Mandarin words with more than one apostrophe

qīng’ěr’értīng
傾耳而聽
listen attentively

As I often note, apostrophes are used in only about 2 percent of words as written in Hanyu Pinyin. But when they’re needed, they’re needed. Don’t skip them.

A few years back, someone wrote to me to ask about multiple apostrophes in Pinyin. I dug through a 2019 edition of the CC-CEDICT (2019-11-12 04:41:56 GMT) for an answer. But I don’t think I ever posted my findings online. It’s time to rectify that.

CC-CEDICT is not an ideal source in terms of words, because some entries are phrases rather than single words, though they are not marked separately than words, which means that some entries might be better off with spaces rather than apostrophes, which would reduce the apostrophe count and percentage.

So, with that in mind, of the file’s 117,579 entries, 3,006 needed apostrophes, or 2.56 percent.

No entry needed three or more apostrophes.

Only 52 entries needed two apostrophes, or 0.04% of the total (1 per 2,261 entries).

Most of those were just Mandarinized foreign proper nouns. For example:

  • Ā’ěrjí’ěr: Algiers, capital of Algeria/ 阿爾及爾 阿尔及尔
  • Āi’ěrduō’ān: Erdogan (name)/Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (1954-), Turkish politician, prime minister from 2003/ 埃爾多安 埃尔多安
  • Běi’ài’ěrlán: Northern Ireland/ 北愛爾蘭 北爱尔兰
  • Bì’ěrbā’è: Bilbao (city in Spain)/ 畢爾巴鄂 毕尔巴鄂
  • Dá’ěrfú’ěr: Darfur (western province of Sudan)/ 達爾福爾 达尔福尔
  • Dá’ěrfù’ěr: Darfur, region of west Sudan/ 達爾富爾 达尔富尔
  • fēi’ābèi’ěr: (math.) non-abelian/ 非阿貝爾 非阿贝尔
  • Fèi’àoduō’ěr: Theodor of Fyodor (name)/ 費奧多爾 费奥多尔
  • gǔ’ānxiān’àn: glutamine (Gln), an amino acid/ 谷氨酰胺 谷氨酰胺
  • Láiwàng’è’ěr: Levanger (city in Trøndelag, Norway)/ 萊旺厄爾 莱旺厄尔
  • Léi’ā’ěrchéng: Ciudad Real/ 雷阿爾城 雷阿尔城
  • Luójié’ài’ěrzhī: Raziel, archangel in Judaism/ 羅潔愛爾之 罗洁爱尔之
  • Mài’ěrwéi’ěr: Melville (name)/Herman Melville (1819-1891), US novelist, author of Moby Dick / 麥爾維爾 麦尔维尔
  • Pí’āi’ěr: Pierre (name)/ 皮埃爾 皮埃尔
  • Shàng’àisè’ěr: Overijssel/ 上艾瑟爾 上艾瑟尔
  • Sīfú’ěrwǎ’ěr: Svolvær (city in Nordland, Norway)/ 斯福爾瓦爾 斯福尔瓦尔
  • Sītài’ēnxiè’ěr: Steinkjær (city in Trøndelag, Norway)/ 斯泰恩謝爾 斯泰恩谢尔
  • Tèlǔ’āi’ěr: Tergüel or Teruel, Spain/ 特魯埃爾 特鲁埃尔
  • Xīn’ào’ěrliáng: New Orleans, Louisiana/ 新奧爾良 新奥尔良

Examples of more regular Mandarin entries with two apostrophes include:

  • bái’éyàn’ōu: (bird species of China) little tern (Sternula albifrons)/ 白額燕鷗 白额燕鸥
  • báixuě’ái’ái: brilliant white snow cover (esp. of distant peaks)/ 白雪皚皚 白雪皑皑
  • chū’ěrfǎn’ěr: old: to reap the consequences of one’s words (idiom, from Mencius); modern: to go back on one’s word/to blow hot and cold/to contradict oneself/inconsistent/ 出爾反爾 出尔反尔
  • húnhún’è’è: muddleheaded/ 渾渾噩噩 浑浑噩噩
  • pāi’àn’érqǐ: lit. to slap the table and stand up (idiom); fig. at the end of one’s tether/unable to take it any more/ 拍案而起 拍案而起
  • qì’áng’áng: full of vigor/spirited/valiant/ 氣昂昂 气昂昂
  • qīng’ěr’értīng: to listen attentively/ 傾耳而聽 倾耳而听
  • qīqī’ài’ài: stammering (idiom)/ 期期艾艾 期期艾艾
  • suíyù’ér’ān: at home wherever one is (idiom); ready to adapt/flexible/to accept circumstances with good will/ 隨遇而安 随遇而安
  • xiù’ēn’ài: to make a public display of affection/ 秀恩愛 秀恩爱
  • yǐ’échuán’é: to spread falsehoods/to increasingly distort the truth/to pile errors on top of errors (idiom)/ 以訛傳訛 以讹传讹

