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news and discussions mainly related to Chinese characters and romanization
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Pinyin font: Noticia Text

Fri, 01/13/2012 - 04:37

Since my last examination of the selection at Google Web Fonts the number of font families for Latin Extended has reached 98 [edit: February 15, 2012: 132], with one new face capable of rendering Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks: Noticia Text.

Here are the Pinyin-friendly font faces at Google Web Fonts.


  • EB Garamond
  • Gentium Basic
  • Gentium Book Basic
  • Neuton
  • Noticia Text

Sans Serif

  • Andika
  • Ubuntu
  • Ubuntu Condensed
  • Ubuntu Mono

For future reference, the font most recently added to the Latin Extended group is Ruda [edit in February 2012: Exo], which doesn’t support Pinyin with diacritics.

See also

The Bible Code

Wed, 01/11/2012 - 14:55

I recently finished the compelling book Fireproof Moth: A Missionary in Taiwan’s White Terror, by Milo Thornberry, who secretly helped democracy advocate Peng Ming-min escape Taiwan (and thus also possible assassination by the KMT) in the bad old days (being, in this case, early 1970). Soon thereafter, Thornberry and his wife, now Judith Thomas, became the first missionary couple to be deported from Taiwan since the Japanese era — though not for their assistance in the escape of Peng, which the authorities did not uncover. Neither did Washington or Beijing.

For that matter, even though the authorities had people assigned to watch Peng night and day, they did not know for weeks that he had slipped away. Here’s how Peng relates this:

My successful escape had stirred up a hornet’s nest. Senior government officers were certain that I could not be in Sweden because their records, the reports of their subordinates, showed that I had been traveling here and there in Formosa until the very day the news of my escape became known, almost three weeks after I left my house in Taipei. According to these reports, I had been staying in the best hotels, eating at expensive restaurants, and enjoying the cinema. The proof in their hands were the police bills charged against the special account for my surveillance.

Then the truth became evident. During the months in which I had so often secluded myself for long periods, and probably since I was released from prison in 1965, and during the weeks after I had left the island, my guards, the Investigation Bureau agents, and the police had been submitting falsified accounts, false expense vouchers and claims, and pocketing the money.

Of course that, delicious as it is, has nothing to do with the usual subjects of this blog. So here’s my excuse for bringing this up. In the following passage Thornberry describes the scene at the airport as he is awaiting deportation.

It took half an hour for four people to go through our few bags. They went through everything — jars of cold cream, tubes of toothpaste, and every piece of paper in my briefcase.

A difficulty arose when they found some sermons I had in my briefcase. Since they were written in Romanized Chinese, no one there could read them. They assumed they were some kind of secret code. So I spent several minutes with one of the men, reading the sermons to him and a couple of others who were looking on. I pointed to the words as I read. Finally, they decided that they were what I said they were and allowed me to put them back into my briefcase. I felt a certain irony as I preached to one of my guards in my last moments in Taiwan.

Pinyin font: Flexion Pro

Mon, 01/02/2012 - 12:57

Today I’d like to introduce a highly individualistic font family that supports Hanyu Pinyin: Flexion Pro. This one, however, isn’t free.

Flexion was originally designed for the movie The DaVinci Code, which is apt, given how the main character, Robert Langdon, was named after Flexion’s designer (and ambigram specialist) John Langdon. Hal Taylor completed the font.

Here’s part of Taylor’s description:

Flexion is possibly the only symmetrical type design currently available. In keeping with John’s well-know propensity for ambigrams, many of the characters are mirrored to become other characters; the B is a reversed E, the C is reversed to become a D, G is a mirrored P, the K is a reversed N, and so on.

Of course, some of the tone marks will complicate making this work for ambigrams. But since Chinese-English bilingual ambigrams are possible, making Pinyin ambigrams, even with tone marks, shouldn’t be out of the question.

Flexion comes in four weights.

Platform on tai?

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 10:55

President Ma Ying-jeou’s re-election campaign slogan is “Táiwān jiāyóu,” so one can see that all around Taiwan these days, as the election is only about two weeks away.

The Ma campaign has decided that the English translation of “Táiwān jiāyóu” is “Taiwan, Bravo,” which isn’t quite right but at least sounds positive. Of Ma’s two opponents, Tsai Ing-wen (Cài Yīngwén / 蔡英文) of the anti-Hanyu-Pinyin Democratic Progressive Party chose the somewhat cryptic English slogan of “Taiwan next,” while third-party candidate James Soong (Sòng Chǔyú / 宋楚瑜) chose as his slogan “Me, me, me!”

OK, I made that last one up, but only because I couldn’t find the real one, other than maybe it’s “Renew.” (Does anyone know for sure?)

What I really want to talk about here, though, is how Ma’s slogan gets written: 台灣加油.

