Taiwan 2024 presidential campaign English slogans

Until ten years ago or so, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was the Taiwan political party most likely to use English in its campaign material. But other parties have jumped on that bandwagon, even if that English is not necessarily very good.

This presidential campaign we have several examples of English slogans, with half of them based on the candidate’s name.

My previous post showed a poster for Terry Gou (Hanyu Pinyin: Guo Tai-ming) with the slogan of “GOOD TiMING.” (His Mandarin given name, “Tai-ming,” is largely homophonous with the English word “timing.”) The other day I came across a same-same but different poster, this latter one in Zhonghe.

The Zhonghe one, though, has the less successful variant English slogan of “GOOD TiMEING” (with an e).

large billboard for the Taiwan presidential campaign of Terry Gou, with the slogan of 'Good Timeing' (sic)

Gou’s campaign website currently has the e-less version, as does his recently released (and soon withdrawn) ill-advised video, so it would appear that the “TiMEING” version is older, as is the inclusion of Mandarin (改變 好時機 / gǎibiàn — hǎo shíjī / change — good opportunity). Yesterday I also saw the e-less version on the side of a bus.

FWIW, using English’s -ing ending with Mandarin has already been around for several election cycles.

The campaign for Ko Wen-je (Hanyu Pinyin: Ke Wen-zhe) is employing the vaguely positive-sounding but clunky English slogan of “Keep Promise”, which is meant to echo his nickname of “Ko P” (from Professor Ko). Ko’s own level of English is surely better than that, but he used it anyway.

The candidate whose personal command of English is strongest might be the Harvard-educated Lai Ching-te (Hanyu Pinyin: Lai Qing-de) of the DPP. His English slogan, however, does not evoke the sound of his name, likely because his family name of “Lai” sounds very much like the English word “lie.” Instead, he has “TEAM TAIWAN”, along with the related Mandarin of 挺台灣 / tǐng Táiwān. Ting (endure, stand) and team are phonetically similar though certainly not identical.

The remaining presidential candidate of note, Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of the Kuomintang, does not appear to have an English slogan. Incidentally, I have no idea how he came up with the romanization of his name. It doesn’t match any of the main romanization systems in Taiwan for Mandarin, nor is it an English-friendly ad hoc version. In Hanyu Pinyin, his name would be written Hou You-yi / Hóu Yǒu-yí.

I have no idea how good his English might be — not that it’s a job requirement. When I was introduced to him about five years ago, he didn’t bother to speak to me in any language beyond perhaps a cursory ni hao.

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”



ever ㄟㄈㄦ ei-f’er



yourself Uㄦㄒㄧㄦㄈㄨ U’er xi’erfu




“I’ll be the light to guide you.”






the l[e]



to tu






“Find out what we’re made of”



















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

What when

























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:

OMG, it’s nougat

My post about a month ago on another pun for the Year of the Rabbit was in part an excuse for me to note how common “OMG” (oh my God) has become in Taiwan. Indeed, it should be considered not just English anymore but a frequently used loan word, one that is usually written, using the Roman alphabet, as a “lettered word” in Mandarin (i.e., “OMG“). But sometimes “oh my God” shows up in Chinese characters (e.g., 喔麥尬) used as phonetic approximations of the English. And sometimes, as in today’s pun-tastic example, it appears in a mix of English and Chinese characters.

Sign above a storefront reading 'Oh.my.軋', with a 'niu' character (牛) written inside the 'O'.


The “Oh.my.軋” store sells nougat, as one can see from the smaller sign below and to the right of the main sign: “鮮治牛軋糖” (xiān zhì niúgátáng / freshly made nougat).

sign detail, showing 'xian zhi niugatang' in Chinese characters, with the second character being strange, as described in this post

Niugatang is simply a Mandarinization of the English word nougat; it’s transcribed “牛軋糖”. Tang is the Mandarin word for sugar and thus a short form meaning candy.

The use of a stylized version of the character for niu (牛), which rhymes with English’s “oh”, inside the “Oh” of the logo also makes the sign not just Oh my ga but also niu my ga (牛.my.軋). Puns upon puns.

The “Oh.my.軋” uses the ga from niugatang as a phonetic approximation of the English word “god.”

The character “治” is also worthy of note as an example of why Chinese characters are so damn hard. The character has two main parts. The left side has 氵, which is an alternate form of “水,” which is used in writing “shuǐ” (“water”) and many other words. The right side is 台 (tái), which is used in writing the word for platform but which is most commonly seen in Taiwan used phonetically in place names: Taiwan, Taipei (Taibei), Taichung (Taizhong), Taitung (Taidong), etc. So in terms of sound, that’s a shui and a tai. But in this case the phonetic hint commonly given in Chinese characters is 台 (tái). So does that mean the character “治” is pronounced tái?

