Friday, September 29, 2006

tongyong pinyin haters: you are all colonialist shits

Any foreigner who has been in Taiwan any length of time has surely noticed Taiwan's insanity-inducing mix of systems for romanizing Chinese. In response to this mess, the government decided to spend ten years inventing yet another romanization system, tongyong pinyin, even though there are a number of extant systems that are perfectly acceptable. Again, as everyone knows, the tongyong pinyin system met with widespread derision from long-term expats, most of whom would prefer that the government adopt hanyu pinyin, the system used in China, which is more or less the international standard.

Well, over at Taiwan Journal, Mark Caltonhill has arrived to set us all straight: we tongyong haters are a bunch of colonialist shits:

HP supporters, through, often argue that using tongyong pinyin would be no more useful an expression of national identity than requiring people to wear their underwear on the outside of their clothing. Difference for its own sake makes Taiwan look petty and ridiculous. Taiwan does not benefit from looking ridiculous.

It is hard to see this concern for Taiwan as genuine. More likely it belongs in the same category as the we-know-what's-best-for-you mentality of Christian missionaries proselytizing their religion, and "English teachers" qualified with nothing more than a white face telling Taiwanese they need native-speaker pronunciation.


This kind of thing is just shake-your-head stupid. I don't think there is any need on my part to comment further. Wiki actually has an entry on this fellow, who is apparently a long-time resident of the island and has written a large number of articles in local magazines and newspapers.

(hat tip to Jason at Wandering to Tamshui, currently on vacation)

16 comments:

Brad said...

Funny how Mark himself is deeply involved in cultural production--newspaper writing and the like. He's defined a colonial mentality as basically having an opinion about any Taiwanese domestic policy. And that sort of implicates him. Funny how that works.

This is the best:

"More likely it belongs in the same category as the... "English teachers" qualified with nothing more than a white face telling Taiwanese they need native-speaker pronunciation"."

I'm not an English teacher but nonetheless I feel obliged to defend them. The situtation: it is called capitalism. The teachers are here because _the Taiwanese_ have decided that a white face is enough and are tripping over each other to hire them.

He far too easily reaches the conclusion that things have been 'forced' on the Taiwanese in some way when in fact it was a collective or elite Taiwanese decision. And that attitude itself is a little colonial, no?

Jo said...

Being a taiwanese myself, I can honestly tell you, I HATE 通用拼音 (tongyong pinyin).

Why?

1. Its fugly.
2. It doesnt make sense most of the time.
3. The pronounciation in itself is mostly wrong and made up.

漢語拼音 (hanyu pinyin) is better. Face it you silly politicians.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I quite agree with you there, Michael!

Furthermore, why is it that Pinyin hasn't evolve to actually reflect Romanic sounds. If you are going to have a pinyin system, isn't the whole point that it should be intelligible to non-Chinese character readers? The majority of those people are people who employ European languages. I can understand wanting a compromise among the different letters or letter combinations corresponding with the sounds of the different Western, Romanized tongues. But the majority of people who deal with Taiwan and China are English speakers, or people who are highly fluent in English. If the purpose is so that people can come to Taiwan or China or read information so that it is intelligible to us, etc. then it needs to correspond to our language. It should not be based on identity. The Traditional Han Chinese already exists for that, thank God or whatever for that. That in itself is a beautiful language and I hope no one touches it too much, unless it is for a highly good reason, and not because Mainland China wants to impose its senseless Simplified version on the Beautiful Isle. Fine, "Simplified" Chinese already exists, and for some reason, Mainland Chinese understand and write it. But for the purposes of scholarship and national or local heritage and for a perfectly good language to remain, no one will hopefully touch Traditional Han Chinese writing.