There is of course nothing unusual about that — except that Ma likes to make a big deal out of using traditional Chinese characters rather than simplified ones. Every year or so Ma talks about how he wants to get the United Nations to declare traditional Chinese characters a super-duper world something-or-other. He has already purged government Web sites of versions that people in China and Singapore could read more easily than versions in traditional Chinese characters. And if he criticizes the PRC, it’s often to tell Beijing that people in China really ought to use traditional characters. Ma’s devotion to people in China being able to have traditional Hanzi reminds me of George W. Bush during the Hainan incident:

“Do the members of the crew have Bibles?” “Why don’t they have Bibles?” Can we get them Bibles?” “Would they like Bibles?”

In other words, while that might be a concern, I sometimes wonder about his priorities.

By now a lot of you are probably thinking, “But is one of those simplified characters that is not only OK to use in Taiwan but also by far more commonly seen than . So what’s strange about this?”

That’s entirely correct. In most cases there would be nothing noteworthy about using “台灣加油” rather than “臺灣加油.” It seems entirely normal. What’s strange here is that the Ma administration actually has a position on the matter of 臺 vs. 台: Although the form can be tolerated in some instances, is supposedly better and is mandatory in certain cases.

About a year ago, for example, the Ministry of Education reported that official government documents (gōngwén/公文) would have to use the form. And textbooks would need to be updated to change instances of 台灣, 台北, 台南, 台中, etc., to 臺灣, 臺北, 臺南, 臺中…. Webmasters of some government Web sites scurried to perform a whole lot of search-and-replace. There were not, however, so many instances of 台灣 to change to 臺灣 because Ma had already declared that in Mandarin pages “台灣” (Taiwan) was out and “中華民國” (Zhōnghuá Mínguó / the Republic of China) was in; so mainly this was visible in city names in addresses.

Predictably, though, lots never got changed. (“Close enough for government work.”)

Yes, I know: None of you are deeply shocked by the notion that a politician would tell people to do one thing but do something else himself. And the way the premier downplayed the policy makes me suspect many find it pointless or even embarrassing. Still, the fact remains that the administration did decide not to leave well enough alone and went out of its way to favor 臺 over 台.

Supposedly this is because after the Ministry of Education studied the origins of 臺 and 台, it decided that the tai in the name Taiwan should be written as 臺, according to Chen Hsueh-yu (Chén Xuěyù / 陳雪玉), executive secretary of the ministry’s National Languages Committee.

This doesn’t much sense. Whichever form got used first — which is a dubious method for determining the correctness of usage for something now — the tai in Taiwan doesn’t have anything to do semantically with platforms, terraces, tables, stations, etc. In the case of the origin of the name of Taiwan, there’s no more meaning inherent in than there is in — or than there is in the Roman letters Tai, either, for that matter. As Victor Mair has noted:

Superficially (according to the surface signification of the two characters with which the name is customarily written), “Taiwan” means “Terrace Bay.” That sounds nice, even poetic, but it is an inauthentic etymology and has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual origins of the name. (This is a typical instance of the common fallacy of wàngwénshēngyì 望文生義, whereby the semantic qualities of Chinese characters interfere with the real meanings of the terms that they are being used to transcribe phonetically.) The true derivation of the name “Taiwan” is actually from the ethnonym of a tribe in the southwest part of the island in the area around Ping’an. As early as 1636, a Dutch missionary referred to this group as Taiouwang. From the name of the tribe, the Portuguese called the area around Ping’an as Tayowan, Taiyowan, Tyovon, Teijoan, Toyouan, and so forth. Indeed, already in his ship’s log of 1622, the Dutchman Comelis Reijersen referred to the area as Teijoan and Taiyowan. Ming and later visitors to the island employed a plethora of sinographic transcriptions to refer to the area (superficially meaning “Terrace Nest Bay” [Taiwowan 臺窝灣], “Big Bay” [Dawan 大灣], “Terrace Officer” [Taiyuan 臺員], “Big Officer” [Dayuan 大員], “Big Circle” [Dayuan 大圓], “Ladder Nest Bay” [Tiwowan 梯窝灣], and so forth). Some of these transcriptions are clever, others are fantastic, but none of them should be taken seriously for their meanings.

I’m not sure how best to characterize — sorry — the differences between “台灣加油” and “臺灣加油.” Although using the 臺 form would definitely come across as more formal, it wouldn’t be exactly the equivalent of “Fight Fiercely, Harvard.” Yet the use of the 台 form isn’t really the equivalent of a campaigning politician droppin’ his g’s either.

臺 vs. 台

Additional sources:

Please don’t write to comment for or against simplified characters in general. This post isn’t about that really, even though 臺 could serve as a poster child for Hanzi simplification.

Pinyin fonts at the Open Font Library

Wed, 12/21/2011 - 04:24

A search for Pinyin fonts at the Open Font Library currently yields 15 font families.

Not all of those, however, really do support Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks. Here are the ones that work, though not always without problems:

And here’s a PDF of all of those Unicode Pinyin font families in action.

I’ve previously mentioned more than one of these: Pecita and the various Gentium faces. I’ll write more about the latter in another post on the work coming out of SIL.


