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, “Wǒ hǎo xiǎng 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 豐丘 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 (四子灣) and thus should be something else?

Other errors are even more mysterious, such as Tainan’s “Eternal For Cves” for 億載金城 (yì zǎi jīnchéng). 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.)

14 thoughts on “Going south with official Taiwan map

  1. I hadn’t been on the freeway for a while, and when I was last week I was surprised to see many place names in Hanyu Pinyin. Aside from a few that were probably forgotten, those left in W/G seemed to apply to all cities the size of Jiayi or above.

    This is a move I do not really understand: Is it too costly to change the spelling of such cities or are they “too famous” under their W/G spelling to change it? But I think I only encountered one or two mistakes there, so at least the sign makers had probably better QC than the map makers…

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  3. Lovely to see some new posts!

    Ah well…..at least they are spelling all the names properly in traditional characters….not like that country on the other side of the strait where they can’t even write ?? properly!

    Seriously though, I think they should spell all the names in Taiwanese Peh-oe-ji ??? for all the names of cities where the Hoklos were the majority, and Hakka Pak-fa-su ??? for all the Hakka ones, and give all the Aboriginal names for places in the highlands. Of course, I’m resigned to the fact no-one is ever going to listen to me!

  4. Well Nongandwong, what about towns where the population is 50/50? And what if the balance swings back and forth? And what if a survey says even though they are XYZ ethnic group, they don’t necessarily want the signs that way? And will you be responsible for keeping Google™ Maps etc. updated on each towns current choices, down to the current choice for each street in each neighborhood?

  5. Told you no-one would listen.

    I was just thinking of the county level, not the level of pedantry you describe. I’m sure there isn’t any county or town where there is exactly 50/50 Hakka/Hoklo or otherwise.

    I suppose it doesn’t matter because most Taiwanese under thirty can only speak Mandarin anyway and most of them don’t really care. It would be nice if they actually tried to encourage outsiders to use local languages rather than coating everything with Mandarin.

  6. Nongandwong, I support your idea!

    I personally would hate to see everything in Taiwan being romanized in hanyu pinyin, it could be seen as another wave of imposed “Mandarinization”. Where is the equality with other languages spoken on the island(s)? These languages are much longer spoken on the island(s), how can we just ignore that fact? And many names won’t be improved, but worsened (like Hualien for example), because hanyu pinyin is full of flaws, same as tongyong pinyin. Why is there no pragmatism here? We should take the best from all romanization systems and create something suitable for Taiwan’s unique situation. The names of big cities or tourist hot spots should be easy to read and remembered in their romanized versions, creativity should be the norm, not uniformity. Why do we complicate with “Taichung” and “Taizhong”, if we could have “Taichong”. Or instead of “Kaohsiung” and “Gaoxiong”, why not “Gaoshiong”? That way every English speaking foreigner could remember the name much easier. Taiwan is probably number 1 in the world when it comes to convenience stores per person. Why not make these romanized versions convenient for foreigners as well? Just askin’.

  7. That joke just makes English look as silly as Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin make Mandarin look. What I would like to promote is respect for the native languages of Taiwan and a reversal of the forced Mandarinsation of the last sixt years.

  8. Honestly, I think the emphasis on a standard romanization for maps is pretty silly. ESPECIALLY if you insist on using Hanyu or Tongyong Pinyin, both of which are pretty messed up if you’re expecting a foreign tourist who doesn’t know Chinese to pronounce it.

    I live in Beijing, and when I have friends that come and try to find places, they’re baffled – the subway stops are all one word and the Q’s, X’s and C’s are a complete mystery to them – HUIXINXIJIENANKOU??? Let’s be honest now….?? is much easier as Chung Cheng or even Jhung Jheng rather than Zhong Zheng. And as for the Q in both Hanyu and Tongyong, why not just say CH? Ban Chiao for ??? For that matter, why not TS for C? It makes more sense.

    The question her is what is our goal? The people that are using Google maps, in my opinion, should NOT have to struggle through convoluted (while standard) romanization systems like Hanyu or Tongyong Pinyin. They should be given a romanized version that is easiest to approximate the sound of the location of where they want to go.

    This is what was great about Wade-Giles – it was based on English pronunciation to a large extent and people (non academics) identified with it, even (and especially) the ‘bastardized’ versions. If a map is in English, it should be in ENGLISH, not a phonetic version of another language – don’t see Google starting to use PAREE or ROMA any time soon, so why BANQIAO or BANCIAO when Ban Chiao or Pan Chiao will do?

  9. @Josh

    When I first arrived in Beijing, I also found Hanyu pinyin slightly confusing. However, the more Mandarin I’ve learned, the more I respect the system’s creators. Apologies if you already know this, but perhaps it’s worth rehearsing the arguments.

    The reason Q is not spelled CH is because Mandarin has two different sounds, one pretty much the same as English CH and one significantly different. By significantly, mean that “chu” and “qu” are completely different words. Confusing them makes is more likely that visitors will get lost.

    C for the “ts” sound and ZH for the “dzhe” sound seem like odd choices. But it highlight a common problem in understanding Mandarin: north/south differences. If I hear a southerner asking for Zongguancun, Caoyang, or Suanjing I know she probably means Zhongguancun, Chaoyang, or Shuangjing. The Hanyu pinyin highlights the facts that many Chinese people regard Z/ZH, C/CH and S/SH as similar sounds.

    You suggest using Wade-Giles, but actually Wade-Giles is full of traps for unsuspecting travellers, because the apostrophes are critical. WG “Antingmen” actually has sound like an English “d” in the middle, because it doesn’t have an apostrophe. No visitor is likely to guess that.

    Having said all that, I do wonder whether HS would have been a better choice than X for that sound. I know there are linguistic similarities between Z, X, and C, but HS worked quite well.

  10. My favorite is bastardized Wade-Giles “chuan”.
    With it we neatly dispose of four bothersome pinyins.
    Zhuan, chuan, juan, quan.
    When you throw in the tones, that equals 16.
    20 if neutral tone is considered.
    In the hopper, never to return.

  11. This was hilarious!

    They actually got the pinyin “Xi” right for what they write as “Xizih” ??? (i.e., Xiziwan in pinyin) – but the character ? as you (correctly) guess is just flat-out wrong. Hilarious! I also wonder how they typoed that one since the N and V keys are not adjacent, and the tones are different (if the typist used bopomo), and the changjie codes are MCW (?) vs. WC (?), so that doesn’t work either.

    My guess can only be that the typist was reading from a copy and simply not being familiar with the area, working 16 hour days 6 days a week simply read the character as ? and didn’t give it a second thought.

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