Feed of posts from useful sites

Article on early Tongyong Pinyin on Taipei street signs

Pīnyīn News - Wed, 01/30/2019 - 12:29

Reader Jens Finke recently came across a newspaper clipping from about twenty years ago, the dark ages of Taipei’s street signs. Back then most roads in the city were identified in bastardized Wade-Giles and wildly misspelled variations thereof. Two or even more spellings for one name at the same intersection was not uncommon. (Outside of Taipei, many signs were in MPS2, which is often mistaken — including in the article below — for the Yale system.) And so the foreign community of Taiwan by and large cried out for the use of Hanyu Pinyin. But that’s not what foreigners got. Instead, Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-bian decided to go with a half-baked local invention called Tongyong Pinyin.

Really, half-baked. Incredibly, not long after street signs started to go up in this system in 1998, its creator changed it. For example, the article mentions “Zhongsiao” (“Zhongxiao” in Hanyu Pinyin). Scarcely had the paint dried on the new street signs than the spelling in the supposedly same system was changed to “Jhongsiao.” This and other changes rendered most of the new signs obsolete.

But before many signs went up in the old new system or the new new system, Chen lost his December 1998 reelection bid. His successor, Ma Ying-jeou, didn’t pursue Tongyong Pinyin. Ma even took the surprising step of asking foreigners what they wanted and took action to implement the overwhelming choice of the foreign community (both then and now): Hanyu Pinyin, though unfortunately the road to this was not without monumentally foolish detours, bad ideas, and still-unfixed errors.

In 2000, Chen was elected president. He asked his minister of education, Ovid Tzeng, to decide on a romanization system for Taiwan. After Tzeng picked Hanyu Pinyin, he was given the boot. His successor saw the writing on the wall and quickly announced his support of Tongyong Pinyin. Meanwhile, Ma, who remained mayor of Taipei, said he had no plan to change to Tongyong Pinyin. This time marks the beginning of Taiwan’s romanization wars, which raged in the first decade of the century and have still not been completely resolved.

Some readers may suspect the reporter in the article below of pulling people’s legs (e.g., “Special thanks to janitorial assistant Shaw Toe-now of the Jyii Horng Bus Company in Tainan for faxing a copy of his employer’s self-designed romanization table”). But I assure you, it would be very difficult to outdo the craziness of Taiwan’s romanization situation back in those days.

Feel free to use the comments section below if you’d like to share any recollections of Taiwan’s signage mess of the 1990s and before.

In my transcription, I’ve fixed a few typos and omitted the article’s Cyrillic system for Mandarin.

Friday, May 8, 1998

It’s all Roman
By Ian Lamont

Throw out all of the new business cards, office stationery and checkbooks that you ordered a few months back to include Taipei’s new telephone numbers. Just three months after the phone company made all the city’s phone numbers eight digits long, the Taipei City Government has decided it wants to institute a new romanization system for street signs to make the city more accessible to international visitors.

Well, at least that’s the plan. Someone in the city government’s vast bureaucracy finally figured out that the screwed-up mix of Wade-Giles and Yale (the same guys who brought you “Peking”) was not really helping anything by having foreign nationals attempting to say “Jen-ai Road” or “Kien-kwo South Road” to bewildered taxi drivers.

Not that taxi drivers won’t be any less confused by the new linguistic concoctions that will result under the new system:

“I’d like to go to Her-ping West Road, please.”


“You know, Her-ping West Road. It’s on the way to Manka?”

In case you didn’t understand this little exchange, “Herping” (rhymes with “burping”) is the new Mandarin romanization for the current Hoping East/West Road, while “Manka” is the Taiwanese name for Taipei’s Wanhua neighborhood. According to the Taipei City Government, both of these names will be in common use once all the city’s street signs are replaced.

Professor Yu Boh-chuan, the Academia Sinica linguist who helped design the new system, says his way reflects the local culture while at the same time following international standards.