Sans Serif



Full list (including fails), for future reference:

  1. Anahi/Abbey
  2. Consola Mono
  3. Crimson
  4. Designosaur
  5. Douar Outline
  6. Futhark Adapted
  7. Gentium
  8. Judson
  9. Libertinage
  10. Logisoso
  11. News Cycle
  12. Pecita
  13. Pfennig
  14. Vegesignes
  15. WireWyrm

Google Web fonts and Pinyin — December 2011 update

Fri, 12/16/2011 - 10:09

When I put up my first post on Google Web fonts (Google Web fonts and Hanyu Pinyin), that site offered 252 font families, 29 of which cover at least parts of Latin Extended. Now, some three months later, the total has grown to 342 font families, with 70 of those covering at least parts of Latin Extended.

Only two of the new families, however, support Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks: Ubuntu Condensed and Ubuntu Mono. That brings the total to eight Google Web fonts that support Hanyu Pinyin: four serifs and four sans serifs.


  • EB Garamond
  • Gentium Basic
  • Gentium Book Basic
  • Neuton

Sans Serif

  • Andika
  • Ubuntu
  • Ubuntu Condensed
  • Ubuntu Mono

Here’s what the two new families, Ubuntu Condensed and Ubuntu Mono, look like next to the earlier Ubuntu.

For reference, here’s the total list of Latin Extended, with Pinyin-compliant fonts in bold.

Serif Faces

  1. Bitter
  2. Cardo
  3. Caudex
  4. EB Garamond
  5. Enriqueta
  6. Gentium Basic
  7. Gentium Book Basic
  8. Neuton
  9. Playfair Display
  10. Radley
  11. Sorts Mill Goudy

Sans Serif Faces

  1. Andika
  2. Anonymous Pro
  3. Anton
  4. Chango
  5. Didact Gothic
  6. Francois One
  7. Fresca
  8. Istok Web
  9. Jockey One
  10. Jura
  11. Marmelad
  12. Open Sans Condensed
  13. Open Sans
  14. Play
  15. Signika Negative
  16. Signika
  17. Tenor Sans
  18. Ubuntu
  19. Ubuntu Condensed
  20. Ubuntu Mono
  21. Varela
  22. Viga

Display Faces (all fail)

  1. Abril Fatface
  2. Arbutus
  3. Bubblegum Sans
  4. Butcherman Caps
  5. Chicle
  6. Eater Caps
  7. Forum
  8. Kelly Slab
  9. Knewave
  10. Lobster
  11. MedievalSharp
  12. Modern Antiqua
  13. Nosifer Caps
  14. Piedra
  15. Passion One
  16. Plaster
  17. Rammetto One
  18. Ribeye Marrow
  19. Ribeye
  20. Righteous
  21. Ruslan Display
  22. Stint Ultra Condensed

Handwriting Faces (all fail)

  1. Aguafina Script
  2. Aladin
  3. Devonshire
  4. Dr Sugiyama
  5. Fondamento
  6. Herr Von Muellerhoff
  7. Marck Script
  8. Miss Fajardos
  9. Miss Saint Delafield
  10. Monsieur La Doulaise
  11. Mr Bedford
  12. Mr Dafoe
  13. Mr De Haviland
  14. Mrs Sheppards
  15. Niconne
  16. Patrick Hand

Gift ideas for Mandarin learners

Fri, 12/09/2011 - 10:30

Here are some books I recommend. You may still have time to buy some of these for others (or persuade others to buy for you) before Christmas.

In a departure from my usual practice, all of the images below are linked to Amazon — in part to make things easier for most readers of this site but also because I’m a bit curious to see if the potential kickbacks from that site would ever add up to enough to buy myself some books I’ve been wanting. Mainly, though, I’d like to see these books make it into the hands of more readers. This isn’t meant to be a complete list; but it’s a good start.

One of these days I’ll post about the works below I haven’t written about previously.


