Update Nov 2011
Forget it. There is no policy on Romanization. You’re on your own.
After about three weeks of blogging, Frozen Garlic announces a new Romanization policy. As of now, almost all Chinese terms will be rendered in the hanyu pinyin system. I will make exceptions for a few familiar names and places. This includes (but is not necessarily limited to):
Of course, it is not Frozen Garlic’s style to use only a few words when a lot more could be written. So let me elaborate.
As you might be aware, Chinese characters (unlike French or German words) do not use letters from the Roman alphabet. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt some conversion method to render them legible in English-language essays.
There is no shortage of systems. In the academic world, we are most familiar with three systems. The Wade-Giles system has been around for more than a century and was the academic gold standard until a few decades ago. It is still used in the humanities, but not in the natural sciences or social sciences. The Wade-Giles system’s most prominent feature is the use of an apostrophe to represent an aspiration (a puff of air), so that “teng” is pronounced like an English D while “t’eng” is pronounced like an English T. In common use, many people drop all the apostrophes. This corrupted Wade-Giles makes it impossible to know how a sound is pronounced.
The Yale system was developed at … wait for it … Yale University. It has mostly faded away. It’s too bad, because the Yale system was arguably the one that the average American would come closest to reading with the correct pronunciation.
The dominant standard today is the hanyu pinyin system invented in the PRC. Many casual readers cringe at this system because they have no idea how to pronounce sounds such as zh, q, and x. Also, lots of people in both the USA and in Taiwan opposed this system because of its communist origins. However, almost all language students since the 1980s (including myself) have studied Chinese using the hanyu pinyin system. (The system was developed in the 1950s with the help of Soviet advisors. I have been told that all the weird spellings are nearly perfect representations of the Mandarin; you simply have to read them as a Russian would. I love this story far too much too test it and thus risk having it proven wrong.)
But wait, that’s not all. There are a few even more obscure systems floating around. For example, every now and then I would come across people who insisted their English surnames were Perng or Horng, even though I was quite sure there was nothing even remotely similar to an “r” sound in their names. They were apparently spelling their names according to Gwoyeu Romatzh (Wikipedia is great!), MPS II (a modification of Gwoyeu Romatzh), or a corruption of one of the two. In those systems, different spellings are used to indicate different tones. The “r” in Perng and Horng indicates that both are 2nd tone.
Then there is the Tongyong pinyin system. The Chen administration tried to promote this domestically developed system as an alternative to the (PRC) hanyu pinyin system. It was supposed to be adapted to the needs of Taiwan. In other words, its developers thought it could be used for other languages spoken on the island, including Taiwanese, Hakka, and various Aborignal languages. Speakers and teachers of those languages politely disagreed. The main effect of the Tongyong system has been to confuse foreigner and cause a lot of road signs to be replaced one more time. The system has thankfully been dropped, though you still see road signs leading to “Banciao” or “Shyinjuang” and wonder when those places were invented.
So for example, how would we render “presidential candidate Ma Yingjeou”?
|Wade-Giles||Tsung3 t’ung3||Hou4 hsüan3 jen2||Ma3 Ying1 chiu3|
|Yale||Tzǔng tǔng||Hoù shwăn rén||Mă Yng-jyǒu|
|Hanyu pinyin||Zǒng tǒng||Hoù xǚan rén||Mă Yīngjiŭ|
|Gwoyeu Romatzh||Tzoong toong||How xheuan rern||Maa Ing-jeou|
|Tongyong pinyin||Zǒng tǒng||Hoù syuăn rén||Mă Yīng-jyǒu|
The various systems basically agree on some sounds, like President Ma’s surname (which literally means “horse”. I like to call him by his literally translated name: Handsome Horse Number Nine). There are other characters, such as the second character in candidate, that no one agrees on. There are many, many more such examples.
Of course, that’s what you use if you are trying to learn the language. For the casual English reader who doesn’t much of a chance of grasping tones (it took me 18 months before I really started hearing tones), all the numbers and accent marks are automatically dropped. So if you are reading a newspaper and they translate this phrase using hanyu pinyin, you will simply see “zongtong houxuanren Ma Yingjiu.”