Currently, there is only one international standard — the hanyu pinyin system developed by China some forty years ago and now almost universally accepted as the official Mandarin romanization system by governments, universities, libraries and publishers around the world. While there are many similarities between hanyu pinyin and Taipei’s new system, there are also several glaring differences, most notably the puzzling use of the letter “r” at the end of some syllables, the omission of the palatal spirant “sh” sound in certain Mandarin words, and the inclusion of Taiwanese, Hakkanese and Aborigine place names.

Since Taipei will soon have at least three different romanization systems floating around, Weekend has decided to create a handy chart that will help readers (and potentially psychotic mail sorters) survive the sticky transition period.

As an added bonus, we’ve decided to include several other alternative spelling systems for non-Chinese speakers. Special thanks to janitorial assistant Shaw Toe-now of the Jyii Horng Bus Company in Tainan for faxing a copy of his employer’s self-designed romanization table, as well as Prof. Vladimir Torostov of the Sinitic Languages Department of Khabarovsk University in Russia for submitting a conversion table with the cyrillic spellings for Taipei street names. Dosvidanya!

Old Romanization New Romanization Mainland Jyii Horng Bus Co. Chunghsiao Zhongsiao Zhongxiao Chunggshaw Jenai Renai Renai Lenie Hsinyi/Shinyi Sinyi Xinyi Shynyii Hoping Herping Heping Huhpeeng Keelung Kelang Jilong Cheerlurng Pateh Bader Bade Patiih

Unnecessarily wordy sign

Pīnyīn News - Tue, 01/29/2019 - 12:00

Above is a directional road sign at an intersection in Taitung (Taidong), Taiwan. It reads:


Nánqū Guóshuìjú
Táidōng Fēnjú]

Taitung Branch, National Taxation
Bureau of the Southern Area,
Ministry of Finance

Although Taiwan has a lot of this sort of directional signage, I don’t think I’ve written before about why I think so many examples of it are downright awful.

Not only is the sign unnecessarily wordy, the part that receives the greatest emphasis (by appearing in large characters) is the least useful: 臺東分局. Taidong Fenju means simply “Taitung branch office.” But since the sign is in Taitung itself, mention of an office being in Taitung provides zero useful information. (It’s a safe bet that drivers will already know which part of the country they’re in and that they aren’t driving around that neighborhood looking for the Taipei office.) The same thing goes for mention of this being the office for the Nanqu (“Southern Area”).

Nor do motorists care in the least what ministry the National Taxation Bureau belongs to. They simply need to be able to comprehend quickly and easily the main point of the sign. Too much information becomes clutter, a fatal problem on signs that drivers need to be able to read and comprehend quickly and easily.

A fundamental of good signage is to keep it simple.

The sign would be much better if it read simply “國稅局 Tax Office” and had an arrow. (Also, though this would be a moot point if the line were deleted, I’d prefer 台稅局 over 臺稅局. We have Ma Ying-jeou to thank for the prevalence of 臺.)

My private word for unnecessarily wordy signs in Taiwan is “signese,” which should not be confused with the good kind of Signese.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photo. I had to quickly use a cell phone camera on zoom through a taxi windshield — not ideal.

Dungan-English Dictionary published

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 10/25/2018 - 14:50

Eastbridge Books, an imprint of Camphor Press, is pleased to announce the publication of its Dungan-English Dictionary, by Olli Salmi.

Dungan is interesting for Chinese studies because it has an alphabetic orthography. It is also important because it shows very little influence from the Chinese literary language. It has preserved original features of the local dialects of about 150 years ago. It also has loans from Persian and Arabic, from Turkic languages, and from Russian.

The Dungans are Muslims who fled China for Russian territory in Central Asia after the failure of the Dungan Revolt (1862-1877). Their language, which UNESCO classifies as “definitely endangered,” is related to northwestern Mandarin Chinese. Dungan has two main dialects: the so-called Gansu dialect, which is similar to the Muslim Chinese communal dialects in the southern part of the province of Xinjiang, and the Shaanxi dialect, which has more in common with the dialects of southern Shaanxi around Xi’an. In the Soviet Union an alphabetic orthography and a literary language was developed for the Gansu dialect.