ABC English-Chinese, Chinese-English Dictionary, edited by John DeFrancis and Zhang Yanyin. This is the Mandarin-English/English-Mandarin dictionary that every student needs. Suitable for all ages and levels. It’s small enough to carry with you. And at US$20 or even less it’s a bargain too. For an e-edition, get Wenlin (see below). Description. Excerpt from Mandarin –> English half. Excerpt from English –> Mandarin half. ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary, edited by John DeFrancis. The best large Mandarin-English dictionary. Entries are arranged alphabetically, by words, rather than head Chinese characters. Note: This is a Mandarin –> English dictionary and does not offer an English –> Mandarin section. For an e-edition (which does allow for the lookup of English words), get Wenlin (see below). Sample of what entries in this dictionary look like. Readers Chinese Biographies: Lang Lang, by Grace Wu. Pinyin-annotated biography of pianist Lang Lang, with English notes. There’s also a helpful Web site with additional resources. Ideal for beginning and intermediate students. Chinese Biographies: Yao Ming, by Grace Wu. Pinyin-annotated biography of basketball star Yao Ming, with English notes. There’s also a helpful Web site with additional resources. Ideal for beginning and intermediate students. The Besieged City (Abridged Chinese Classic Series), by Qian Zhongshu. Pinyin-annotated abridged version of a terrific Chinese novel. With notes in English, proper word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin for the entire text, simplified Chinese characters, and a CD with MP3 files of the entire book being read aloud. Excerpt. Family (abridged and annotated edition, with full Hanyu Pinyin), by Ba Jin. With notes in English, proper word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin for the entire text, simplified Chinese characters, and a CD with MP3 files of the entire book being read aloud. Excerpt. Spring (abridged and annotated edition, with full Hanyu Pinyin), by Ba Jin. With notes in English, proper word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin for the entire text, simplified Chinese characters, and a CD with MP3 files of the entire book being read aloud. Excerpt. Autumn, (abridged and annotated edition, with full Hanyu Pinyin), by Ba Jin. With notes in English, proper word-parsed Hanyu Pinyin for the entire text, simplified Chinese characters, and a CD with MP3 files of the entire book being read aloud. Excerpts. Textbooks Basic Spoken Chinese: An Introduction to Speaking and Listening for Beginners, by Cornelius C. Kubler. Although this book is not in orthographically standard Pinyin, it’s nonetheless strong. A practical, real-world textbook that focuses on learning the language, not getting beginners bogged down memorizing character after character. Fundamental Spoken Chinese, by Robert Sanders. Another excellent textbook. Audio files are available online. Excerpt. Background The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy, by John DeFrancis. Essential reading. This book will inoculate you against the absolute nonsense that many people — including all too many teachers — believe about Chinese characters. Excerpt. Asia’s Orthographic Dilemma, by William C. Hannas. A wide-ranging, detailed book that discusses some of the drawbacks of the continued use of Chinese characters. Excerpt. Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar, by Li and Thompson. Good for the linguistically inclined. Just about the only Chinese characters in this book are on the cover, which, yes, I consider to be a good thing. Software Wenlin software for learning Chinese, version 4. I use this on a daily basis. This incorporates both dictionaries listed above. Beyond This List

Here are some things not listed above, in most cases because Amazon doesn’t stock them.

  • Pinyin Riji Duanwen, by Zhang Liqing. A book of largely autobiographical short stories, written entirely in Hanyu Pinyin (except for one brief letter in English). For intermediate and advanced learners — and for native speakers of Mandarin as well. At just US$5, plus shipping, this is the least expensive work on this list. The complete text is also available for free online, though a URL just doesn’t have that same Christmas feeling as a physical book, does it?
  • Any or all of the three volumes in Y.R. Chao’s Sayable Chinese series. For intermediate and advanced learners — and for native speakers of Mandarin as well. Note: These books are in Chinese characters and Gwoyeu Romatzyh, not Hanyu Pinyin, so for most people the learning curve is steeper than for reading something in Hanyu Pinyin. With some notes in English. Excerpt (Gwoyeu Romatzyh column only).
  • Other works on my recommended readings list, which may be available at Amazon but which may or may not fit well on a list for Mandarin learners.
  • KEY5 2011 Multimedia — a different sort of software than Wenlin but one that offers excellent Pinyin support.

Attitudes in Hong Kong toward Mandarin: survey

Mon, 12/05/2011 - 15:18

Mandarin is less well loved in Hong Kong than most other “icons” of China, according to the results of a survey there.

Although the percentage of those who described themselves as “averse” (kàngjù) to Mandarin is quite small (in the single digits), it has quadrupled since 2006 (1.8% to 7.3%). (I’m using the English and Mandarin terms given in the source material.)

Meanwhile, the percentage of those who are “affectionate” (qīnqiè) toward Mandarin has dropped, though not to an all-time low. And the percentage of those who are “proud” (zìháo) of Mandarin is also down, though it remains much higher than it was in 1994 when the survey began.

Affection toward, pride in, and averseness to Mandarin in Hong Kong, 1994-2010

Interestingly, averseness to Mandarin has been growing, while averseness to most other mainland icons has been dropping.

In the graphs below I have omitted some surveyed icons — Hong Kong’s regional flag/emblem, the night view of Victoria Harbor, the Legislative Council building, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building, and the Bank of China Building — to keep the graphs from getting too busy looking and because those are within Hong Kong itself.

The lines for Mandarin are in dark red. Click to enlarge the images to a useful size.

Percentage of respondents feeling “averse to” Mandarin (“Putonghua”) and other Chinese icons

Percentage of respondents feeling “affectionate towards” Mandarin (“Putonghua”) and other Chinese icons

Percentage of respondents feeling “proud of” Mandarin (“Putonghua”) and other Chinese icons

But even though Mandarin hasn’t gained much affection recently from the people of Hong Kong, it’s still far more liked than the least popular of the PRC’s institutions: the police (gōng’ān).

sources and further reading:

Yilan signage

Fri, 11/25/2011 - 11:13

Here are some signs in Yilan, which is in northeastern Taiwan.

As the examples below demonstrate, Yilan uses Hanyu Pinyin on its street signs. I saw only one old street sign in Tongyong Pinyin; this was through the window of a bus in motion, so I wasn’t able to get a photo.

It seems that Yilan has problems with apostrophes as well. These should, of course, read Xi’an.

In Taiwan, the vast majority of street names are two syllables long. Here’s a rare three-syllable name. I was told that the name comes from the company that constructed the irrigation channel parallel to the road. The sign — and even the name itself — is so new that it’s not in the current version of Google maps.