A few of those present interesting questions in orthography. For example, Xīn’ào’ěrliáng or Xīn Ào’ěrliáng?

But, basically, those entries are outliers. Relatively few words in Pinyin need an apostrophe; only a minute subset of those need two apostrophes; and, to my knowledge, none need three or more apostrophes.

Can you think of any triple-apostrophe words? Sorry, written examples of stuttering don’t count.

Most common baby names in China, 2020

What were the most common names for newborn babies in China in 2020?

Please note that some names appear more than once (Yichen three times in the top 10 for boys, and Yinuo and Yutong twice in the top 10 for girls). The only differences are in some of the characters used.

Most common names for newborn boys in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
Pinyin
(without tone marks)
1 奕辰 Yìchén Yichen
2 宇轩 Yǔxuān Yuxuan
3 浩宇 Hàoyǔ Haoyu
4 亦辰 Yìchén Yichen
5 宇辰 Yǔchén Yuchen
6 子墨 Zǐmò Zimo
7 宇航 Yǔháng Yuhang
8 浩然 Hàorán Haoran
9 梓豪 Zǐháo Zihao
10 亦宸 Yìchén Yichen

Most common names for newborn girls in China, 2020

Rank Chinese characters Pinyin (with
tone marks)
Pinyin
(without tone marks)
1 一诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
2 依诺 Yīnuò Yinuo
3 欣怡 Xīnyí Xinyi
4 梓涵 Zǐhán Zihan
5 语桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
6 欣妍 Xīnyán Xinyan
7 可欣 Kěxīn Kexin
8 语汐 Yǔxī Yuxi
9 雨桐 Yǔtóng Yutong
10 梦瑶 Mèngyáo Mengyao

I tried using ChatGPT again to clean up the HTML in the tables above. But it kept hallucinating and changing characters, and it never gave me the entire tables but cut off at least one row each time. So I cleaned up the code myself in a text editor.

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

The most common given names in Taiwan, by decade

Some names have waxed and waned in popularity in Taiwan over the past century or so. This post gives tables of the top-three names for each decade (as calculated by the ROC calendar).

In this post, I give only Mandarin forms of names — out of familiarity, not preference. An exacting writer seeking character names might do well to investigate how such names might be pronounced in Taiwanese, Hakka, or even yet another Sinitic language other than Mandarin, depending on the who, when, and where.

Note: Although the normal style for names in Hanyu Pinyin is to write given names solid, without a space or hyphen, I have used hyphens in this post to preserve the style of writing names that has been standard in Taiwan for many decades. I am including the spelling in Wade-Giles, even though I don’t recommend using that system, because that is what is commonly seen in Taiwan — albeit without apostrophes or umlauts.

Most popular Taiwan boys names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Characters
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 明、金水、健 Míng, Jīn-shuǐ,
Jiàn
Ming, Chin-shui,
Chien
1921–1930 金龍、金水、金生 Jīn-lóng,
Jīn-shuǐ, Jīn-shēng
Chin-lung, Chin-shui,
Chin-sheng
1931–1940 正雄、文雄、武雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wén-xióng,
Wǔ-xióng
Cheng-hsiung,
Wen-hsiung, Wu-hsiung
1941–1950 正雄、武雄、文雄 Zhèng-xióng, Wǔ-xióng,
Wén-xióng
Cheng-hsiung,
Wu-hsiung, Wen-hsiung
1951–1960 金龍、進財、榮華 Jīn-lóng,
Jìn-cái, Róng-huá
Chin-lung, Chin-ts’ai,
Jung-hua
1961–1970 志明、志成、文雄 Zhì-míng, Zhì-chéng,
Wén-xióng
Chih-ming, Chih-ch’eng,
Wen-hsiung
1971–1980 志偉、志明、建宏 Zhì-wěi,
Zhì-míng, Jiàn-hóng
Chih-wei, Chih-ming,
Chien-hung
1981–1990 家豪、志豪、志偉 Jiā-háo,
Zhì-háo, Zhì-wěi
Chia-hao, Chih-hao,
Chih-wei
1991–2000 家豪、冠宇、冠廷 Jiā-háo,
Guàn-yǔ, Guàn-tíng
Chia-hao, Kuan-yü,
Kuan-t’ing
2001–2010 承恩、承翰、冠廷 Chéng-ēn,
Chéng-hàn, Guàn-tíng
Ch’eng-en, Ch’eng-han,
Kuan-t’ing
2011–2018* 承恩、宥廷、品睿 Chéng-ēn,
Yòu-tíng, Pǐn-ruì
Ch’eng-en, Yu-t’ing,
P’in-jui