Although Dungan is now spoken primarily outside of China and employs an alphabet rather than Chinese characters, it is not really a peripheral dialect of Chinese. The Dungan Revolt started near Xi’an, Shaanxi, the cradle of the Chinese civilization and a frequent site of the capital of the country. (This is where the terracotta soldiers were buried.) The speakers that gave rise to Gansu Dungan came from a place west of the Shaanxi speakers, but still a totally Chinese-speaking area.

This dictionary is based on words and examples collected from Dungan-language newspapers and books published before the fall of the Soviet Union. Special attention has been paid to not only vocabulary (9,945 headwords) but also grammatical features; the dictionary may even provide material for the study of syntax. An effort has been made to find characters for Dungan words in dialect dictionaries published in China.

This work is available through Camphor Press and Amazon.

Note: I am part of Camphor Press and so stand to make a small amount of money from sales of this book. But that’s not why I’m recommending it to everyone interested in Dungan.

Chinese Southern Charm

Laowai Chinese - Fri, 10/05/2018 - 06:04

In the United States, the charming southern accent is all about vowels that get swapped around or changed. I still remember this great game of Catch Phrase where the southern belle mother gave this clue “It’s long and thin” and someone guessed “pin!” She was delighted and passed the thing to the next player (her own child). “Mom! This is ‘pen’ not ‘pin’.” But the mom didn’t understand, “That’s what they said!”

It was funny to everyone because her own children (growing up in Arizona) had lost the southern accent but their mother pronounced “pen” and “pin” exactly the same.

In Southern China, the accent comprises not vowel differences, but rather consonants that the locals can’t distinguish. There are many vocabulary differences between the North and the South (and everywhere in China, for that matter), but the biggest challenge to learning Mandarin in the South is the pronunciation.

One example is: “s” and “sh” sound different to me because in my native language (English) they are different sounds (it matters very much which one you use when you tell some to “sit.”). But in Southern China “s” and “sh” sound the same to them (they are what linguists call allophones).

This makes for many misunderstandings, but also some cute jokes that are only possible in the South. For example this fruit shop’s name:

The hanzi is 随果 suí guǒ which is a mispronounciation of 水果 shuǐ guǒ (meaning fruit). You can see the “s” and “sh” switcharoo. But there’s one other thing that makes the joke possible: “shui” in the real word for fruit switched to sound like a 2nd tone because of the “double 3rd tone rule.” So these two words would sound exactly the same with a Southern Chinese accent. Clearly this is a tongue in cheek mocking of Southern pronunciation that most Chinese people I’ve talked to find pretty cute.

There are several other features of the Southern accent (enough for a whole post or book chapter just on that), but I’ll give just one more, this time, unintentional evidence of a 分不清楚 fēn bù qīng chu sound: “-n” and “-ng” at the end of a word. In English this is important because we want the church choir to “sing” not “sin,” right? But in Southern China they can’t always tell the difference. Look at the login info for a local “Lanzhou” restaurant’s WiFi:

The really interesting thing about this is: Lanzhou is in the north and you would think those running the restaurant would be too. We can only surmise that the internet was installed by a local.

If you live in Southern China, and you have some printed material showing the local pronunciation of Mandarin, please feel free to leave a comment and tell us about it!

Reasons Gwoyeu Romatzyh never caught on, part 39

Pīnyīn News - Mon, 09/03/2018 - 11:56

Eel Chyi

Here’s a sign spotted in Banqiao, Taiwan, for what would be written “Ěrqí” in Hanyu Pinyin.

“Ěrqí shíshàng” means “Erqi Fashion” (爾旗時尚), with the first word pronounced roughly like the English name “Archie.”