Some decorative signage.

Note the use of “WC”.

I don’t care much for Yilan’s rainy weather; but the city does have style. These signs, for example, are interesting — much more so than a failed attempt at a decorative sign in Tongyong Pinyin in Banqiao.

The highway signs in Yilan, however, are in Tongyong Pinyin. This is a somewhat odd situation, given that highway signs belong to the national government, which is under the control of the KMT, which supports Hanyu Pinyin. Yilan is back in the DPP camp. (The Democratic Progressive Party continues to oppose Hanyu Pinyin and support Tongyong Pinyin.) The switch of streets signs to Hanyu Pinyin was probably done under the previous magistrate, who was a member of the KMT.

I’m including this one despite the poor image quality because I want to note the awful typography (e.g., uneven baselines, capital letters too large).

Google introduces many new errors to Taipei-area maps

Mon, 11/21/2011 - 11:31

What on earth is going on over at Google?

Just last week I had nothing but love for Google Maps because it had finally made some important improvements to its maps of Taiwan. But just a few days later Google went and screwed up its maps again. The names of most of Taipei’s MRT stations are now written incorrectly. In most cases, this is merely a matter of form, with capitalization — and the important designation of MRT — missing. But in more than just a few instances some astonishing typos have been introduced. What’s especially puzzling and irksome about this is that in most of these cases Google Maps swapped good information for bad.

Meow tipped me off in a comment yesterday that “In Google Maps, Jiannan Rd. Station and Gangqian Station become Jianan road station and Ganggian station.”

Here’s a screenshot taken today of some MRT stations in Dazhi and Neihu:

As Meow said, Jiannan is written Jianan, and Gangqian is written Ganggian. What’s more, Dazhi is written Dachi, and Xihu is written His-Hu (Cupertino effect?).

There are now many such errors.

Here’s a screenshot taken last week.

And here’s the same place today.

As you can see, one of the instances of Jieyunsongjiangnanjing has been removed, which is good. But that’s the end of the good news. Another Jieyunsongjiangnanjing remains. And the one that was removed was replaced by Songjian nanjing station, with Songjiang misspelled and Nanjing and Station erroneously in lower case. And “MRT” is missing too.

It’s not just the station name that was changed, as the switch of one location from the Thai tourism office to the Panamanian embassy shows. (Perhaps both are in the same building.)

Here are some more examples of recently introduced errors.

Luchou should be Luzhou.

The westernmost station on the blue line is now labeled Tongning. The pain! The pain! It should be Yongning, which is also visible.

In perhaps the oddest example, Qili’an, which has been miswritten Qilian for years, has been redesignated Chlian.

Above we saw Gangqian written incorrectly as Ganggian and Minquan written incorrectly as Minguan. Here’s another example of a q being turned into a g: Banqiao has become Bangiao. Even the train station, which is a different rail system than the MRT, has been affected. But the High Speed Rail Station name remains in Tongyong Pinyin, which I most certainly disapprove of but which at least represents the current state of signage in the HSR system.

Sloppy work, Google. Very sloppy. How could this have happened?

Laozi or Lao Zi?

Sat, 11/19/2011 - 03:19

My previous post mentioned a Confucius Avenue (and a Christ Avenue) on a university campus in Taipei. That post was mainly about the photo. But here I’d like to get back to the field of Pinyin orthography.

For names such as that of Confucius, when writing in Pinyin are you supposed to use a solid form (i.e., Kǒngzǐ), a separated form (Kǒng Zǐ), or a hyphenated form (Kǒng-zǐ)?

I tend to respond to those sorts of questions by asking What would Yin Binyong do?

Interestingly, this is an area in which he changed his mind. His first book on Pinyin orthography, Chinese Romanization: Pronunciation and Orthography, says to write such names separately (see pp. 163-165). Yet Yin also notes that Kǒngzǐ and Mèngzǐ are “conventionally written as single units.”

But his second book, Xinhua Pinxie Cidian, Yin just writes all the -zǐ names solid. That’s also what the example in the official short version of the rules for Pinyin gives. So I recommend going with the solid form.

Thus, use Laozi, Kongzi, Mengzi, Mozi, and Zhuangzi, not Lao Zi (or Lao-zi), Kong Zi (or Kong-zi), Mo Zi (or Mo-zi), and Zhuang Zi (or Zhuang-zi).

Lǎozǐ Lǎo Zǐ

The world’s not going to end if you don’t follow this particular convention, though. I see, for example, that I have used “Sun Zi” in the past. But consistency makes things easier in the long run, so I’ll try to stick with the solid form from this point on.

Of course, where Lao is used before a surname, it’s separate: Lao Wang, Lao Chen, etc. Interestingly, “Lao cannot be used with two-syllable surnames such as Ōuyáng 欧阳 [歐陽].” That last part, however, isn’t an orthographic matter. Does anyone know more about such nickname words (e.g., Lao, Xiao, Da) and disyllabic family names?

Christ Avenue

Fri, 11/18/2011 - 10:29

I thought some of you might like this.

