese name, and not Romanised using any of the standard systems as far as I can see. When he became president, given that I read all my news as opposed to watching TV, I had to look him up in Wikipedia to find how his name was pronounced.

  32. @Jonathan
    You are thinking too much into it. For the people here, “Ma Ying-jeoh” IS his “English name”! It is an “English name” just like “Chen Shui-bian”, “Anette Lu”, “Apollo Chen”, “Ovid Tseng” etc. Which in fact means, it is something written in Latin script. As I was saying, the terminology used in Chinese is a bit more revealing, don’t rely on terms they use in English like “English name”.

    And don’t worry if you can not find out what romanization system he used. He is a child of the W/G era, but: It is HIS “English name”, so of course HE can decide how to write it. (I heard the same ridiculous claim from alleged Ph.D.s heading foreign language departments at universities…)

    The whole language education on this island is pretty screwed up. Until MoE decided to call the Mandarin spoken here “??” (huayu) not long ago, there was not even a Chinese term for the spoken Chinese language! (?? (guoyu) is the “national language” and something different in every country, it does not mean “Chinese” or “Mandarin”.) They have yingwen/yingyu, fawen/fayu, riwen/riyu, zhongwen – but no zhongyu… So people here do not speak Mandarin, only write it? And there is no “taiwen” either – the Taiwanese language is not expected to be written.

    Oh, btw: Americans, for Taiwanese you are probably all illiterates: There is meiyu (??), but no meiwen… Chaos…

  33. @dl7und
    And there is no “taiwen” either – the Taiwanese language is not expected to be written.

    There certainly is a “Taiwen” (spelt Taibun) – it’s just not used officially, but just try inputting ?? into Google and check out some of the pages you get. There is even a monthly Tai-bun Thong-sin:


  34. For those who are complaining about the improper usage of the term “English name”, you should also realize that while Taiwanese (or Chinese in general) are ignorant of the proper and technical terms of English vs Latin script, those in the West are equally ignorant of the languages and scripts of the East, if not more so.

    At the end of the day, the improper usage of such terms simply don’t affect the daily lives of those who are in charge.

  35. In Scotland we have Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. The headquarters of both are in the city of Aberdeen, but Aberdeenshire does not include Aberdeen! Very confusing.

    But does Taipeishire sound good? Residents could shorten it to “Shire” and pretend they are hobbits…

  36. @Nongandwong
    Interesting, thanks! Though it also disappoints me: So far I had only noticed people using ? when mentioning languages in Taiwanese. Now they do the same mistake here too… But my comments were all related to terminology in Mandarin, that’s where things have gone haywire…

    You missed a point: I do not really mind if a betel nut babe does not understand these things, as this is not part of her work. I do not care much if a taxi driver has no clue about writing systems (I must say though that Gaoxiong has a few pretty intelligent drivers.), as this is not what he deals with for a living.

    I do however mind if people who are alleged (at least self-claimed) “experts” in languages, perhaps even with a Ph.D., stick to this chaos, never question it (What was scientific work about?) and even defend it until completely cornered, which is when they take out one of their invincible arguments: “You are a foreigner, you don’t understand.” or “We just do it that way.”

    Those are the people I am indeed mad about, because they should know better but don’t, and they are responsible for this whole mess by “teaching” it to everyone on this island. Have you ever been to a “International Conference on Interpretation (sic) and Translation” on this island? Pick any of them, at any university. Look at the application form: ?????????. They are supposed to be the ones with most insight into these matters, and yet they do this…

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