In March, Taiwan’s Chunghwa Post (Zhōnghuá Yóuzhèng / 中華郵政) issued new postage stamps commemorating Zhuyin Fuhao (註音符號) (aka bopomofo, bopo mofo, or bpmf). The postal service has released another three sheets of these stamps, finishing the series.
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.
The Pinyin is not just “esthetic,” because most people probably don’t know the character ‘㭽’. Although they could probably take an educated guess that 㭽 is pronounced dǐ because of the 氐, that’s not the same thing as knowing for sure. So the Pinyin comes in handy even for most literate Taiwanese — if they can see it.
What’s especially surprising is that the people at the store went with Pinyin instead of zhuyin fuhao: ㄉㄧ ㄐㄧㄚ.
Recently I took some trails through the mountains in Taipei and ended up at Shih Hsin University (Shìxīn Dàxué / 世新大學). Near the school are some interesting signs. Rather than giving individual posts for each of these, I’m keeping the signs together in this one, as this is better testimony to the increasing and often playful diversity of languages and scripts in Taiwan.
Here’s a restaurant whose name is given in Pinyin with tone marks! That’s quite a rarity here, though I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this in the future. The name in Chinese characters (草串) can be found, much smaller, on a separate sign below.
Right by Cao Chuan is Èrgē de Niúròumiàn (Second Brother’s Beef Noodle Soup). Note the use of the Japanese の rather than Mandarin’s 的; this is quite common in Taiwan.
This store has an ㄟ, which serves as a marker of the Taiwanese language. Here, ㄟ is the equivalent of 的 — and of の.
Bālè ei diàn
A’Woo Tea Bar
I couldn’t find a name in Chinese characters for this place. The name is probably onomatopoeia, as in “Werewolves of London — awoo!”
Under the new administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s Ministry of Education has worked out its plan for teaching pretty much everything … except for Hoklo (the language better known in these parts as “Taiwanese”). There have been a lot of arguments. How early to start teaching the language? How much should be taught? Use romanization? Use zhuyin? May teachers use any kind of soap or only special kinds when washing out the mouths of students speaking the language? (OK, they don’t do that last one anymore.)
So the ministry has decided to appoint a new committee to review such questions. Decisions on these issues are expected in six months or so.
My guess would be that the ministry is going to pack the new committee with conservatives who will see to it that romanization is avoided or at least belittled, that little of the language will actually be taught, and that students will not be tested seriously on the subject. But I’ll be happy if I’m wrong.
Victor Mair’s latest post at Language Log introduces a new U.S.-based newspaper, the Huayu Xuebao (Mandarin Learning Newspaper, 華語學報), which is similar to Taiwan’s Guoyu Ribao (Mandarin Daily News), the main difference being the former uses Hanyu Pinyin while the latter uses zhuyin fuhao (bopo mofo).
Well, actually the Huayu Xuebao doesn’t use proper Pinyin (see recent remarks). But I’m so happy to see this long-needed paper that I’ll hold my tongue for now.
Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t have its Web site ready yet — not that the long-established Guoyu Ribao is much better at that, at least when it comes to texts as they appear in the newspaper. So, for more information about the Huayu Xuebao, write learningnewspaper [AT] yahoo.com or phone +1-201-288-9188 (New Jersey).