Gwoyeu Romatzyh on Taiwan buses

Although in posts mentioning Gwoyeu Romatzyh I often note that romanization system can be seen in the wild in Taiwan most often on the sides of coach buses, I haven’t put online many examples of this. So here’s an image-heavy post with some examples of photos I’ve taken of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system on buses in Taiwan.

The captions give the Gwoyeu Romatzyh, along with the Hanyu Pinyin (with and without tone marks) in parentheses.

Herng Chuen (Héngchūn/Hengchun)

Wuu Feng (Wǔfēng/Wufeng)

Diing Dong (Dǐngdōng/Dingdong)

Shin Shinn (Xīnxìn/Xinxin)

Jin Shii (Jīnxǐ/Jinxi)

Jiann Fa (Jiànfā/Jianfa)

Shuenn Yih (Shùnyì/Shunyi)

Two-syllable Taiwanese family names

As of June 30, 2018, Taiwan had just 22,332 people with a disyllabic surname (i.e., one that takes two Chinese characters to write). They cover just 0.09% of the population — just less than one in a thousand. This is slightly less than the 0.11 percent of the population of China that has such a family name. Also, in China, by far the most common two-syllable surname is Ouyang; but in Taiwan “Zhangjian” is more seen.

Name Name total
張簡 Zhangjian 9,059
歐陽 Ouyang 7,860
范姜 Fanjiang 4,300
周黃 Zhouhuang 590
江謝 Jiangxie 523

Further reading:

Source:

  • Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 28.

Two-syllable Chinese family names

By far the most common two-syllable Chinese family name in China is Ouyang (NB: this should not be written Ou-yang, Ou-Yang, or Ou Yang), with it representing more than twelve times as many people as the next most common name on the list: Shangguan.

Surname Fùx├Čng (複姓/复姓) Number of people in China with this surname
Ouyang 欧阳 1,112,000
Shangguan 上官 88,000
Huangfu 皇甫 64,000
Linghu 令狐 55,000
Zhuge 诸葛 48,000
Situ 司徒 47,000
Sima 司马 23,000
Shentu 申屠 19,000
Xiahou 夏侯 11,000
Helan 贺兰 10,000
Wanyan 完颜 6,000

Those figures for the most common two-syllable Chinese family names (commonly called “two-character” family names) total 1.495 million, or about 1.5 million, which is not an inconsiderable number but still just a drop in the bucket compared with China’s population of some 1.41 billion. Only about one tenth of 1 percent (0.11%) of people in China have such names.

The percentage is a bit less in Taiwan. The most common doubled surname in Taiwan, however, is Zhangjian (張簡/张简), which doesn’t appear at all on the list of the most common disyllabic family names in China. In Taiwan, Ouyang is second.

Further reading:

source: 《2020 nián quánguó xìngmíng bàogào》 fābù (《二〇二〇年全国姓名报告》发布), Gōng’ānbù wǎngzhàn (公安部网站), February 2, 2021

Malaysian state moves to boost Hokkien

Penang, Malaysia, is reportedly moving to adopt the Penang dialect of the Hokkien language as a thing of “nonmaterial cultural heritage” (fēi wùzhì wénhuà yíchǎn / 非物质文化遗产).

In Taiwan, Hokkien is also known as “Taiwanese” and “Hoklo.”

The chairman of the Penang Tourism and Creative Economy Affairs Committee said that to preserve Hokkien in Penang, the government there would support a “Speak Hokkien” campaign and allocate funds to NGOs and other groups for activities promoting Hokkien. He also hopes organizations will host competitions not only in Pinyin(!) but also in speaking topolects.

Topolects are an important part of the legacy of Chinese culture, he said.

为传承说方言,确保槟城福建话得以保存和广泛使用,槟政府除了支持社团组织举办“讲福建话”运动,也拨款给乔治市世界遗产机构和非政府组织开展宣传福建话活动。

他希望更多华社组织团体,除了办汉语课程或拼音比赛,也可举办说方言比赛,让民众发现说方言之美与意义,达到Z世代也可说一口流利方言与汉语,毕竟方言也是中华文化与遗产重要部分。

Other Sinitic topolects (fangyan) could also be considered for nonmaterial cultural heritage status, he said.

Whether this really happens, and whether it will be enough to make a difference, remains to be seen. But at least it looks like someone influential in Penang is working hard to move things in the right direction.

Sources:

If you ever find yourself stuck on how to pronounce English

It’s times like this I especially miss John DeFrancis. How he would have loved this! It’s partially an example of what he dubbed “Singlish” — not Singapore English but Sino-English, the tortured attempt to use Chinese characters to write English. He details this in “The Singlish Affair,” a shaggy dog story that serves as the introduction to his essential work: The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. (And I really do mean essential. If you don’t have this book yet, buy it and read it.)

Here are some lyrics from a popular song, “Count on Me,” by Bruno Mars, with a Mandarin translation. The interesting part is that a Taiwanese third-grader has penciled in some phonetic guides for him or herself, using a combination of zhuyin fuhao (aka bopo mofo) (sometimes with tone marks!), English (as a gloss for English! and English pronunciation of some letters and numbers), and Chinese characters (albeit not always correctly written Chinese characters — not that I could do any better myself). Again, this is a Taiwanese third-grader and so is someone unlikely to know Hanyu Pinyin.

lyric sheet, as described in this post

“If you ever find yourself stuck”


If

ㄧˊㄈㄨˊ

yífú
you  
 
ever ㄟㄈㄦ ei-f’er

find

5

five
yourself Uㄦㄒㄧㄦㄈㄨ U’er xi’erfu

stuck

ㄙ打可

s-dake

“I’ll be the light to guide you.”


