Saturday, June 07, 2014


Lost in Romanization, Taiwan's ideological warfare over spelling

6/07/2014 Taiwan Explorer

The Economist published a piece on Taiwan's problems with Romanization and the political ramifications of hanyu pinyin. The author is exaggerating about the Romanization confusing visitors and expatriate newcomers, but he hits a nerve when he talks about the reasons and consequences of pinyinizing Taiwan:

Officials argue that its use will improve Taiwan’s economic competitiveness by co-ordinating with other Chinese-speaking societies. But some Taiwanese believe this is a ploy by Mr Ma covertly to integrate Taiwan more closely with mainland China.

The commentator nicknamed "sinmmma" put it very well:

The debate of whether to use hanyu pinyin or tongyong pinyin should be based on the ease of pronunciation and accuracy. Tongyong triumphs on both grounds. Hanyu pinyin uses “q” for “ch” sounds, adding to the non-existing bizarre “zh” and “xi” sounds; or spelling “kui” when it is pronounced “kuei”, forms the real barrier in speaking the language. The fact that hanyu pinyin was developed by the communist China in the 1950s and embraced by the rest of the world following the rise of Chinese economic dominance, is no reason to assume its absolute correctness and judge the alternative system purely based on the political ground. As Gandhi once put: an error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody can see it- this piece will render more meaning should it focus its argument on accuracy and facts of the two systems rather than mere feelings and political bias.

I have written about why hanyu pinyin sucks, and why Romanization in Taiwan is good a long while ago, and what I wrote back then still holds true, especially in regards to my mission of highlighting the issues of imposing hanyu pinyin onto Taiwan's official signage, and maps.

And what do Taiwanese netizens think about this issue? Apple Daily, a popular Taiwanese news media, translated the article by The Economist into Chinese, and a vibrant discussion took place on Facebook and on Apple Daily's homepage. This comment represents the mood of your average Taiwanese on this issue most accurately:

馬說跟國際接軌根本就是鬼話. 難道英式英語、美式英語、澳式英語讓各自競爭力變差嗎?更別說兩岸文字跟用語根本就大不相同, 馬自始至終只關心跟中國接軌而已.

Ma saying the integration with international standards is simply nonsense. Do the differences of British English, American English, and Australian English deteriorate their competitiveness? Not to mention the two sides across the strait use very different characters, Ma is from beginning to the end only interested in integration with China, that's all.