The doubled vowel (“ee”) is a marker of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system (or “GR” for short), in which doubled vowels indicate the third tone. Thus, “ee” in Gwoyeu Romatzyh equals “ě” in Hanyu Pinyin. As for the -l, that’s GR’s way of indicating -r. For those of you wondering why GR didn’t just use -r for -r, that’s because GR uses -r to indicate second tone … except when it uses other letters to do the same thing. It’s kinda complicated. For example:

  1. ēr = el
  2. ér = erl
  3. ěr = eel
  4. èr = ell


  1. qī = chi
  2. qí = chyi
  3. qǐ = chii
  4. qì = chih

Of course, Hanyu Pinyin’s q isn’t intuitive for most people used to reading in an alphabetic script but must be learned. Once learned, though, q is entirely consistent. And it must be noted that as quirky as Gwoyeu Romatyzh can be, its oddities are nothing compared to those of Chinese characters.

Reasons Gwoyeu Romatzyh never caught on, part 39

Pīnyīn News - Mon, 09/03/2018 - 11:56

Eel Chyi

Here’s a sign spotted in Banqiao, Taiwan, for what would be written “Ěrqí” in Hanyu Pinyin.

“Ěrqí shíshàng” means “Erqi Fashion” (爾旗時尚), with the first word pronounced roughly like the English name “Archie.”

The doubled vowel (“ee”) is a marker of the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system (or “GR” for short), in which doubled vowels indicate the third tone. Thus, “ee” in Gwoyeu Romatzyh equals “ě” in Hanyu Pinyin. As for the -l, that’s GR’s way of indicating -r. For those of you wondering why GR didn’t just use -r for -r, that’s because GR uses -r to indicate second tone … except when it uses other letters to do the same thing. It’s kinda complicated. For example:

  1. ēr = el
  2. ér = erl
  3. ěr = eel
  4. èr = ell


  1. qī = chi
  2. qí = chyi
  3. qǐ = chii
  4. qì = chih

Of course, Hanyu Pinyin’s q isn’t intuitive for most people used to reading in an alphabetic script but must be learned. Once learned, though, q is entirely consistent. And it must be noted that as quirky as Gwoyeu Romatyzh can be, its oddities are nothing compared to those of Chinese characters.

US postsecondary enrollments in Mandarin fall

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 15:20

The last time I presented the figures for people studying Mandarin in U.S. colleges and universities, the strong but over-hyped growth of the first decade of the century had stalled.

In the newest figures, recently released by the Modern Language Association of America, the number of people in Chinese classes has fallen. Although the total enrollments in languages other than English fell 9.2% between fall 2013 and fall 2016 (the second-largest decline in the history of the MLA’s census), the decline in enrollments in Mandarin classes was significantly greater than that.

The MLA says the decline between 2013 and 2016 was 13.1 percent. The true amount is greater.

MLA’s table

As I mentioned above, the drop is even greater than given in the table, because, unless one looks carefully and beyond the MLA’s summaries, the MLA gives misleading figures for enrollments in ‘Chinese’ classes. (See the previous link to understand why my figures are different than those in the MLA table above. I’ve also excluded classes in literary Sinitic from this year’s compilation, so the figures are slightly different for some years than in my previous posts.)

So here are better figures, which combine those for classes labeled “Chinese” with those for classes labeled “Mandarin.” Not included in my figures are numbers for “Chinese, Classical” or “Chinese, Pre-modern” — or for Cantonese, Taiwanese, or additional Sinitic languages other than Mandarin.

The real decline from 2013 to 2016 is 14.3 percent, not 13.1 percent.

The highest growth between 2013 and 2016 was in Korean, which is now in eleventh place, having surpassed Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, and Portuguese. Note, too, that enrollments in Japanese increased in the most recent survey.


MLA undercounts enrollments in ‘Chinese’ classes

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 12:54

The Modern Language Association recently released its figures for enrollments in languages other than English in U.S. institutions of higher education.

