Thursday, April 12, 2007

Swearing and Clueless Taiwan Judges

One of the oddities of Taiwanese jurisprudence is that many judges are almost totally ignorant of the world, rendering judgments problematical. To be a judge in Taiwan requires years of study in being a judge -- I had a friend who did nothing but study to be a judge until he was 40, never having so much as a job at 7-11. Prince Roy uncovers a comical example of this ignorance:

An American woman, who the paper names as “Bào” 鮑, is an English teacher in Hualian. In 2005 she became involved in a bitter lawsuit with a Taiwanese woman surnamed Zhou. Subsequently, on June 14th of that same year, she encountered Ms. Zhou at the entrance to Ciji Hospital, and allegedly cursed Ms. Zhou with the English phrase “Fuck you!” Ms. Zhou lodged a complaint against “Ms. Bao”, and a judge fined “Ms. Bao” $6000 NTD for brazen humiliation and sullying the reputation of Ms. Zhou.

On appeal, “Ms. Bao” argued that at the time she ran into Ms. Zhou at the hospital entrance, Ms. Zhou noticed her broken arm and said: “This is good to see”. “Ms. Bao”, wanting to brush off Ms. Zhou, replied: “Forget you”. Perhaps because the pronunciation is close, Ms. Zhou misheard it as “Fuck you”.

Hualian district appellate judges Zheng Peili, Yu Xiumei, and Zheng Guangting didn’t buy it. The court’s written opinion emphasized that the correct English grammar in this case should be “Forget it”. “Ms. Bao”, a native speaker of English, should know that “Forget you” is ungrammatical. In addition, the difference in pronunciation of “fuck” and “forget” is so distinct that Ms. Zhou could not possibly have misheard. Appeal denied.


The incident, and the post, are classic. As one commenter there pointed out, finding a native speaker to ask -- or checking Google -- surely could have presented no problem. Swearing is considered quite serious in local culture and successful examples of lawsuits against it abound. So watch the mouth.

LINK: There's a long discussion of this at Forumosa.



17 comments:

Tim Maddog said...

Google wasn't as easy as it might seem. If you search for "forget you," you'll have to dig through tons of irrelevant phrases like "I can't forget you."

The correct search phrase (quotes included) to get to the heart of the matter is "oh forget you". Somebody pleeeeeease pass that information along to the judge.

Tim Maddog

ouch said...

It's sad to see names of the involved parties being spelled in pinyin while in reality very few citizens of Taiwan have their names romanized using pinyin, a standard of China and the favorite of Ma Ying-jeou.

Sorry, it's way off the topic. Just the implication is not very pleasant.

Anonymous said...

It's sad to see people who can't accept that pinyin has already "won", and is the global standard. Sadder still is that some people think it would be good for Taiwan to further isolate it through non-standard, and non-functional romanization.

For what it's worth, I've seen relatives with the same family name romanized three different ways, due to just going along with whatever the official wrote for them.

Anonymous said...

*lol* Of course, nobody could possibly fathom the white person NOT being deliberately vile/vulgar. Its quite a funny cautionary tale. If I was ever sued for something I said while driving a scooter, I'd probably have gone home broke!

channing said...

I would like to point out that despite the obvious connection to mainland China, Hanyu Pinyin is far superior to older forms of romanization because of consistency, simplicity and accuracy.

If Ma were a particular fan of Hanyu Pinyin as you are saying, his name would be romanized "Ma Yingjiu."

An inconsistent romanization system, as in the rest of Taiwan outside Taipei, gives a negative impression on visitors who cannot read Chinese.

Runsun said...

Hanyu Pinyin is far superior to older forms of romanization because of consistency, simplicity and accuracy.

There are many different languages in Taiwan. If we want to go toward a future of "respecting each language as much as possible," we have to take all languages into considerations and find one compromised solution.

Hanyu Pinyin is designed specific for Mandarin only and will fail to pronounce correctly when applied to other languages in Taiwan. People often advocate "connecting to the world", "following the world standard", "giving foreigners more convinience" etc as reasons of chosing Hanyu Pinyin. But do we want to sacrifice local dialogs (which would eventually lead to "sacrificing local cultures") in order to follow the world standard? Or simply for the reason of making foreign visitors feel more comfortable? Which country in the world will put their own dialogs and cultures in jeopady simply to please foreigners?

And, if you go to any country that doesn't speak English, will you expect that country provide a spelling system that satisfy your taste but is not able to pronounce some local dialog sound correctly ? If not, then why would Taiwanese have to do so ?

I wonder in the minds of these people "respecting other Taiwanese languages" ever means anything to them.

channing said...

Yes, I agree with your feeling about "submission to world standards" and its implications on local culture. However, most of Taiwan has been following (incorrectly, I must add) the old Wade-Giles romanization system ever since the KMT took over; this is hardly a part of Taiwanese culture as it was designed by foreigners for foreigners. Neither Wade-Giles nor Hanyu Pinyin offer any accommodation to non-Mandarin tongue, so unless you want Taiwan to adopt POJ and an official Hakka romanization for public signs, I do not see the harm in switching from WG to Hanyu Pinyin.

Anonymous said...

It's quite common for judges in the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada to be just as "clueless" about Chinese phrases.

The strangeness of this incident is not the fact that the judges didn't know their English swear words or grammar (this doesn't make them clueless by any measure, they are meant to know the law and English is not an international standard with which to measure cluelessness), but that this story seems to suggest that something is lacking in the Taiwanese judicial system - namely the reliance on expert testimony.