Most popular Taiwan girls names, by ROC decade of birth

Birth Year Chinese
Characters
Pinyin Wade-Giles
1912–1920 秀英、英、玉 Xiù-yīng,
Yīng, Yù
Hsiu-ying, Ying,
1921–1930 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
Yü-ying
1931–1940 秀英、玉蘭、玉英 Xiù-yīng,
Yù-lán, Yù-yīng
Hsiu-ying, Yü-lan,
Yü-ying
1941–1950 秀英、秀琴、美玉 Xiù-yīng,
Xiù-qín, Měi-yù
Hsiu-ying, Hsiu-ch’in,
Mei-yü
1951–1960 麗華、秀琴、秀美 Lì-huá, Xiù-qín,
Xiù-měi
Li-hua, Hsiu-ch’in,
Hsiu-mei
1961–1970 淑芬、美玲、淑惠 Shū-fēn,
Měi-líng, Shū-huì
Shu-fen, Mei-ling,
Shu-hui
1971–1980 淑芬、雅惠、淑娟 Shū-fēn,
Yǎ-huì, Shū-juān
Shu-fen, Ya-hui,
Shu-chüan
1981–1990 雅婷、怡君、雅雯 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yǎ-wén
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
Ya-wen
1991–2000 雅婷、怡君、怡婷 Yǎ-tíng,
Yí-jūn, Yí-tíng
Ya-t’ing, I-chün,
I-t’ing
2001–2010 宜蓁、欣妤、詩涵 Yí-zhēn,
Xīn-yú, Shī-hán
I-chen, Hsin-yü,
Shih-han
2011–2018* 詠晴、子晴、品妍 Yǒng-qíng,
Zǐ-qíng, Pǐn-yán
Yung-ch’ing, Tzu-ch’ing,
P’in-yen

*: The counting of names continued until June 2018. I’ll give newer figures once I have them.

Source: Quánguó xìngmíng tǒngjì fēnxi (全國姓名統計分析). Department of Household Registration, Ministry of the Interior, Taiwan, 2018, p. 59.

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)

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.)

Taipei MRT’s new in-car signage sucks

photo of the new-style video screen above the door of the Taipei MRT (subway system).

For the past few months, one can occasionally spot trains along the Taipei MRT’s blue line (aka the Ban-Nan line, for the Banqiao–Nangang line of the subway system) sporting a new style of above-door announcements. (Perhaps some of the other lines have these as well; but I’m not on them as much and haven’t spotted new signage on those yet.)

The MRT has signs above the doors to let people know what the stops are coming soon. Or at least that’s what the signs are supposed to do, what they need to do in order to help passengers. Alas, that crucial function appears to have been overlooked when designing the new signs, which are all bling-bling and little useful substance.

In fact, they’re so bad that I’m almost surprised they don’t feature cutesy cartoon characters — something that would make the disaster complete.

The photos in this post of the new signs were taken from the seat with the best vantage point of the video-screen sign. Some zoom was used to get the important part of the image to stretch from one side to the other of the photos. In short, the parts of the sign passengers need to read likely appear even smaller in real life than they may look in the photos. Of course, I could have positioned myself immediately in front of the signs and gotten better photos. But the point of signage isn’t what can be seen if one is standing close to and directly in front of it; rather, good signage needs to work for viewers from farther away and at an angle as well. So the proximity and angle represent a compromise on my part rather than the farther vantage point from which many riders will experience the signs. In other words, for many riders, the signs will look even smaller and less clear than shown in these photos.

And, as we’ll see, smaller is definitely not a good thing.