Nope. Note even close. It’s pronounced zhì. And one just has to memorize such instances.

If you’re thinking, Hmm, shui plus tai? That’s water plus platform. Maybe the character is an ideograph for a pier! Nope. Once again, not even close. That’s generally not how Chinese characters work, no matter how many BS-filled TED talks on Chinese characters, memes, and crisis-tunity claims fill the Internet.

Of course, a character used for pier would make no sense on a sign for nougat. But as we’ll see, there are other things that don’t make sense here.

As I noted above, “xiān zhì niúgátáng” means “freshly made nougat.” But the weird thing is the character being used for zhì isn’t the “right” one. The sign uses “治” rather than the proper and homophonous “製” (zhì). The character used in the sign, however, doesn’t mean “made” but is instead most often seen in terms like zhìlǐ (治理), which is the Mandarin word for manage/administer/govern. Freshly administered nougat just doesn’t have much of a ring to it. So why did the company use that? My guess — and it’s just a guess — is that they wanted to evoke “Taiwan” through the 台 (tai) part of the character. (The company’s website — which has plenty of instances of the character 製 — claims that their nougat is one of the most popular purchases by tourists from China.) My long-suffering Taiwanese wife, however, exclaims that I think too much, and she yearns for the day when I find a more traditional hobby than spotting strange signs and asking her to help me understand them.

Rough guide to pronunciation for those unfamiliar with Mandarin or Hanyu Pinyin:

  • niu. Imagine the yo in Rocky Balboa’s cry of Yo, Adrian! or Dion’s “Yo, Frankie“; then stick an n in front of it.
  • ga. Say the word god, but drop the d.
  • tang. With the a as in father, not as in the English word sing/sang/sung.
  • zhi. Say the word jerk, but leave off the rk. Some people would keep in the r; but that’s not really a Taiwan thing — except perhaps on International Talk Like a Beijinger Pirate Day.

Further reading listening:

  • Gratuitous yo-free Dion link, because Dion is the man! (of course!): “If I Should Fall Behind,” written by Bruce Springsteen.

Company website:

Turkey, Türkiye, and Chinese characters

Turkish flag

Victor Mair’s recent post at Language Log on Transcription vs. transliteration vs. translation in cartography brought to mind last year’s Turkey/Türkiye situation, which I meant to write about at the time but never did. Briefly, the Turkish government basically said, “We’d like the world to stop calling the country ‘Turkey’ and use ‘Türkiye’ instead.” (As far as I know, the government didn’t call for a revision of “Turkish.”)

A lot of countries agreed to go along with the switch. Last month the United States officially jumped on board as well — sort of. The U.S. State Department’s web page on this currently states, “The official conventional long-form and short-form names remain “Republic of Turkey” and “Turkey”, respectively. “Republic of Türkiye” should be used in formal and diplomatic contexts. The conventional names may be used in place of or alongside “Türkiye” in appropriate instances, including U.S. government cartographic products, as it is more widely understood by the American public.”

But, this being a site that focuses mainly on matters related to Mandarin, I’m more interested in what China and Taiwan did.

It turns out that both China and Taiwan agreed to adopt the form “Türkiye.” In practice, though, that relates mainly to those governments issuing releases in English. But what about the Mandarin name of the country, which has been “Tǚ’ěrqí” (written “土耳其” in Chinese characters).

As Yin Binyong, who was the main force in the orthography of Hanyu Pinyin, noted in “Transliteration of Foreign Place Names and Personal Names“:

A small number of foreign names are translated into Putonghua according to meaning, or a combination of meaning and pronunciation; the great majority are transliterated, i.e. translated according to pronunciation.

(Following Mair, though, we should read “transcription” for “transliteration.” The language of the original publication was English, which is why the quote appears as such.)

“Tǚ’ěrqí” belongs to the third category; it is just a phonetic approximation of “Turkey.” (For those unfamiliar with Pinyin or Mandarin, Tu’erqi is pronounced very roughly like “to” + “her” (minus the h sound) + the “chee” in cheese.) Among Mandarin’s 410 or so syllable sounds (not counting tones), there is nothing much like key. But the ye in Türkiye would not be a problem for Mandarin speakers.

If the governments of China and Taiwan really wanted to show their respect for the change from Turkey to Türkiye, they could come up with new Mandarin names that would do a better job of matching the pronunciation of Türkiye than Tu’erqi. But they haven’t. Tu’erqi/土耳其 remains, and this is unlikely to change. Note, for example, how the Xinhua article listed below calls “Türkiye” not the name but the foreign-language name (waiwen) of Tu’erqi.