There many case that appear just as bizarre from the countries I have listed above. But when you read the actual judgement itself, or talk to someone at the actual proceedings who heard the whole process, your opinion might change because you get to see the judge/s' reasoning.

Mark said...

"There are many different languages in Taiwan. If we want to go toward a future of 'respecting each language as much as possible,' we have to take all languages into considerations and find one compromised solution.

Hanyu Pinyin is designed specific for Mandarin only and will fail to pronounce correctly when applied to other languages in Taiwan."


This is a common and ignorant argument. No system can properly romanize every Taiwanese language, and none will. Just as Japanese and Arabic require different systems, so too do Mandarin, Hakkanese, Hoklo, and each indigenous language.

Trying to romanize every Taiwanese language with one single system would be like trying to create a single mapping of letters to sounds that could correctly transcribe English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch.

It ain't gonna happen.

Runsun said...

To channing: "most of Taiwan has been following (incorrectly, I must add) the old Wade-Giles romanization system ever since the KMT took over; this is hardly a part of Taiwanese culture ... I do not see the harm in switching from WG to Hanyu Pinyin."

I didn't suggest "a spelling system as part of Taiwanese culture." What I meant was that if we pick a system that is unable to pronounce some sounds of a lauguage, those specific sounds of that language might be lost in the long run.

And I didn't suggest to pick WG over Hanyu either. In fact I didn't mention any system other than Hanyu at all. What I argued is that most people favoring Hanyu don't even care about the impact that language policy could bring to other Taiwanese languages. They behave as though Taiwan only need to look outward to meet the world of Chinese Mandarin and don't have to pay any attention to the preservation of other Taiwanese languages. To me this is a mindset of discrimination and is the core of all chaos in Taiwan.

Runsun said...

Mark: "This is a common and ignorant argument. No system can properly romanize every Taiwanese language, and none will. Just as Japanese and Arabic require different systems, so too do Mandarin, Hakkanese, Hoklo, and each indigenous language."

You might like to be informed that the idea of "respecting each language as much as possible, we have to take all languages into considerations and find one compromised solution" is not my invention. DPP government had gathered about dozen of linguistics experts to study and discuss over a period of about 10 month time with at least dozen of meetings, trying to find a compromized way to preserve the spirit of as many Taiwanese languages as possible. It seems to me that your expertise far exceeds all those experts' combined to allow you make such a remark. In that case it would be Taiwan's fortune if you could recommend yourself to DPP government and tell them to fire all those ignorant experts.

Mark said...

That's one of the most humorous things I've read in a while. I don't think the word "expert" means what you (or they) think it means.

If the DPP listened to actual experts we wouldn't be in this mess. I would be glad to help if help were wanted, but they've turned down the help of those far more knowledgeable than myself.

It's futile.

Runsun said...

Do you know what's wrong with your expert remark, Mark?

I pointed out that we need to take into consideration the preserving of our local cultures. Taiwan's cultures have been victims of invading cultures (both from Japan and China actually), and always have to face the risks of sinalization, marginalization and extinction. It's the government's, as well as all Taiwanese, responsibility to try to make any possible effort to preserve them.

And that is the context of my point on making the effort for a compromized language solution.

Your smart remark took out the entire context! You made a conclusion of "ignorance" based solely on your previous knowledge on other languages, without knowledging the background of my point. This kind of context-less comment is not only incorrect but also biased; it is exactly what those professional journalists from BBC have been doing on Taiwan, and is exactly what we (and many of you) have been commenting against for !!

So next time before you make your expert remarks, please review what this and many other blogs said about AP, CNN and BBC first, such that you can learn to avoid making the same mistake.

In fact, this is quite a lesson, for myself too. We always said that when you point a finger at others, three of your other fingers are pointing at yourself. When we try hard to establish that those internally recognized news giants are making context-less comments about Taiwan, have we ever thought that we might do the same thing ourselves once in a while? Maybe I did, unintentinally of course, I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Mark said, "If the DPP listened to actual experts we wouldn't be in this mess. I would be glad to help if help were wanted, but they've turned down the help of those far more knowledgeable than myself.
It's futile."

Which experts have the DPP turned down? I don't much about this whole subject but just curious to know how the DPP has been dealing with it. Any links or info would be appreciated. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Zzzz....

Mark said...

Runsun, the important question is this: Does it help Taiwan to use non-standard romanization, and isolate itself from the world? Does that benefit speakers of Taiwanese, Hakkanese and other languages (who don't even care much about romanization themselves)?

Runsun said...

Mark:the important question is this: Does it help Taiwan to use non-standard romanization, and isolate itself from the world?

My previous long post doesn't seem to ring any bell. I'm not quite sure if you don't understand what I said about "no context", or you just don't give a damn about "preserving local cultures".

Besides, in your first comment that you expressed your opinion on other languages, although it had no context but at least the logic is fine. But this one leaks like a sieve:

First of all, many countries don't use Hanyu pinyin but that never stop them from connecting to the world;

Secondly, when you want to connect to the English world you learn English, but not squeeze local languages to make them fit into English;

And thirdly, to connect to the English world, there are always other ways than putting local cultures in risks. For example, promoting English as one of formal or national languages.

We all know how important it is to "not isolate from the world" but to think that "using Hanyu Pinyin is the only solution and we'd better prepare to risk our cultures for it " is not only ignorant but also self-centered.

Anyway I think this won't go any where if one side of the discussions insists on leaving the context of subject behind.