Here’s a close-up of the above sign, rotated slightly and showing the size of the text as a percentage of the screen height (approximately).

photo of the video screen with the size of the text shown as a percentage of the screen height

The screens themselves are large. But what about the information they need to convey? The names of the stations, the most important information, are small: just 19% of the screen height for the Chinese characters and only 6% of the screen height for the Pinyin. I suppose one could add another percentage point or even two if the descenders are counted as well rather than just the cap height. But even 8% would be utter madness! The Pinyin text is absurdly tiny — and as such is close to useless. How is anyone supposed to read that?! But there’s plenty of space on the screen to make the Pinyin larger, especially if it is given separately rather than in combination with Chinese characters at the same time.

The video screens do cycle through different information, with one screen providing station names in Pinyin and English without any Chinese characters. But it’s almost as if they’re trying to make the signage unreadable. Here’s an example:

photo of a video screen on the Taipei MRT, showing the station names on the blue line in English/Pinyin in small text.

Again, the English/Pinyin names are too small to read — needlessly so. And it doesn’t help the cause of making text large enough to read that the Taipei MRT has some needlessly wordy station names.

But there is one new feature I actually like: listing how many minutes before the next stations. (Note the numbers along the bottom right of the screen.) This is nicely done — if only one could read the names of the stations.

And still more space could be saved if those nicknumbers (e.g., “BL17”) were removed. I have yet to hear anyone ever even mentioning them, at least not in a positive way. And to think the MRT system spent NT$300 million (about US$10 million) on that!

And let’s not forget that Taiwan is projected to become a super-aged society by 2025 — which means an especially large number of people who don’t see as well as they used to. Thus, it is all the more important that the letters are large enough to be read by people with less than perfect eyesight.

Alas, there’s more. The signs, as bad as their design is from the standpoint of the size of the text, have another significant flaw: their use of color.

detail of the above image, as described below

Look at how the name of the next station is presented: in light-blue-gray against an off-white background. There is little contrast between the text and the background, which makes the text very difficult to read. I would have thought that this problem, like the problem of size already discussed, would have been painfully obvious to everyone involved in the design process. Yet for some reason this wasn’t corrected long ago on the drawing board but has instead made it all the way to signage on the MRT itself! That light-blue-gray against off-white makes me just livid.

Another important aspect of color for the MRT is the assignation of colors to the different transit lines. Identifying different lines by color is actually quite useful, and many people refer to the various lines by their color. So how well do the new signs handle this? If you’re familiar with Taipei, try to ignore the names and placements of the lines for the moment. Just this once — because the actual station names are so tiny and damn hard to read on these video screens, and because I’m hoping you’ll try to let your knowledge of the MRT avoid interfering with your objective judgment on this — I’m asking you to refer to the numbers for Taipei MRT stations, stupid though they are.

The lines that intersect with the blue line are marked by vertical bars of color. OK, now look at the image below and answer a few simple questions. You’ll probably have to click on the photo one or more times to achieve the extreme magnification needed to view the sign well.

photo of video-screen signage above the door of a car on the Taipei MRT's blue line, this one showing stop names in Chinese characters and with colored lines to show different line transfer points

Q: Which station or stations intersect with the red line?

A: BL12.

OK, that was easy. Now another.

Q: Which station or stations intersect with the green line?

A: BL11.

Simple enough. But how about these?

Q: Which station or stations intersect with the brown line?
Q: Which station or stations intersect with the orange line?
Q: Which station or stations intersect with the yellow line?

Why the MRT thinks passengers need a regular reminder of what car number they are in is beyond me. Note, too, how those numbers are larger than the station name in English/Pinyin.

The answers are, respectively, BL15 & BL23, BL14, and BL07 & BL08.

How’d you do? And could you even tell that BL15 and BL23 are supposed to be the same color, and that color is supposed to be brown?

Here’s a look at what the current/old signage looks like.

Next : Zhongxiao Xinsheng BL14

  • The style is basic but effective.
  • The letters are large enough to read.
  • The space before the colon is wrong.
  • The contrast between the color of the text and the color of the background is strong, making the text easy to read.
  • The addition of “BL14” is an unfortunate distraction (sometimes less is more); but it’s nothing that the new signs don’t repeat.

In short: By the most important measures, the old signs are better than the new ones. And they already exist, so keeping them won’t cost taxpayers and farepayers anything, unlike putting in expensive new video screens that make navigating the MRT worse.

Meanwhile, the MRT system has still not corrected errors in the Pinyin for the names of some stations.