No, this isn’t an official city street sign. (For one thing, Taipei translates dàdào as boulevard, not avenue.) But Christ Avenue (Jīdū Dàdào / 基督大道) really is what Chinese Culture University in Taipei uses for one of its internal roads, though I didn’t find it in Google Maps.

Or, if you’d rather walk a different road, you might try the campus’s Confucius Avenue.

Google improves its maps of Taiwan

Wed, 11/16/2011 - 11:02

Two years ago when Google switched to Hanyu Pinyin in its maps of Taiwan, it did a poor job … despite the welcome use of tone marks.

Here are some of the problems I noted at the time:

  • The Hanyu Pinyin is given as Bro Ken Syl La Bles. (Terrible! Also, this is a new style for Google Maps. Street names in Tongyong were styled properly: e.g., Minsheng, not Min Sheng.)
  • The names of MRT stations remain incorrectly presented. For example, what is referred to in all MRT stations and on all MRT maps as “NTU Hospital” is instead referred to in broken Pinyin as “Tái Dà Yī Yuàn” (in proper Pinyin this would be Tái-Dà Yīyuàn); and “Xindian City Hall” (or “Office” — bleah) is marked as Xīn Diàn Shì Gōng Suǒ (in proper Pinyin: “Xīndiàn Shìgōngsuǒ” or perhaps “Xīndiàn Shì Gōngsuǒ“). Most but not all MRT stations were already this incorrect way (in Hanyu Pinyin rather than Tongyong) in Google Maps.
  • Errors in romanization point to sloppy conversions. For example, an MRT station in Banqiao is labeled Xīn Bù rather than as Xīnpǔ. (埔 is one of those many Chinese characters with multiple Mandarin pronunciations.)
  • Tongyong Pinyin is still used in the names of most cities and townships (e.g., Banciao, not Banqiao).

I’m pleased to report that Google Maps has recently made substantial improvements.

First, and of fundamental importance, word parsing has finally been implemented for the most part. No more Bro Ken Syl La Bles. Hallelujah!

Here’s what this section of a map of Tainan looked like two years ago:

And here’s how it is now:

Oddly, “Jiànxīng Jr High School” has been changed to “Tainan Municipal Chien-Shing Jr High School Library” — which is wordy, misleading (library?), and in bastardized Wade-Giles (misspelled bastardized Wade-Giles, at that). And “Girl High School” still hasn’t been corrected to “Girls’ High School”. (We’ll also see that problem in the maps for Taipei.)

But for the most part things are much better, including — at last! — a correct apostrophe: Yǒu’ài St.

As these examples from Taipei show, the apostrophe isn’t just a one-off. Someone finally got this right.

Rén’ài, not Renai.

Cháng’ān, not Changan.

Well, for the most part right. Here we have the correct Dà’ān (and correct Ruì’ān) but also the incorrect Daan and Ta-An. But at least the street names are correct.

Second, MRT station names have been fixed … mostly. Most all MRT station names are now in the mixture of romanization and English that Taipei uses, with Google Maps also unfortunately following even the incorrect ones. A lot of this was fixed long ago. The stops along the relatively new Luzhou line, however, are all written wrong, as one long string of Pinyin.

To match the style used for other stations, this should be MRT Songjiang Nanjing, not Jieyunsongjiangnanjing.

Third, misreadings of poyinzi (pòyīnzì/破音字) have largely been corrected.

Chéngdū, not Chéng Dōu.

Like I said: have largely been corrected. Here we have the correct Chéngdū and Chóngqìng (rather than the previous maps’ Chéng Dōu and Zhòng Qìng) but also the incorrect Houbu instead of the correct Houpu.

But at least the major ones are correct.

Unfortunately, the fourth point I raised two years ago (Tongyong Pinyin instead of Hanyu Pinyin at the district and city levels) has still not been addressed. So Google is still providing Tongyong Pinyin rather than the official Hanyu Pinyin at some levels. Most of the names in this map, for example, are distinctly in Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Lujhou, Sinjhuang, and Banciao, rather than Luzhou, Xinzhuang, and Banqiao).

Google did go in and change the labels on some places from city to district when Taiwan revised their names; but, oddly enough, the company didn’t fix the romanization at the same time. But with any luck we won’t have to wait so long before Google finally takes care of that too.

Or perhaps we’ll have a new president who will revive Tongyong Pinyin and Google will throw out all its good work.

Not the same sound

Sat, 11/12/2011 - 06:06

Today’s New York Times exhibits one of my pet peeves. (Yes, I do seem to have a lot of those.)

This particular one is the practice of declaring that some Mandarin word or expression has “the same sound” as something else — even though it doesn’t. Claiming that the Mandarin words for death and four sound identical is a frequent example of this.

So today we have this:

Consider Tide detergent, Taizi, whose Chinese characters literally mean “gets rid of dirt.” (Characters are important: the same sound written differently could mean “too purple.”)

Nope. The Mandarin name for Tide detergent is Tàizì. On the other hand, “too purple” would be “tài zǐ,” which is close but not the same.

Tàizì ≠ tài zǐ

So, the answer to the question “When is a homophone not a homophone?” is “When it’s not a @#$%! homophone.”