The information that usually receives the most attention is summarized in the report’s Table 1:

Note that the figures for “Chinese” list 61,084 enrollments in the fall of 2013 and 53,069 in the fall of 2016, a decline of 13.1 percent. Those amounts, however, undercount enrollments in a usually small but important way.

As can be seen in the notes to the table above, “Arabic,” “Greek, Ancient,” and “Hebrew, Biblical” represent aggregate numbers — a sensible approach. In the case of “Chinese,” however, only what individual schools label as “Chinese” is summed under that category. The problem is that figures for what is labeled “Mandarin” are excluded. This makes no sense. The language usually labeled “Chinese” is Mandarin. Failure to include Mandarin under “Chinese” is simply wrong.

In Britain, “Chinese” sometimes is used to indicate Cantonese rather than Mandarin. But the figures from the MLA are for the United States.

Seven of the MLA’s reports on language enrollments give figures for Mandarin as separate from “Chinese”:

Separate figures for ‘Mandarin’ and ‘Chinese’ in MLA reports YEAR MANDARIN CHINESE PERCENT MISSING FROM ‘CHINESE’ TOTAL 2016 1,179 53,069 2.17 2016 (summer) 112 5,033 2.18 2013 913 61,084 1.47 2009 1,736 59,876 2.82 1974 40 10,576 0.38 1970 88 6,115 1.42 1960 1,126 679 62.38

As can be seen from the figures above, in most years when figures for both “Mandarin” and “Chinese” are given, the MLA’s figure for “Chinese” is missing least 2 percent of the total. That might not seem like much, but it’s enough to matter, especially to those who wish to compare enrollments across languages accurately. The problem will only grow larger if the word “Mandarin” comes to be used increasingly.

Thus, total enrollments for “Chinese” classes in 2016 were not 53,069 but no less than 54,248; and enrollments in 2013 were not 61,084 but no less than 61,997. That indicates a decline of 14.3 percent, not the 13.1 percent the MLA gives in its table.

The problem is ultimately rooted not in the MLA but in the sloppy use of terms related to Sinitic languages. In part because of this, I believe that schools — indeed everyone — would be better off calling Mandarin “Mandarin” and not “Chinese.” But until that admittedly unlikely adjustment comes to pass, the MLA should be careful to aggregate “Mandarin” and “Chinese” in its tables and figures comparing enrollments across the most popular languages.

Top 10 Most Feared Questions for Chinese New Year

Laowai Chinese - Sat, 02/10/2018 - 08:44

Testing… 1, 2, 3… does this still work? Great! I still have a blog. Let me see if I can remember how to work this thing…

Walking through the Guangzhou subway the other day I saw this advertisement for real estate. it’s one of those priceless looks into Chinese culture that is so valuable because it’s Chinese people critiquing themselves.

Here’s a direct translation (with pinyin) and my commentary.

Billboard Title

xīn chūn shí lián wèn 新春十连问 = New Year’s 10 Connected Questions

My Commentary
  • Interesting they used the words “xīn chūn” for “New Year’s.” The other ways to say it are “xīn nián” 新年 and “chūn jié” 春节. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is besides combing both of them.
  • The “connected” bit means sort of “non-stop.” This is the cultural commentary. Young people heading home for the holidays are dreading the barrage and wèn huà 问话 from their family members about their economic, marital, and child-bearing progress. So this real estate company is trying to establish credibility with struggling, young workers by showing they sympathize with how NOT-fun it is to face these questions. “So why not let our real estate company help you answer at least one of them?” (the 2nd one in my list).
The (Dreaded) Questions
  1. nǐ jīn nián shōu rù duōshao a? 你今年收入多少啊?= What’s your yearly income this year?
  2. shénme shíhòu mǎi fáng a? 什么时候买房啊?= When will you by a house?
  3. mǎi chē le ma? 买车了吗?= Have you bought a car?
  4. shénme shíhòu jiéhūn a? 什么时候结婚啊? = When will you getting married?
  5. shénme shíhòu yào háizi a? 什么时候要孩子啊?= When do you want to have kids?
  6. shénme shíhòu shēng èr tāi a? 什么时候生二胎啊 = When will you have your 2nd child?
  7. shénme shíhòu jiǎn féi a? 什么时候减肥啊? = When will you lose weight?
  8. xīn nián méi qù guó wài wán ma? 新年没去国外玩吗?= You didn’t go travelling abroad for New Year’s?
My Commentary

I’m going to talk mostly about culture here.