What do Taiwanese children use to learn Mandarin? It seems like that should be the commonly used Romanization standard. In the PRC, kids learn hanyu pinyin, so everyone knows the standard. Great idea, except they don’t use a letter-based system here in Taiwan. Instead, kids learn a character-based system, called the Mandarin Phonetic Symbol system, commonly known as the Bopomofo system (named after the first four sounds). So where the PRC uses “b,” “p,” “m,” and “f” Taiwan uses ㄅ, ㄆ, ㄇ, and ㄈ. (This is also the system I use to type Chinese characters on my computer.)
Since no one in Taiwan grew up using a letter-based Romanization system and the government has not consistently insisted on a universal standard, people tend to spell their names however they like. Sometimes, they obtain an official-looking table that tells them how to spell their name, but often they just sound it out and write whatever they think looks good. It is chaotic, but a name is also a deeply personal thing, and it’s not such a bad thing for people to have their own personal spellings that they feel attached to. Americans certainly don’t feel the need to be consistent in their spellings of names such as Carrie, Cary, Cari, Keri, Kerry, or my cousin whose spelling is so strange that I can’t remember it. Less forgivably, traffic signs have likewise been a mishmash of different systems. I once saw three signs at the same intersection calling the road “Heping Rd,” “Herping Rd,” and “Hoping Rd.” This left me “hoping” that “he” was not really a “her.”
Oh, and one more thing. People don’t always use the Mandarin version of their name. For example, I once interviewed the chair of the Taiwan Indpendence Party, Xu Shikai 許世楷. After I called him Chairman Xu a couple of times, he stopped me and said, “I am not Chairman Xu. I am Chairman Ko. Ko Seh-kai.” He used his Taiwanese pronunciation, because that was how he thought of himself. Bi-khim Hsiao 蕭美琴 also does this.
So that’s why people in Taiwan can’t spell anything consistently and why all the English-language newspapers spell the same things differently. As for me, I’m giving up on trying to remember how everyone spells their name. I know lots of people, especially Taiwan nationalists, dislike having the PRC hanyu pinyin system. I dislike imposing it upon them. However, in only three weeks, I’ve found myself spelling the same thing in multiple ways and wasting time looking up how I did it last time. Since almost no one reads my blog anyway, I’ll do it the way that’s most convenient for me.
I’ll also always provide the Chinese characters so that people who can read them know who I’m talking about.
UPDDATE (Nov. 3, 2010)
I have decided to grandfather in all the conventional spellings of the mayoral candidates. Most of these people have spent some time in the legislature, so I’m using the spelling from the Legislative Yuan’s English website. This has the benefit of being official. It has a few drawbacks, too. They capitalize the first letter of the third character, which Koreans usually do but Taiwanese usually do not. Also, they aren’t necessarily consistent. For example, the first person I looked up was 沈智慧，who was spelled Shen Chin-hwei in the 6th term but Shen Chih-hui in the 5th term. From this, I conclude that she doesn’t care enough about the English spelling to make sure that they get it right. Similarly, the Taipei Times is calling the DPP candidate for Taichung Mayor 蘇嘉全 Su Jia-chyuan while the LY website calls him Su Chia-chuan.
Because it is difficult to remember some of these unconventional spellings, I’m going to call them by English names (William Lai, Eric Chu, Jason Hu) a lot. Maybe the only person who I can’t complain about too much is Hsu Tain-tsair. I have no idea where he came up with that (horridly confusing) spelling, but he lived in the US for many years, so I imagine he actually identifies with that spelling.
|Chinese||Pinyin||LY spelling,English name|
|郝龍斌||Hao Longbin||Hau Lung-bin|
|蘇貞昌||Su Zhenchang||Su Tseng-chang|
|朱立倫||Zhu Lilun||Chu Li-luanEric Chu|
|蔡英文||Cai Yingwen||Tsai Ing-wen|
|胡志強||Hu Zhiqiang||Jason Hu|
|蘇嘉全||Su Jiaquan||Su Chia-chuan|
|郭添財||Guo Tiancai||Kuo Tien-tsai|
|賴清德||Lai Qingde||Lai Ching-te,William Lai|
|許添財||Xu Tiancai||Hsu Tain-tsair|
|黃昭順||Huang Zhaoshun||Huang Chao-shun|
|陳菊||Chen Ju||Chen Chu|
|楊秋興||Yang Qiuxing||Yang Chiu-hsing|
Everyone else will still be referred to in pinyin.