‘My Bunun name is …’

A candidate for the Indigenous constituency in Taiwan’s Legislature has, in protest over government policies mandating the use of Chinese characters, changed her name to “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是Savungaz Valincinan,” which translates as “Li I want to list my tribal name separately; my Bunun name is Savungaz Valincinan.”

photo of the Taiwan national ID card of Savungaz Valincinan, showing her long official name, as detailed in this post.
(photo by Savungaz Valincinan)

Here’s a ChatGPT translation of a story in the Liberty Times about this:

The registration of candidates for the 2024 legislative election concluded on the 24th. According to data from the Central Election Commission (CEC), there are a total of 10 candidates running for mountain indigenous legislator positions. One candidate stands out with a name that spans 34 characters, and it reads, “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是Savungaz Valincinan,” making it the longest name among this year’s legislative candidates.

Following the successful administrative lawsuit regarding the “Administrative Appeal for Single Listing of Tribal Names on Indigenous Identification Cards” in early November, the New Taipei City Government Civil Affairs Bureau issued the first identification card with a single-listed tribal name. However, as this was a local “case remedy,” other indigenous individuals wishing to list only their tribal names are still unable to complete the process.

Savungaz Valincinan expressed that for this election, she chose not to use the transliteration of her Bunun tribal name in Chinese characters. Two days before registration, she officially changed her name at the household registration office to “李我要單列族名我的布農族名字是Savungaz Valincinan.”

Emphasizing that the name change is not a mere joke but a sincere and poignant appeal, Savungaz Valincinan questioned, “Why should such a small matter like adjusting administrative procedures make us shout so hard and still be unattainable?”

Other indigenous individuals have also inquired with local governments about listing only Romanized Pinyin for their names. However, according to the responses received, currently, there are only three options: traditional name transliterated into Chinese characters, traditional name transliterated into Chinese characters with Romanized Pinyin, and Chinese name alongside traditional name with Romanized Pinyin.

She urged that if the government continues to overlook the demands of indigenous people, and if she is fortunate enough to become a legislator in the future, every government official addressing her must recite the “demand for single-listing tribal names” every time until they genuinely amend the administrative procedures.

In the 2024 legislative election, aside from the 315 regional legislative candidates, there are 10 candidates for plain indigenous legislator positions and 10 candidates for mountain indigenous legislator positions who have completed their registrations.

For more about this general topic, please see Some Indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names: ‘That history has nothing to do with mine’, an excellent article by Stephanie Yang and David Shen (Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2023).

source: 34 zì! Míngnián dàxuǎn míngzi zuìcháng Lìwěi cānxuǎn rén — pàn zhèngfǔ zhòngshì dān liè zúmíng sùqiú (34字!明年大選名字最長立委參選人 盼政府重視單列族名訴求), Liberty Times, November 26, 2023.

further reading: Savungaz Valincinan Facebook page.

T-shirts with romanized Taiwanese

If you’re in Taiwan, make a trip to your local 50% Fifty Percent Píngjià Shíshàng (50% FIFTY PERCENT 平价时尚) (50 percent bargain-price fashion) and pick up one of their shirts of various Taiwanese foods, each of which is labeled in romanized Taiwanese. (Place name hashtags (e.g., #Yilan) are not included on the shirts.)

The only problem is that you may want to carry a magnifying glass with you, because the images and letters are tiny. (C’mon, people! When you want people to read something, size matters.)

This is the one I picked for myself: tshang-iû-piánn (in Mandarin: cōngyóubǐng / 蔥油餅 / 葱油饼). Those scallion pancakes are wonderful.

Advertising image of the graphic for a T-shirt that has a drawing of Taiwanese scallion pancake (congyoubing in Mandarin) and the text 'tshang-iu-piann' (partially obscured by a superimposed image of a T-shirt.

More images on the 50% Fifty Percent Facebook page.

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.

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.

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.

Microsoft Translator and Pinyin

screenshot of the text described in the post, as treated by Microsoft Translator

If supplied with the following,

談中國的“語”和“文”的問題,我覺得最好能先了解一下在中國通用的語言。中國的主要語言有哪些?為甚麼我說這個,而不說那個?因為環境?因為被強迫?因為我愛這個語言?因為有必要?因為這個語言很重要?也想想什麼是中國人的共同語言。用一個共同語言有必要嗎?為什麼?別的漢語的去向會怎麼樣?如果你使用中國的共同語言普通話,你了解這個語言的語法(比如“的, 得, 地“ 和“了” 的不同用法)嗎? 知道這個語言的基本音節(不包括聲調)只有408個嗎?

Microsoft Translator produces the following Hanyu Pinyin:

tán zhōngguóde “yǔ” hé “wén”dewèntí, wǒjuéde zuìhǎo néng xiānliǎojiě yì xiàzài zhōngguó tōngyòng de yǔyán。 zhōngguóde zhǔyào yǔyán yǒu nǎxiē? wèishénme wǒshuō zhège ,érbùshuōnàgè? yīnwéi huánjìng? yīnwéi bèi qiǎngpò? yīnwéi wǒài zhège yǔyán? yīnwéi yǒubìyào? yīnwéi zhège yǔyán hěnzhòngyào? yě xiǎngxiǎng shénmeshì zhōngguórén de gòngtóngyǔyán。 yòng yígè gòngtóngyǔyán yǒubìyào ma? wèishénme? biéde hànyǔ de qùxiàng huì zěnmeyàng? rúguǒnǐ shǐyòng zhōngguóde gòngtóngyǔyán pǔtōnghuà , nǐ liǎojiě zhège yǔyán de yǔfǎ ( bǐrú “de,dé, de ”hé“le” de bùtóng yòngfǎ )ma? zhīdào zhège yǔyán de jīběn yīnjié (bùbāokuòshēngtiáo) zhǐyǒu 408gèma?

This has a number of obvious problems:

  • failure to capitalize the first letter in a sentence
  • failure to capitalize proper nouns (e.g., “zhongguo” should be “Zhongguo”) (Here is how to handle proper nouns in Pinyin.)
  • frequent appending of “de” to the word before it (Here is how to handle de in Pinyin.)
  • incorrect punctuation, e.g., commas, periods, parentheses, and question marks were not converted from their double-width (i.e., Chinese character) forms to regular roman forms (“,。?()” should appear instead as “,.?()”)
  • incorrect word parsing (sometimes)

In short: Thumbs-down for now. But it might not take too much work for Microsoft to make this significantly better.

Japan to add romanization to names on My Number cards

The Japanese government has reportedly decided to add romanization for names on My Number cards, starting next year (2024). My Number cards — also known as Individual Number cards (or kojin bangō kādo / 個人番号カード) are a form of national ID.

Here’s basically what they look like now (without a space for romanization):
blank My Number card

But I haven’t been able to find any more specific information yet.

I wrote the authorities with My Number cards for clarification. I wanted to know what romanization system My Number Cards will use: Hepburn, Kunrei-shiki, or something else? Or will people be able to choose any system they want or to choose from a list of government-approved systems?

I also requested links to any articles/announcements about this in English or Japanese.

Unfortunately, the person who politely responded did not have any information about this beyond what I submitted.

Source: one small mention at the end of this article: Pronunciation of Japanese Personal Names to be Regulated by Planned Law Revision, Japan News (from the Yomiuri Shimbun), February 18, 2023.