Questions 1-3

  • You can see these are mostly about money. I’ve been asked all three of these by taxi drivers, so I can imagine that family members would be even more interested. It’s very common in China to talk openly about personal finances. But, as this billboard implies: just because it’s common doesn’t mean Chinese people enjoy it.
  • It’s commonly thought that men have to have their own house and car before getting married, so I put these questions at the top of the list.
  • The BIGGEST question on the billboard is question number one. Does that mean it’s the most feared of them all, or that it’s the most important for the remaining questions?

Questions 4-6

  • This is the order the questions will get asked. This billboard is implying that no matter what your current situation is (single, married, have one kid already) there is still one more dreaded question waiting for you.
  • Question 6: starting in 2016, the famous “One Child Policy” was officially updated to be the “Two Child Policy.” Hence, the chance to get asked about a second child. By just observing the Chinese mom’s around me, it seems like a whole bunch of families are making use of the new law!

Question 7

  • This is a hilarious and awkwardly realistic question to be asked by family members and friends. But again, just because talking openly about weight problems is common in China doesn’t mean they all enjoy it. Otherwise, why would it be on the “10 Dreaded Questions” list?

Question 8

  • There is an interesting tension in China: come home for the holidays vs. go travel for the holidays. With the growing popularity and status associated with “international” experience, I can imagine young people going home for the holidays and getting mixed messages about “nice to have you home but why aren’t you out traveling?”


  • I could only find 8 questions. Can anyone look at the picture and find the other 2…?

Gǒu Nián Kuài Lè! 狗年快乐! Happy Year of the Dog! 

Google commemorates Zhou Youguang

Pīnyīn News - Sun, 01/14/2018 - 08:13

Yesterday (January 13, 2018), Google marked the 112th birthday of Zhou Youguang, the father of Hanyu Pinyin, with one of its doodles. (Click the image to see the animated version.)

Google’s description didn’t note Zhou’s remarkable longevity. He lived to see his 111th birthday!

One bit of the description is misleading: “[Hanyu Pinyin] bridged multiple Chinese dialects with its shared designations of sound.” First, what are commonly referred to as “dialects” are actually separate languages (e.g., Cantonese, Hakka, Hoklo). Second, Hanyu Pinyin is designed for modern standard Mandarin, not for other languages, though it could be used as the basis for writing systems for Sinitic languages other than Mandarin; this did not happen on a wide scale, however, because the government of the People’s Republic of China has worked to suppress Sinitic languages other than Mandarin — to say nothing of the languages of Tibetans and other minorities.

A few points are noteworthy about the sketches, specifically the inclusion of Gǔgē, the Mandarin name for Google, written in zhuyin fuhao (a.k.a. bopomofo) (ㄍㄨˇㄍㄜ) and Gwoyeu Romatzyh (guuge) — the doubled vowel indicates third tone.

It’s also interesting that the doodle was shown on Google in Japan, China, and Singapore, but not in Taiwan, where Hanyu Pinyin is official but generally used on street signs rather than in personal names.

Thanks to Alex for the tip.

Pinyin-friendly display faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Sat, 01/13/2018 - 08:19

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 183 of which are display faces. Of those, the following 20 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly handwriting faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 11:51

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 80 of which are handwriting faces. Of those, just 3 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

  • Dekko (Caveat: Although Dekko handles some seldom-seen diacritics, it doesn’t deal well with curved apostrophes or quotation marks, so use it with caution.)
  • Itim
  • Sriracha

Pinyin-friendly monospace faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 11:17

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 7 of which are monospace faces. Of those, 4 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly sans serif faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:03

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 134 of which are sans serif faces. Of those, 22 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

Pinyin-friendly serif faces at Google Fonts

Pīnyīn News - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:14

As of January 9, 2018, Google Fonts had 848 font families, 114 of which are serif faces. Of those, the following 22 can handle Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks.