But I will give the Times points for not mentioning wax tadpoles.

source: Picking Brand Names in China Is a Business Itself, New York Times, November 11, 2011

New row about old foolishness

Fri, 11/11/2011 - 10:15

It appears that few things are harder to get rid of than a Taipei City Government official’s bad idea.

Four years ago I noted that city hall was sponsoring a “festival” for beef noodle soup and promoting it to foreigners through a machine-translated Chinglish Web site and the absurd use of the supposedly English “Newrow Mian” for niúròumiàn (牛肉麵/牛肉面).

The city has continued to host the annual event. This year, the city appears to have moved to solve its Chinglish problem by simply failing to provide English translations — though one wonders just where the “international” part comes in without much of anything in English. Thus, useful English is lacking; but fake English like “Newrow Mian” remains.

This has come to the attention of the media. For example, see this video report: Niúròumiàn = New Row Mian? Shì-fǔ zhíyì rěyì.

Táiběi Shìzhèngfǔ jǔbàn niúròumiàn jié, xiànzài yào tuī wǎng guójì, buguò què yǒu yǎnjiān mínzhòng fāxiàn, huódòng hǎibào, bǎ Zhōngwén “niúròumiàn” zhíjiē yīn yìchéng Yīngwén de “New Row Mian,” bùshǎo guówài lǚkè kànle dōu tǎnyán, wánquán bù dǒng shénme yìsi, zhìyí shì-fǔ shìbushì Yīngwén fānyì yòu chūbāo, buguò shì-fǔ chéngqīng, shuōshì wèile xuānchuán “niúròumiàn” de Zhōngwén niànfǎ, ràng tā xiàng shòusī, pīsà yīyàng, ràng quánshìjiè dōu zhāozhe yuánwén niàn.

According to the brief write-up above, some people had noticed that foreigners had no idea what this “new row mian” was or even how to say it, so the municipal authorities explained that this is for the sake of publicizing the Chinese pronunciation of niúròumiàn. City authorities dream that English will take on “new row mian” as a loan term, just like sushi and pizza. (Apparently it’s important to convey to the world the Chinese-ness (with Taiwanese characteristics) of this dish, so “beef noodle soup” — which is what just about everyone in Taiwan calls this when speaking in English — just won’t do.)


Really, this isn’t that difficult. If you want to use the roman alphabet to write a Mandarin term, use Hanyu Pinyin. Although Pinyin will not be helpful in all situations to people who know nothing about the system, neither will anything else. But Hanyu Pinyin stands the best chance of working because it’s the international system for writing Mandarin in romanization. It’s also Taiwan’s official system for writing Mandarin in romanization. And it’s even the Taipei City Government’s official system for writing Mandarin in romanization, which means the city is supposed to use it rather than employing ad hoc bullshit year after year.

Anyway, the festival doesn’t start until November 17, so if you have ever wanted to “beef the world” — and who hasn’t? — now’s the time. (That this is being run by an ad agemcy agency that somehow missed getting its own name right, however, doesn’t inspire confidence.)

If anyone would like to let the city know your thoughts about this, the contact person is Ms. Yè, who can be reached at 1999 ext. 6507, or at 02-2599-2875 ext. 214 or 220. Tell them this concerns the Táiběi Guójì Niúròumiàn Jié.

Further reading:

And for still more reading, see the Taipei City Government’s massive PDF (157 MB!) for the 2008 event. This has lots of English (and Japanese!), which appears not to have been machine translated; but some parts could certaintly use improvement, such as “The regretful beef noodles have been staying in my memory.” Additionally, the romanization system employed is Tongyong Pinyin, rather than Taipei’s official Hanyu Pinyin (e.g., “Rih Pin Shan Si Dao Siao Mian” instead of “Rì Pǐn Shānxī dāoxiāomiàn” and “HONG SHIH FU SIN JHUAN” instead of Hóng Shīfu Xīn Zhuàn).

Of course, it’s not consistent even in its incorrect use of Tongyong. It also contains broken bastardized Wade-Giles (e.g., the “Kuan Tu” MRT station instead of “Guandu”) and the city’s “new row” whenever it gets the chance (e.g., HUANG ZAN NEWROW MIAN FANG instead of Huáng Zàn Niúròumiàn Fáng / 皇贊牛肉麵坊).

Later, all of the stores’ addresses are given in Tongyong Pinyin (e.g., Chongcing, Mincyuan, Jhihnan, Mujha, Singlong, Jhongsiao).

Lan Yu signage examples

Sat, 10/22/2011 - 03:10

The island known in Mandarin as Lán Yǔ (蘭嶼 / 兰屿) has a lot of different names, including Orchid Island, Ponso no Tao, Pongso no Tawo, Irala, Tabako Shima, Tabaco Xima, Botol, Buturu, Kotosho, and Botel Tobago.

In texts in the roman alphabet, most of the time it’s referred to as “Lanyu.” That’s how I’ve written it in the past. But the Xinhua Pinxie Cidian (p. 21) gives such island names with the yu separate, so I’m going with the Pinyin standard from now on.