Back to Pinyin: Pinyin is for foreigners. They should hire either a Chinese person who has lived for decades and decades (no, not Mayor Ma!), or a foreigner who has lived in the Chinese world for decades and decades and is perfectly fluent in Chinese. If there was a Pinyin which accurately reflected the sounds of English, Spanish, German and French I would faint from pure hope and joy. It would allow more and more people to learn Chinese. The more Anglophones who speak Chinese, the better they/we can teach Chinese English. Education is a partnership in so many and varied ways, not just two ways, but among everyone working ammong the society, be they migrant workers like us.

Mark strikes me as terribly uptight and protective. He probably wants to be the only fish in the pond and resents other foreigners. I can understand that. I felt like that the first year I was here. To retain that attitude too much though, risks losing your anchor so much that you lose sense even of the new culture that you are supposedly joining in. It is not a healthy attitude for him or anybody.

I have to lafe at the qualified with nothing more than a white face telling Taiwanese they need native-speaker pronunciation," bit. What kind of nonsense is that? Of course native-speaker pronuncation is important. Since this is not a colonial environment, like Hong Kong was (where they use British English, quite similar to my own hybrid Canadian English), English has taken on a wide variety of spellings and pronunciations here. But there patterns don't vary overly much, unless there are less qualified English teachers teaching (ones whose first language is not English but French from Quebec, or similar situations). Native speaker pronunciation allows the kids, when they are grown up, to interact with clients, partners, sales departments, etc. in business. This is even more important if they want to act and speak English in movies on the international stage. Very bizarre and small mentality Mark has when set up his soapbox on this subject.

One great advantage of native English speakers being over here is to allow escape for youngsters from their dreary rote-memory learning with which they're so accustomed in their gruelling school schedules. In the America, Canada, etc. we need to adopt stricter education programmes. But in Taiwan, the kids need to be allowed to be more creative. It's an old hobby horse of mine; in the West, parents are often too strict, serious, and omniscient and the teachers are too lenient and lax. But in Taiwan, parents are too lax and teachers are too strict. I mean crazy strict. I never imagined I'd become as strict as I have, but I'm influenced by my environment, and by the rules I usually have to enforce. Where's the happy medium?

Mark said...

Personally, I found that piece pretty stinging. It's as if he never even considered the possibility that we just want to save the newbies some of the confusion we faced upon getting here ourselves. How is that bad for Taiwan?

Mark said...

PS. I'm not the same Mark who wrote the article. I'm one of the two bloggers named Mark, at whom the Mark who wrote the article is venting.

Anonymous said...

The whole pinyin argument comes down to resident (as opposed to visiting) Westerners bitching that the Taiwanese government should make their lives here on Taiwan easier, and in the case of Hanyu Pinyin, do it in the way that they learned Chinese in class. Shut up and learn the characters, and enjoy the random romanizations as just another quirk of life in Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

The whole pinyin argument comes down to resident (as opposed to visiting) Westerners bitching that the Taiwanese government should make their lives here on Taiwan easier, and in the case of Hanyu Pinyin, do it in the way that they learned Chinese in class. Shut up and learn the characters, and enjoy the random romanizations as just another quirk of life in Taiwan.

Michael Turton said...

The whole pinyin argument comes down to resident (as opposed to visiting) Westerners bitching that the Taiwanese government should make their lives here on Taiwan easier, and in the case of Hanyu Pinyin, do it in the way that they learned Chinese in class.

That's a gross mischaracterization (no pun intended). The whole pinyin arguments comes down to resident foreigners bitching that, rather than go with widely accepted international standards, the government has decided to create its own, only used here in Taiwan. Just imagine if the government decided to define a meter as 100 inches, or decided that the alphabet would start with the letter G and work forward by leaps of three, and all filing would be conducted on that basis. You'd be bitching too.

Michael

Anonymous said...

What arrogance! A very small minority of semi-permanent resident aliens insisting that the host government should spend its tax money on romanized signs. Some even go so far as to ask for tone marks to help with their pronunciation practice! And why is it that a blog that always talks about the thugs in China trying to impose their will on Taiwan is so willing to accept a system that is "international standard" only because those same Chinese "thugs" forced the UN to make it the standard for writing Chinese in romanized form.

