Sat, Nov 10, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: What's your beef with intercourse?

By Johnny Neihu 強尼內湖

What goes on in the minds of politicians? It's one of the world's great unanswered questions -- along with "Does Chow Yun-fat (周潤發) really drink Whisby?"

I'd sure like to know the answer to the former if an Associated Press report from last week turns out to be true. The article, quoting an unnamed official at the Ministry of the Interior, said the government has decided to standardize the Romanization of Mandarin place names by the end of this year using the dreaded Tongyong system.

You know the Tongyong system, it's the one that ... OK, so you don't. Not to worry, you're not alone.

For the uninitiated, Tongyong is the system of curious spellings that appears in parentheses on signs in Taipei County and what you encounter whenever you venture south. Tongyong puts the jhih into Sijhih (or Xizhi, 汐止) and the Jhong into Jhonghe (or Zhonghe, 中和.)

It was introduced in 1998 as an alternative to Hanyu Pinyin because the pro-independence crowd simply loathes using anything associated with the enemy.

While Tongyong may have advantages over other systems (according to Wikipedia), try explaining that to students who have spent years learning Hanyu Pinyin only to turn up here and find a different system in use as they travel around the country.

And while you can understand the government's reasons for not wanting to use the same system as our "commiepatriots," the whole purpose of Romanization in the first place is to make it easier and more practical for our foreign friends -- not native speakers -- to get around. Do they really think that the average Zhou here reads -- or even cares about -- Romanization on road signs?

Whether the government likes it or not, almost all students of Mandarin, including many in Taiwan, learn the language using Hanyu Pinyin.

Don't get me wrong, I'm as "deep green" as the mold on year-old stinky tofu, but even I would warn honorary Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) something-or-other Lien Chan (連戰) if he was walking toward a cliff -- well, maybe. So I have to say that the government is cutting off its nose to spite its face on this matter.

On the one hand it is always talking about opening Taiwan up to the world and promoting our beloved homeland as a great place to learn Mandarin. But implementing this system would have the opposite effect and put Taiwan in a league of its own -- literally. It could even put off students who misinterpret the move from coming here.

Besides, even if we did adopt Hanyu Pinyin there would still be one big difference between "us" and "them." We use real characters whereas they use those simplified monstrosities. Simple characters for simple people!

I suppose the lack of any official announcement means that the story is true and that the government was worried there might be a backlash from the pan-blue camp. You'd think they'd be used to that after seven years.

It may all be pointless anyway, because if our very own simplified politician, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), triumphs next year then Tongyong will vanish faster than legislators from the Taiwan Solidarity Union.

While we're on the subject of language and Ma, it pains me to say it but apart from (allegedly) paying for the expensive education of his daughters, Ma did achieve something during his eight-year reign as Taipei mayor.

Mr Flip-Flop did manage to improve the standard of English around the place, fixing most of the city's once-notorious road signs (however, Patch Road for Bade Lu will always live in my memory), improving the city's Web sites and MRT signs and making the city generally more livable for those awkward foreigners -- you know, the kind that live on 7-Eleven food because they can't be bothered to learn basic Mandarin phrases.

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