Anyway, there are plenty of names for this beautiful place off the southeast coast of Taiwan. But it doesn’t have much in the way of official signs. In large part, that’s because it doesn’t really need many, given the fact that the entire island has only a couple of roads: a ring around the island and another cutting over the mountains, plus a few minor side roads, some not much larger than a sidewalk. It’s not overrun with tourists; and the inhabitants certainly don’t need any signs to tell them where they are or to keep them from getting lost.

Click on any photo for a larger version.

Someone there told me that a long time ago the government assigned some roads the usual crop of Sino-centric names so beloved by the KMT: Zhongshan (i.e., Sun Yat-sen), Zhongzheng (i.e., Chiang Kai-shek), etc. But none of the Yami (Tao) people on the island were in the least bit interested in going along with that and ignored or even removed such signs. (Cars without license plates are also a common site there.)

In one village I found an official sign (but not one for a road) that had been appropriated for part of a wall on someone’s house or shed. This would, of course, have made for a great photo; but circumstances were such that I probably couldn’t have taken the shot without seeming disrespectful, so I passed the opportunity by.

I saw no trace of any official street signs. And even unofficial street signs were few and far between. (See the signpost image near the bottom.)

“Yehyu” and “Hungtou” are both in Wade-Giles. These would be Yēyóu Cūn and Hóngtóu Cūn in Hanyu Pinyin (and Tongyong Pinyin and MPS2 — though with the tone marks indicated differently) — for the Mandarin version of the name.

But Yayo appears to be the Yami name.

The sort of marker shown below is fairly standard. Note that the name in roman letters (Ivalino) is not a romanization of the Mandarin form (Yěyín Bùluò / 野銀部落). Note also the backward N, which is a mistake, not a special letter.

This photo perhaps best captures the nature of signage on Lan Yu — when there is any signage to be seen, that is.

I was saddened when I was there to hear children speaking only Mandarin with each other rather than the Yami language. But perhaps those I heard weren’t a representative sample.

Saint Joe’s

Fri, 10/21/2011 - 10:31

A Catholic church in Jinlun (Jīnlún/金崙), Taidong, Taiwan. Note the absence of Chinese characters.

The town of Jinlun being in an area with many members of the Paiwan tribe, I checked with a Chen Chun-Mei (Chén Chūnměi / 陳春美), a Paiwan specialist at Guólì Zhōngxīng Dàxué (National Chung Hsing University / 國立中興大學), who wrote that kiokai is one of many words Paiwan borrowed from Japanese (kyōkai/教会: meaning church), and that ni in Paiwan means of or by.

So this is the Church of Saint Joseph.

I was also interested to hear on the train to Jinlun that some of the announcements in advance of some stations in Taidong County were in not only Mandarin, Taiwanese, and English, but also an aboriginal language. I’m guessing Paiwan. Even in the announcements in that language, however, the place names themselves sounded like they were given in Mandarin forms, though the descriptions were not.

Further reading:

Zhou Youguang on NPR

Thu, 10/20/2011 - 14:37

Louisa Lim had a story on National Public Radio yesterday about Zhou Youguang (周有光 / Zhōu Yǒuguāng), who’s often referred to as the father of Pinyin.

Most stories in the mass media about him focus on just two things, which might be summarized as “pinyin” and “wow, he’s really old.” This story, however, draws welcome notice to some some other things about him, as the title reveals: At 105, Chinese Linguist Now A Government Critic. (There’s a link to the audio version near the top of the page. Zhou can be heard in the background speaking Mandarin — though his English is excellent.)

The article also provides a link to his blog: Bǎisuì xuérén Zhōu Yǒuguāng de bó kè (百岁学人周有光的博客).

Further reading:

Hat tip to John Rohsenow.

Taimali signage examples

Fri, 10/14/2011 - 05:18

Here are some signs in Taimali (Tàimálǐ / 太麻里), Taidong County, Taiwan. In all cases of distinctive spellings, they’re in Tongyong Pinyin, even though they should have been replaced by Hanyu Pinyin years ago. When the change to Tongyong Pinyin was implemented, however, signs under national control (e.g., highway signs) were switched relatively quickly throughout the country. This, however, has not been the case with the switch to Hanyu Pinyin, especially in the south.

Note that the “Taimali” in the sign for the Taimali Railway Station is on a sticker rather than on the original sign. This is a bit odd, given that this is spelled exactly the same in all of the romanization systems commonly seen in Taiwan: Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin, MPS2, and bastardized Wade-Giles. So maybe what’s under the sticker was just an error. Taiwan’s signs certainly have their share of typos too. (Sometimes the authorities will even use a sticker to “correct” the right spelling with something else.)

Click any of the images below for a larger version.

Now on Pinyin.info: Weishenme Zhongwen zheme TM nan?

Sun, 10/09/2011 - 15:06

Earlier this year a Mandarin translation of David Moser’s classic essay Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard appeared on the Web. And then it disappeared. With the permission of both the translator and the original author, I’m placing this work back online.

It’s available here in two versions:


Maybe I’ll make a Pinyin version too one of these years.