I’ll

ㄞㄦ

ài’er

be

ㄅㄧ

bi
the l[e]

light

賴特*

laite
to tu

guide


gai

you

you

you

“Find out what we’re made of”


Find

ㄈㄞˋ

fài

out

ㄠㄊㄜ

ao-t’e

what

花得

huade

we’re

ㄨㄧㄚ

wi’a

made

妹的

meide

of

歐福

oufu

“When we are called to help our friends in need”


What when


hua

we

ㄨㄧ

wi

are


a

called


kou

to


tu

help

嘿ㄜㄆ

hei’e-p[e]

our

ㄠㄦ

ao’er

friends

ㄈㄨㄌㄣˇ的ㄙ

fulen-de-s

in


ying

need

[?]

[?]

ChatGPT writes poetry in Pinyin, sort of

I asked ChatGPT to “write a poem in Mandarin using Pinyin.”

Its first response took the form of a sonnet:

qīngchūn yǒu tài duō de mèngxiǎng,
xīwàng yǒu yīgè xiǎng zhù de dìfāng.
yīgè rén zài huáshān shàng,
tā de mèng yǒu tèbié de chàng.

zài fēngláng zhī xiàn,
tā yòng bàozhǐ zhànwàng huāliàn.
yǒngqì bǎ dōngfēng zài shǒu,
zài yùndòng zhōng fàng sīwáng zhī hòu.

mèngzhōng yǒu tài duō de jìhuà,
yǒnggǎn bǎ tāmen dōu chéngshí huà.
yǒngyuan bùyào bèi shìjiè suǒ bǎozhòng,
zhǐyào huílái bùwàng jiùshì yīzhǒng.

qīngchūn yǒu tài duō de mèngxiǎng,
wǒmen yīqǐ xiǎng zhù zhè yīqiè de dìfāng.

That one won’t win any prizes, but the result was still much better than the one produced when I asked ChatGPT to make another:

Sì jiāo qíng yuán, xìng fú suì suì,
Chūn fēng yè sè, ruò dàng huā kāi.
Dōu shì shuāng shǒu, shuāng shǒu yī,
Xīn lián xīn shì, shuāng xīn xī.

Qīng sè yǔ tiān, yǔ zhuǎn yǔ duō,
Cǎo yuǎn shān jǐn, dōu xīng huā tuō.
Yuè liàng guāng míng, míng yǔ ruò,
Qíng qíng yǔ hǎo, yǔ zhōng yǔ.

Shēn tián yǔ sǎng, qíng hǎo yǔ,
Liàng yǔ fēn fēn, shǎn chéng yǔ.
Qīng chuān huáng hé, yǔ yíng cháo,
Chūn sè xīn róu, xìng fú mǎo.

Wēn huā yǔ chūn, yǔ xǐ xīn,
Sān yuán sì jì, yǔ zhōng shuāng.
Chūn tiān xìng fú, zhuǎn yǔ shuāng,
Qíng huā yǔ jīng, yǔ yīng huáng.

That opaque mo no syl la bic mess is infected by the spirit of Literary Sinitic, which Pinyin isn’t designed to handle.

I’m hopeful that ChatGPT will get trained properly on the rules of Hanyu Pinyin — both the short-form rules of Pinyin and the longer (and superior) work of Yin Binyong — and so will be able to produce proper Pinyin. But maybe wǒ yǒu tài duō de mèngxiǎng.

As one of my heroes, Hu Shih, wrote one hundred years ago,

Nǐ bùnéng zuò wǒ de shī,
zhèngrú wǒ bùnéng zuò nǐ de mèng

(你不能做我的詩,
正如我不能做你的夢)

NB: I should probably remind everyone, should you wish to include Chinese characters or Pinyin with tone marks in a comment, be sure to encode them first or they’ll end up scrambled here. (Not my fault. Sorry.)

Mother-effing noodles

More than sixteen years ago I wrote in some detail on how what has been dubbed China’s “national swear” (i.e., tāmā de / 他媽的 / tamade — lit. his mother’s) is sometimes rendered with one of the syllables bleeped out, especially the middle one (ma).

In today’s example, though, ma has been replaced not by an X or another symbol but by its English translation: mother, with the first syllable given in Pinyin, yielding “Ta Mother” (though, properly speaking, it should be “Ta Mother’s”; and that singular for “noodle” is a bit odd too).

I spotted the Ta Mother Noodle store in Xindian, Taiwan, from a bus about a week ago. I wasn’t able to get a good photo before the bus rounded a corner, so I’m making do with one from Google Street View. According to Google, the store has closed permanently; but at least for now, its signage lives on.

History podcast episode on loanwords

Formosa Files logo

Formosa Files, the internet’s most informative podcast on the history of Taiwan, recently focused on the topic of language and loanwords: Local Language Loanwords: A Lovely Hot Pot of Fujianese, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, English, and More (season 3, episode 5). Lots of linguistic goodness, so give it a listen, and stick around for some of the many other episodes.

Although I, like Eryk, have never found jiayou (lit. “add oil”) much to my taste, the word has already made it past the gatekeepers and into English.

Formosa Files is also on Spotify and other popular content providers.

Further reading: