Monday, February 21, 2011

This is just Silly


中 (-chung) is in every sign that mentions 台中 (Taichung) in and around the city. Think about how common it must be. Despite this, apparently sign makers and sign placers didn't notice that there are two different romanizations of 中, both of which are wrong. How hard can it be to get the romanization right for a character that you had to put up 10,000 times?

In the last decade the nation has used at least three romanization systems, never mind what the signmakers are constantly inventing. Isn't it time to switch to the internationally used and understood system, Hanyu Pinyin? Yes, I know it's supposedly associated with the PRC. But really, this sort of stupidity -- "zhueng" AFAIK doesn't even represent a sound used in Chinese -- is long past inexcusable.

ADDED: David on Formosa notes that being literate in a romanization should be a basic requirement of literacy in this culture.
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42 comments:

Alain.Fontaine said...

I agree generally, except for widely used and known city names. I would not want to use Taibei or Gaoxiung for example.

David on Formosa said...

I guess the "Zhueng" was created by someone converting to Hanyu Pinyin using a table of Zhuyin Fuhao. ㄓㄨㄥ => zh + u + eng.

There is no excuse for it though. Being able to accurately romanise Mandarin should be considered a basic component of literacy. Instead you have a paradox of people who know thousands of Chinese characters but can't manage the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet.

Thoth Harris said...

Actually, I like the confusion now. I'll tell you why:
In the same way that the circuitous roads innovated by the Japanese to keep invaders out, either in Japan or in Taiwan, the circuitousness of the language will confuse Chinese about how Taiwanese represent themselves. Directness and efficiency, in this case, is self-defeating.

xiao_ma said...

The number of 'widely known' city names is very small, and the use of Hanyu Pinyin would change them all for the better [Taipei does have a sound close to B, and Kaohsiung closer to G].

Anyone know if the hold ups on this are due to politics or indifference?

Alex said...

As someone fluent in both Mandarin and English, I personally find it difficult to use Hanyu Pinyin. Maybe it's because I never learnt it and trying to make the right sounds with the alphabet just doesn't flow for me. I'm guessing this is a problem for a lot of people who learnt Mandarin as their first language. I still stick with Zhuyin Fuhao for typing Mandarin on the keyboard even though I type so much faster in English.

But I agree that something has to be done to standardise the road signs. Had enough of driving past successive signs each with a different romanization of the same place.

I hate the X said...

Hanyu Pinyin sucks! And finding mistakes like this is an easy task everywhere, from China, Korea to Japan... Taiwan is here no exception... There are tousands of signs in Taiwan, not hard to find a mistake like this one... Just don't use something like this to propagate hanyu pinyin again! That can stay in China, we don't want it!

@xiao_ma: That's because Taiwan is not China.

Anonymous said...

I don't care what they use as long as it is a nationally uniform system.

M said...

At least they are trying to use Hanyu Pinyin.
This blog also uses a whole mishmash of romanizations - including the awful Tongyong Pinyin. Time to switch to Hanyu?

xiao_ma said...

Hanyu Pinyin is by far the dominant standard for romanizing Chinese. It's what people learn in China [both native speakers and second language learners] and everywhere else other than Taiwan. Anyone with an interest in Taiwan and the Taiwanese being able to engage more effectively with the rest of the world ought be in favor of adopting this system.

Making this a political issue is self-defeating. If China uses the metric system, should we adopt feet and inches?

Also, good luck finding a keyboard with bopomofo outside of Taiwan.

The Expatriate said...

I've seen these signs before. Never managed to get a picture and post it to my blog.

I'm all for a nationwide switch (for real, this time) to Hanyu Pinyin. It might be a small pain for the foreigners to switch to Taibei and Gaoxiong and Taizhong, but we'll get over it soon enough.

les said...

This is just a symptom of a deeper problem. The Englishy on the signs is not there to help non-Chinese visitors, it's there because Englishy signs = International in the minds of many of those in power. If there was a real desire to make life easier for visitors then logical signs would follow. The fact that in 20 years the signs have not improved doesn't mean the government isn't capable of improving them, it's proof they can't be bothered.

I'd like to see all the signs return to Chinese only if they can't get the transliterations consistent... they are creating more confusion than they're worth.

No problem said...

Taiwanese don't even pay attention to those English words on the signs. Who cares, because we don't get lost. Perhaps you should all spend some time learn some basic Chinese instead of trying to get by on your English while in Taiwan.

Michael Turton said...

Perhaps you should all spend some time learn some basic Chinese instead of trying to get by on your English while in Taiwan.

it's always good when the enlightened, thoughtful crowd stops by.

Okami said...

They honestly don't care, don't want your help and all decisions come from "heaven". Some guy you don't know and will probably never meet assigns the contract to some firm for some "consideration" and the signs are made. The guys at the sign companies know that they should have English on the sign, but have no clue what it should be because they've probably never heard of Hanyu Pinyin. They don't need to worry because the signs will be accepted after some "consideration" is given to the guy who ok's acceptance of their finished product so they can deliver the signs and get paid.

People have asked to help fix the English on the DMV's English test, that got them a smile and a polite "no". The real reason is no one knows who is responsible, doesn't know where to go to fix it, doesn't know who to ask to fix it, and doesn't want to be considered a "problem" nor a person in love with foreigners. All because it was done by some outside company that was damn sure to pay off the person in charge of it so the finished work would be accepted.

Welcome to Asia, if it were Latin America, they might not even have signs there despite the budget having been spent on them.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha!!!!

"Who cares, because we don't get lost."

I have never met a Taiwanese who could give directions worth a damn or really understood directions. It is one of the great mysteries of Taiwan. Nobody knows where anything is. You could be a kilometer from a major arterial and the gas station attendant will have no clue where it is.

Forget finding out which way is North, South, East or West.

les said...

Taiwanese don't even pay attention to those English words on the signs. Who cares, because we don't get lost.
I think this is how the govt. thinks as well. The difference is that they're either more polite about it or they keep silent on the matter.
"No problem", however boorish, probably represents the majority opinion on this topic. They already gave us a chabuduo solution to an issue they don't care about, and we're still complaining. Damn ungrateful foreigners...

Anonymous said...

@The Expatriate: Taiwan won't ever be fully covered with Hanyu Pinyin, it's decided that Taipei will remain Taipei and not Taibei, even though the KMT dominated city has fully switched to Hanyu Pinyin. They name is already widely accepted abroad, so why change it.

Steven said...

They honestly don't care, don't want your help and all decisions come from "heaven".

Not true. I agree with those who say the state of signs is a national embarrassment, but there are people in local and central government doing their best to get it right, and paying native English-speakers for their input. Last week I attended a meeting at Kaohsiung City Government at which we tried to straighten out the English names of various government bureaus and sections - not just the spelling of them, but to ensure they reflect what each section does.

Anonymous said...

No problem said,

What about tourists and short term visitors to your country who don't know any Chinese? Your "I'm alright Jack" attitude is arrogant and ignorant.

D said...

I was really surprised by MT's view on this. I learned pinyin from the get-go so I'm very comfortable with it, but I still feel like going with pinyin makes Taiwan look like a part of China. Not that I want to take a moron as my witness, but the comment by "No problem" does suggest to me that a change to pinyin would have no real significance to most people here, leaving only the negative symbolic significance of pinyin's PRC associations.

Michael Turton said...

I don't think it makes Taiwan part of China to use Hanyu Pinyin, and it solves a problem that just makes everyone look stupid.

Waltzing Jaloma said...

Reclaim all Japanese toponyms first. Then, apply English transliteration. Whatever Chinese translation applies comes last.

In the process, make sure all ROC toponyms are obliterated.

SoCalExpat said...

The problem with hanyu pinyin is the temtation to pronounce the letters as if they were in English, thereby mispronouncing the word in Chinese.

This discussion was already had in the 1920s when China was figuring out how to teach people to pronounce the then new Mandarin language. Something very similar to hanyu pinyin was proposed at the time, and it was rejected in favor of bopomofo which was determined to be the most accurate way of phoneticizing Mandarin.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see hanyu pinyin embraced for Mandarin since, as a foreign language, such decisions ought to be made by Beijing. Taiwan street signs should be romanized in POJ Taiwanese.

JS said...

A minor peeve related to this discussion-- regardless of whether the city is written as KaoHsiung or GaoXiong, there's nothing "English" about writing it that way.

It is simply romanized phonetic spelling of a Chinese name. It is no more "English" than it is "French" or "Norwegian". How do Hungarians write "高雄"?

M said...

I was really surprised by MT's view on this. I learned pinyin from the get-go so I'm very comfortable with it, but I still feel like going with pinyin makes Taiwan look like a part of China. Not that I want to take a moron as my witness, but the comment by "No problem" does suggest to me that a change to pinyin would have no real significance to most people here, leaving only the negative symbolic significance of pinyin's PRC associations.

I don't think it makes it look like a part of China either.
The actual names of the streets are a different matter. The streets in Taipei are laid out like a map of China, and every place on the island has its Zhongshan and Zhongzheng Roads.
I can't see how spelling Guangzhou Rd. Guangjhou Rd., or Zhongshan Rd. Jhongshan Rd. makes it more "Taiwanese".

Okami said...

@Steve

They've been having these meetings for years, ever since I set foot on this island almost 11 years ago. It's still an embarrassment and it's still a problem they don't give a damn about till someone makes fun of them. It took them nearly 2 decades just to organize the English spellings of streets in Taipei and that's the capital city that gets all the money and that was only due to embarrassment. Seeing 2 different spellings of a street side-by-side and having 4 different spellings of Hoping within 2 blocks of each other was the norm. What about when they renamed the streets in English for foreigners, but failed to inform the public?

Listen, I'd love to believe that they would like to improve Taiwan. After living here, I just don't buy it, unless they are making kickbacks in the process(i.e. MRT, Ilan-Taipei Freeway). Otherwise they are like any other machine-run big city that can't even get the little shit right unless they elect the guy from the "hated" party.

It comes down to the basics of competence and transparency. I have seen neither improve.

Anonymous said...

Hanyu Pinyin is aesthetically ugly, hard to pronounce for people that haven't learned it, and makes it easy for Taiwanese place names that share a name with a place in China to be confused.

That last bit is CRITICAL. This is the age of Google. You don't want people going on to Google, typing in the romanization of some place they copied down, and ending up with the place in China. Taiwan needs one standard yes, but they very much need their own standard.

And if you actually know any Chinese, it's super easy to figure out Tongyong Pinyin or other systems after you see a few of them.

Takeaway recommendation: Use Tongyong Pinyin WITH tonal markers, which will actually help foreigners pronounce things properly, yet will sufficiently differentiate Taiwanese place names from Chinese ones, in this age of Google. Yes, age of Google. Sad, but it is what it is.

Robert R. said...

SoCal: "The problem with hanyu pinyin is the temtation to pronounce the letters as if they were in English, thereby mispronouncing the word in Chinese."

Indeed, that's part of the goal of romanization, to provide a close analog to some target language. I don't know if other languages use different romanization schemes (per JS's question about the Hungarians), but the rules for 'i' in "xi" vs. "si" vs. "shi" is one of my major irritants with Hanyu Pinyin.
And no one can pronounce the 'x' properly without having studied pinyin. It's a reasonable expectation for travelers, but an irritant when I'm sending information to my clients.

In the same vein, travelers should learn Wade-Giles... or at least they should if anything in TW actually followed it properly.

JS: "How do Hungarians write "高雄"?
Well, wiki has their phonetic pronunciation as "Kaohsziung". However, that looks like the pronunciation of the English pronunciation of Kaohsiung, not Gaoxiung.

xiao_ma said...

@SoCal "The problem with hanyu pinyin is the temptation to pronounce the letters as if they were in English, thereby mispronouncing the word in Chinese."

There's nothing 'English' about the use of A-Z. After all, 'j' is pronounced differently in English, Spanish and Slovenian.

No problem said...

"What about tourists and short term visitors to your country who don't know any Chinese? Your "I'm alright Jack" attitude is arrogant and ignorant."
Ha! Who is the ignorant one.
Based on your rationale of tourists needs, Japanese writing should be up on the road signs in Taiwan, not English. Chinese tourists are catching up fast, but Japanese is by far the largest group of foreigners visiting Taiwan.

http://admin.taiwan.net.tw/english/statistics/year_show.asp?selno=3&selyear=2009&selmonth=0&sikey=1

路名翻英文差不多就好啦 不要在這邊雞蛋裡挑骨頭

Robert R. said...

@xiao_ma: except that the "j" and "jh" as used in pinyin uses the 2 'J' sounds that English uses, not Slovenian or Spanish.

@No Problem: funny man, except that the Japanese already can read the Kanji.

Cristy Li said...

Too Funny--Xiexie!

Anonymous said...

No problem says,
The majority of non-chinese visitors to Taiwan read romanized script not Japanese script , so since English is the international language, obviously Taiwan needs a standard romanized translation of street names. It's not rocket science, is it?

Anonymous said...

Just use hanyu pinyin. Complaining about HP being hard to pronounce is ridiculously English centric thinking. Americans trying to pronounce French/German/Spanish/etc. in the "intuitive way" is what made them the laughing stock over here in Europe.

D said...

Maybe it's a rational change, but I still shudder every time I see "Taibei". Perhaps it could be "pinyin with some exceptions". How about a modified Wade-Giles revival?

Funny how many comments this topic gets -- I wonder why.

Cary said...

Isn't it just a case of romanazation is for foreigners, and foreigners don't count? It would amaze me if a government agency in Taiwan took time and trouble to standardize and make sure romanization/english language writings were up to spec.

Robert R. said...

"Americans trying to pronounce French/German/Spanish/etc. in the "intuitive way" is what made them the laughing stock over here in Europe."

Don't worry, the Europeans' pronunciation of HP isn't better than the Americans'.

If you don't feel any need to match letters to any pronunciation scheme, then we can us 'z' for ㄚ and 'q' for ㄓ. Good times for all, eh?

Stefan said...

Anon - if you type in a Taiwanese place name in Google maps you get nothing. Even if you know where it is, zoom in and type in the exact same spelling which is used on the map itself - Google still won't find the place. It's no small feat, but Taiwan's romanization has defeated even Google.

Even if you have basic knowledge of Mandarin, and have learned to read a fair number of hanzi: unless you have knowledge of (and access to!) a Chinese typing system, you will not find Taiwanese place names in Google.

Don't worry about getting confused with Chinese places in Google searches. It's easy: if it can be found, it can't be in Taiwan,

Anonymous said...

@xiaoma:

"There's nothing 'English' about the use of A-Z. After all, 'j' is pronounced differently in English, Spanish and Slovenian."


And of those languages, English is the most widely spoken internationally and the most widely known language among visitors to Taiwan. Having a romanization system that pretty much was as close to English pronunciation without being burdensome would be ultra helpful for the vast majority of foreigners, Anglo-American or otherwise. Hanyu Pinyin, with many of its consonants is really off from the expectations of those with knowledge of English, which is pretty much everyone.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion!

@Anonymous above: Talking about Slovenians, looks like this blogger agrees with you.

Douglas Mathieu said...

So to answer the original question, yes, it's political.

I don't see why they can't just adopt Yale. Since the signs are really more for people who don't know Chinese, and Yale is best for that crowd.

Pinyin on the other hand has to be learned, so it's not as useful to people who aren't learning Chinese.