Sun, Jan 09, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Romanization must strike a balance

Hwang Hsuan-fan, Chiang Wen-yu, Lo Seo-gim and Cheng Liang-wei

On April 6 last year, the Ministry of Education sponsored a national conference in Taipei on Mandarin Romanization systems. Four competing systems were presented for deliberations at the conference: the Wade Giles (WG) System (威妥瑪|?/CHINESE>), Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II (MPS-II) (注-?G|?/CHINESE>), China Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼-?/CHINESE>) and Taiwan Tongyong Pinyin (3q用拼-?/CHINESE>).

Of these, the Wade Giles system is the most traditional and, until very recently, the most widely used. But it has now lost its appeal largely because a total of 136 syllables require additional phonetic signs or diacritic marks, making it a fairly cumbersome system for printing and typing. As a consequence, a consensus emerged at the conference that the WG system should be rescinded from the list of potential systems for future deliberations.

The remaining three systems represent three different models of thinking. What underlines MPS-II is the credo that Taiwan should say no to whatever system China comes up with; adoption of the Hanyu Pinyin system, on the other hand, represents a contrary belief that there is little rational basis for going against a system that is already enjoying international currency. Finally, Taiwan Tongyong Pinyin was developed to achieve an optimal balance between internalization and national autonomy.

On June 21, the Ministry of Education, having decided to dump the MPS-II, proposed a still-newer system -- Guoyu Pinyin (國語拼-?/CHINESE>). On July 6, the Cabinet vetoed Guoyu Pinyin and introduced the concept of an Improved Modular System (IMS) for Mandarin Romanization (模2掤“翵}漢語拼-?/CHINESE>). Both Guoyu Pinyin and IMS can also be understood as an attempt to achieve an appropriate mix of internalization and national autonomy. This means that the avowed goal implicit in Taiwan Tongyong Pinyin was beginning to be embraced by the central government.

Six county commissioners and a dozen or so legislators from both sides of the aisle soon endorsed a proposal for the Executive Yuan to strive for a Romanization system which embodies the idea of internalization and national autonomy.

On July 26, the government, in a surprise move, announced the use of China's Hanyu Pinyin System for the Romanization of street names throughout the island, a move seen by many as a blatant disregard of the fact that the system is currently used in Beijing and could therefore suggest to the world that Taiwan is part of PRC.

Thereupon, 14 county commissioners and a number of prominent educators and linguists openly voiced strong opposition to the policy change, including Paul Jen-Kuei Lee (李?), director of the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica; Robert Cheng (鄭良偉), professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures at University of Hawaii; Chen Chi-nan(3祠銕n), a former member of the Committee on Educational Reform and Dean of College of Humanistics and Social Sciences at National Chiaotung University; and Lo Lung-cheng (?隆?thorn>), chairman of the ROC Educational Reform Association.

On Sept. 16, legislator Weng Chin-chu (翁金珠) called on Deputy Premier of the Executive Yuan Liu Chao-hsuan (劉兆玄), and both agreed, in a joint announcement, that a Mandarin Romanization system being worked on for Taiwan should not be tied to China's Hanyu Pinyin.

Since the concept of IMS is nearly equivalent to that which underlies Tongyong Pinyin, it behooved us to consider in some detail the differences between Guoyu Pinyin and Taiwan Tongyong Pinyin. Basically, they boil down to two issues: One has to do with the way the zero-initial is handled. In Tongyong Pinyin, one single value is applied to all of the syllables with the same zero-initial. Thus the morpheme "" (?ㄥ) is represented as "wong" and " " (ㄉ?ㄥ), which contains the same syllable ?ㄥ, is represented as "dong." In Guoyu Pinyin, is "weng," whereas "" is "dong." While there is no denying of a phonological basis for the way these and other syllables are represented in Guoyu Pinyin, the Tongyong Pinyin System has the virtue of being more consistent in this regard. Furthermore, "ong," rather than "eng" is also a closer approximation to the phonetic value of the morphemes in the dialects spoken in Taiwan.

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