Michael Turton said...

A very small minority of semi-permanent resident aliens insisting that the host government should spend its tax money on romanized signs. Some even go so far as to ask for tone marks to help with their pronunciation practice!

Yes, it is rather arrogant of foreigners to expect that a system whose purpose is to address the needs of foreigners actually address those needs in a way that is useful to its intended audience. What overweening pride is displayed by that expectation. What colonialists they are!

...so willing to accept a system that is "international standard" only because those same Chinese "thugs" forced the UN to make it the standard for writing Chinese in romanized form.

Everyone not learning in Taiwan learns pinyin. Simple as that. It's got nothing to do with the UN; I doubt even a single student of pinyin has ever asked herself: "What does the UN recommend?"

Michael

Anonymous said...

"Just imagine if the government decided to define a meter as 100 inches, or decided that the alphabet would start with the letter G and work forward by leaps of three, and all filing would be conducted on that basis."
They use ping in Taiwan for space - should we demand that only metric system be used? It is the international standard after all. (Are you listening America?) And when I look for my favorite Bob Dylan CD in a local store, it's filed under "B" for Bob, and not "D" for Dylan. Should I go to the store and insist on an international standard alphabetization? Or should I get off my moral high horse, realize that romanization on signs is basically a courtesy for waiguoren, and stop being the Ugly American (or Brit, or Canadian or whatever), always whinging about this, that or the other?

Michael Turton said...

Anon, the misfiling of CDs is a quirk quickly learned, as is the use of ping. Both occur only in tightly defined contexts -- nobody asks you how many ping your onion cake should be. Nor is the government out there promoting misfiling of CDs in record stores; that is purely a private matter. Romanization occurs in all contexts in which Chinese must be represented in roman letters -- a completely different and far more widespread system.

Taiwan is a trading nation critically dependent on its contacts with the world for the maintenance of its freedom and economic growth. It is not a $12 trillion economy able to declare that meters are verboten and the unit of length will be some English king's thumb size. It seems obvious that it ought to adopt world standards whenever possible -- not merely for the convenience of foreigners, but also because so many of its own people need to learn that standard because so much of Taiwan's trade is done with China. In the 1960s Taiwan adopted US electrical standards because that was its main market. A similar wisdom should apply here.

Certainly there are colonialist spasms from China and from expats that require resistance. IMHO, this ain't one.

Michael

Mark said...

anonymous coward said:
What arrogance! A very small minority of semi-permanent resident aliens insisting that the host government should spend its tax money on romanized signs.



The goverment decided to spend money on romanized signs all on its own. As for the preference for standard romanization, it doesn't end with a few foreign residents who blog. Hanyu Pinyin has also been requested by many groups, including students groups and even business associations, such as AmCham.

If you are concerned about tax payer money, how can you possibly support the creation of one failed system after another, from MPS2 up to the current incarnation of Tongyong Pinyin? It would have been much cheaper to just go with the standard. Is your contention that the Taiwanese tax payers should spend extra money just to break standards and make communication more difficult?

Anonymous said...

I'll put my ten cents in on this one again:

anonymous coward said:
What arrogance! A very small minority of semi-permanent resident aliens insisting that the host government should spend its tax money on romanized signs.

So, anonymous, you don't want anyone but Chinese learning Chinese? For the purposes of trading with America, Canada, England, and Australia, all of which adds up to massive economic growth, wouldn'tyou want people to be able to speak your precious language? Who's arrogant from this perspective.