More Americans studying in Japan

Pīnyīn News - Sat, 01/06/2018 - 09:13

The number of U.S. students studying abroad in Japan is continuing to increase, having recovered from a sharp decline in the 2010–20111 school year.

This is in contrast to the situation in China, which has been seeing fewer and fewer U.S. students.

I’m not sure what accounts for the sharp drop in 2010–2011. It occurred before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

source: IEE Open Doors Study Abroad Destinations

China attracting fewer and fewer U.S. study-abroad students

Pīnyīn News - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 11:16

China is continuing to decline as a destination for U.S. study-abroad students, slipping from fifth place to sixth (behind Britain, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany; with Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan completing the top ten).

This likely indicates that the craze for learning Mandarin has already peaked. Greater awareness of the unhealthy levels of pollution in China may also be a factor.

Note: The dip in the 2002–2003 school year was a result of worries about the outbreak of SARS.

Meanwhile, almost all other parts of East Asia saw increases in 2015–2016 over 2014–2015:

Destination Students in 2014-15 Students in 2015-16 % Change China 12,790 11,688 -8.6 Hong Kong 1,508 1,612 6.9 Japan 6,053 7,145 18.0 Macau 3 4 33.3 Mongolia 71 71 0.0 South Korea 3,520 3,622 2.9 Taiwan 880 980 11.4


Additional reading:

How to add tone marks to Pinyin automatically, sort of

Pīnyīn News - Fri, 06/30/2017 - 16:12

There are plenty of ways to type Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks. These usually involve typing the tone number after the vowel in question or entering a series of special keystrokes to produce the tone mark.

But some consider that too much mafan, or perhaps are unsure of which tones are correct. (Heads up, students learning Mandarin! This post will be useful.) So occasionally I’m asked this question:

Is there a way to type in Hanyu Pinyin and have the correct tone marks appear automatically — even without typing tone numbers or pressing additional keys? Oh, and for free too, please.

The answer is a qualified yes.

Google Translate’s Pinyin function has come a long way since its inauspicious beginning about eight years ago. For quite some time it has even offered a way to add tone marks automatically, though few people know of this function, which could still use a great deal of improvement.

To get Google Translate to produce Pinyin with tone marks as you enter text in toneless Pinyin, first you need to set the system to translate from “Chinese” to “Chinese (Traditional)” or from “Chinese” to “Chinese (Simplified)”.

Enter your text in the box and Pinyin with tone marks will appear below the box on the right.

(Click any image to enlarge it.)

Alas, there are some problems with the system.

A lot of perfectly normal things that are essential to proper writing in Hanyu Pinyin will cause Google Translate to break. So when adding your text, do not use any of the following:

  • capital letters
  • the letter ü (use “v” instead)
  • more than 160 characters (including spaces and punctuation) at a time
Up to 160 characters is fine

But more than 160 characters will break the function that adds tone marks to Pinyin

The following are optional in terms of getting Google Translate to give you good results, though they are not optional in properly written Pinyin:

  • apostrophes
  • spaces
  • punctuation

A second significant problem is that the system doesn’t deal well with proper nouns, failing both word parsing and capitalization, though at least it seems to recognize that proper nouns are units, even if Google Translate doesn’t write them correctly.

So although Google Translate won’t handle everything for you, it can nevertheless be a useful tool for including tone marks in Hanyu Pinyin.