Of course, how much respect the government of Taiwan owes the government of Turkey — er, Türkiye, which has become somewhat cozy with the PRC, might be worth considering as well. But that’s heading off-topic.

Further reading:

Follow me

I ran into a reader of Pinyin.info the other day, which has had me feeling guilty for not posting anything in recent months. So here’s something I wrote nearly a year ago but never posted. The sign is now long gone, but the linguistic points remain the same.

Near the Banqiao train station is this sign, which advertises small apartments. (At just 13 or 14 ping, counting the shares of all of the “public” spaces, they are basically tiny.) It has a lot of points of note for so little text:

  • Chinese characters are used to write an English word: 發樓 (fālóu) = follow.
  • English (“Follow me”) is used as well as Mandarin.
  • Numbers are used to write a Mandarin word: 94, i.e., jiǔ sì (九四) = jiùshì (就是). Note also that this works despite the tones being different.

發樓ME (with the English “Follow me” there for clarity as well)
告別租隊友 live your life

image of the large billboard discussed in this post

Unnecessarily wordy sign

Directional road sign high on post. It reads (in Chinese characters) 'Caizhengbu, Nanqu Guoshuiju, Taidong Fenju' and (in English) 'Taitung Branch, National Taxation Bureau of the Southern Area, Ministry of Finance', as discussed in the post itself.

Above is a directional road sign at an intersection in Taitung (Taidong), Taiwan. It reads:


Nánqū Guóshuìjú
Táidōng Fēnjú]

Taitung Branch, National Taxation
Bureau of the Southern Area,
Ministry of Finance

Although Taiwan has a lot of this sort of directional signage, I don’t think I’ve written before about why I think so many examples of it are downright awful.

Not only is the sign unnecessarily wordy, the part that receives the greatest emphasis (by appearing in large characters) is the least useful: 臺東分局. Taidong Fenju means simply “Taitung branch office.” But since the sign is in Taitung itself, mention of an office being in Taitung provides zero useful information. (It’s a safe bet that drivers will already know which part of the country they’re in and that they aren’t driving around that neighborhood looking for the Taipei office.) The same thing goes for mention of this being the office for the Nanqu (“Southern Area”).

Nor do motorists care in the least what ministry the National Taxation Bureau belongs to. They simply need to be able to comprehend quickly and easily the main point of the sign. Too much information becomes clutter, a fatal problem on signs that drivers need to be able to read and comprehend quickly and easily.

A fundamental of good signage is to keep it simple.

The sign would be much better if it read simply “國稅局 Tax Office” and had an arrow. (Also, though this would be a moot point if the line were deleted, I’d prefer 台稅局 over 臺稅局. We have Ma Ying-jeou to thank for the prevalence of 臺.)

My private word for unnecessarily wordy signs in Taiwan is “signese,” which should not be confused with the good kind of Signese.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photo. I had to quickly use a cell phone camera on zoom through a taxi windshield — not ideal.

Taipei to spend NT$300 million making MRT signage worse

Taipei MRT station
Commonwealth Magazine (Tiānxià zázhì) recently interviewed me for a Mandarin-language piece related to the signage on Taipei’s MRT system.

As anyone who has looked at Pinyin News more than a couple of times over the years should be able to guess, I had a lot to say about that — most of which understandably didn’t make it into the article. For example, I recall making liberal use of the word “bèn” (“stupid”) to describe the situation and the city’s approach. But the reporter — Yen Pei-hua (Yán Pèihuá / 嚴珮華), who is perhaps Taiwan’s top business journalist — diplomatically omitted that.

Since the article discusses the nicknumbering system Taipei is determined to implement “for the foreigners,” even though most foreigners are at best indifferent to this, but doesn’t include my remarks on it, I’ll refer you to my post on this from last year: Taipei MRT moves to adopt nicknumbering system. Back then, though, I didn’t know the staggering amount of money the city is going to spend on screwing up the MRT system’s signs: NT$300 million (about US$10 million)! The main reason given for this is the sports event Taipei will host next summer. That’s supposed to last for about ten days, which would put the cost for the signs alone at about US$1 million per day.

On the other hand, the city does not plan to fix the real problems with the Taipei MRT’s station names, specifically the lack of apostrophes in what should be written Qili’an (not Qilian), Da’an (not Daan) (twice!), Jing’an (not Jingan), and Yong’an (not Yongan) — in Chinese characters: 唭哩岸, 大安, 景安, and 永安, respectively. And then there’s the problem of wordy English names.

Well, take a look and comment — here, or better still, on the Facebook page. (Links below.) I’m grateful to Ms. Yen and Commonwealth for discussing the issue.