The reason more tourists don't come to Taiwan is because people don't kow much about Taiwan. Easier translation would help this. The better, easier, more understandeable pinyin, whether it be the Han pinyin, the more people there will be to translate. Taiwan is still completely a wilderness as far as a fast-growing tourism is concerned. Wouldn't you, Anonymous Coward, love more people to learn and to come to Taiwan? Oh, but I forget, you, yourself are just another xenophobe who doesn't want anyone else learning your precious language, whether it be Taiwanese or Taiwan Mandarin (noted for the excellent traditional characters).;)

Taiwan Echo said...

When talking about society issues or else, we always hear someone says this:

"It's nothing to do with politics."

Indeed, many things in a normal society are pure society issues and shouldn't be handled with political means or viewes from the political perspective.

In Taiwan, however, things could go to a very different direction. When comparing Taiwan with many western countries I often sighed at the fact that Taiwanese have to spend most of their time and energy on something like "Do I want to be a Taiwanese or a Chinese" (national identity, that is), while many western, democratic countries put their energy to improving the quality of life.

But do we have a choice? I don't think so. For Taiwanese, when "national identity" hasn't been solved, it will remain the first priority for ever. Therefore, every long term decision should and would be considered in that context. We can't afford loosing a grip on anything related to Taiwanese identity and surrender to "pro-china" side. If we do, we will push ourselves one step further to our enemy. In reality we already are losing "grips" on many grounds.

This is even more critical when you read the histories (of china and of Tiawan) and understand how Communists beat KMT. They started the wars not with bullet or even deplomatic approach, but with infutrating into the core of your group, making the mindsets of your people switching closer and closer to them and farther and farther away from local governments. When the red army actually came, a considerably large portion of citizen already have simpathy for them. The victory is determined before the red army actually stepped in. It's so evident that same approaches are actually being applied to Taiwan for some time.

Therefore, people who fight for Taiwanese identity are constantly under such a threat that they might be foreced to become a citizen of a barbarian country and live in a barbarian culture. The anxiety and worries are always there.

Naturally, anything related to China becomes extremely sensitive. You could probably say that, in Taiwan everything is politics. But we really don't have a choice. We can't afford leaving a blind eye to something that might push us away from democracy, even that step looks so harmless at this moment.

I totally understand how frustrated foreigners feel when they (you) got lost and confused by the English system here in Taiwan. Your complaints are reasonable, from the perspective of a foreigners. But, how many of you share the anxiety that some day you (and your kids !!) might be forced to give up the current democracy and become a citizen of barbarian ? How many of you would think about the possibility of future sorry that you wish you could re-live the history in order to adjust everything to go as far away from China as possible?

I can't answer that for all foreign friends. Actually I can't answer that for any single foreigner. I am just trying to share how a Taiwanese looks at this pronounciation issue, which in my personal point of view, is critical to the core as any other cultural war. I believe if it is put under this context, which comes as priority --- "national identity" or "making visitors feel convinient" --- becomes obvious.

P.S. I saw blame or complaint on Taiwan government for not using HP. Do I hear anyone questioning Ma Ying-Jeou for his decision to go against central government's policy? The foreigners' confusion would be largely reduced if such a "violation against his boss" didn't happen, right ?

Mark said...

Echo said:
I saw blame or complaint on Taiwan government for not using HP. Do I hear anyone questioning Ma Ying-Jeou for his decision to go against central government's policy? The foreigners' confusion would be largely reduced if such a "violation against his boss" didn't happen, right ?

Wrong, Echo. Ma's decision to go with standard pinyin at the request of a large number of foreign residents who asked loudly for it in 2002. He realized that romanization is for the benefit of foreigners who can't read Chinese, and that it's not a very good arena for forging national political gesturing. Arbitrarily assigning different non-standard romanizations to Chinese syllables really makes life difficult for non-Chinese readers.

Another thing to consider is what kind of national identity you want. Bucking international standards and using the symbol "3" to mean the number four and "4" to mean three would also sharply differentiate Taiwan from China and forge a "national identity"... it just wouldn't be a very good one.

(once again, I'm a different Mark from the one who wrote the article this post is about)