Attitudes in Hong Kong toward Mandarin and Cantonese

Pīnyīn News - Thu, 06/29/2017 - 10:13

About a year and a half ago, when I last posted on a recurring poll of what people in Hong Kong think of Mandarin and Cantonese (as well as other “icons” relevant to Hong Kong) I predicted that “the next survey will show aversion to Mandarin surpassing affection for and pride in that language.”

As of the 2016 survey, aversion to Mandarin was at 17.7 percent of the population, whereas affection for and pride in Putonghua, as the survey labels it, were at 20.1 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively. So I was wrong.

Nevertheless, Mandarin certainly isn’t winning any popularity contests in Hong Kong these days. Although the levels of those averse to Mandarin and those proud of it are now just about equal, among Hong Kongers pride in Mandarin is lower than pride in any other surveyed item. Affection toward Mandarin was similarly lower, avoiding the bottom spot only because the Chinese army came in less than one point lower.

Attitudes in Hong Kong toward Mandarin and Cantonese, 2012-2016

Detail of the above chart, 2012-2016

Generally speaking, positive feelings for Cantonese are higher — usually much higher — than positive feelings for other Hong Kong icons, while negative feelings about Cantonese are much lower than for most other icons. On the other hand, feelings for Mandarin are more highly negative and less strongly positive than for most other icons.

sources and further reading:


Pīnyīn News - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:57

Today I’d like to talk about a sign at a stand that sells guabao, a quintessential Taiwanese snack.

I took my own photo, but it didn’t make the guabao look particularly appetizing, so I’m using a public-domain image instead so you can see what one looks like if you don’t already know. But when I buy one I have them leave off the cilantro/xiāngcài. I hate that stuff.

Here’s the sign.



(NT$50 is about US$1.50.)

The sign uses some Taiwanese, specifically “a刈包.” If the whole thing were in romanized Taiwanese, it would be

Su-pâng ê

To̍k-ka kháu-bī
50 îⁿ

But parts of that are unidiomatic, as Taiwanese expert Michael Cannings informs me. (Alas, my Taiwanese sucks.) So this is a sign in both Taiwanese and Mandarin, which isn’t particularly surprising given that guabao is a Taiwanese food but most people in northern Taiwan use Mandarin most of the time. (I’m using the spelling “guabao” rather than “koah-pau” in most of this post because this is a Pinyin site.)

Something about this sign did surprise me a lot. Can you guess?

  • It’s not the use of a Roman letter — I should probably say “English letter” in this case, since here the letter is meant to be pronounced much like the “A” in “ABC” — though regular readers know that’s certainly more than enough to get me interested.
  • It’s not that the sign has “刈包” rather than “割包” for guabao. In searches restricted to .tw domains, Google returns 181,000 results for “刈包” and just 41,900 results for “割包”, even though Taiwan’s Ministry of Education prefers the latter form. Even on government Web pages “刈包” beats “割包” by a ratio of more than two to one.
  • It’s not the style in which “刈包” is written by hand, though I kinda like that.
  • And it’s not even that “a” was used instead of a different Roman letter: “ê”.

What seems to me most distinctive about this sign is that the Roman letter appears in lowercase rather than as “A”.

A single letter being used to represent a Sinitic morpheme in a text otherwise in Chinese characters is almost always written in upper case, e.g., A菜, 宮保G丁, K書. (Oh, that reminds me: I really need to answer that e-mail message about K. Sorry, Steven.)

In other words, if a sign is going to have the Roman letter “a” stand in for the Taiwanese possessive particle (the equivalent of Mandarin’s de/的), I would expect in this particular case for the sign to have “私房A” rather than “私房a”. I’m pleased by the use of lowercase; capital letters should be mainly for proper nouns and the beginnings of sentences.

It’s probably a one-off. But just in case I’ll be on the lookout to see if there’s a trend toward greater use of lowercase.

The text also presents a challenge: How should this be written in Pinyin? The last part (獨家口味 / 50元) is easy, because it’s just straight modern standard Mandarin:

dújiā kǒuwèi
50 yuán

But what to do with this?


Probably this:

Sīfáng ê
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