Nation, not `island'

Wed, Jan 12, 2000 - Page 8

It is time to stop calling Taiwan an "island," as most Chinese-language media around the country still do. True, Taiwan is technically an island. But so too are Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Iceland and Japan -- and the Chinese-language media never refers to them as "islands" but as countries, nations.

The point I want to make is that since President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) referred to the "state-to-state" model on July 9, 1999 -- Taiwan should now be referred to as a "nation," a "country."

For example, instead of referring to an "islandwide" public opinion poll, let's refer to it as a "nationwide" poll. Instead of writing "teachers across the island have voted...," let's say "teachers across the nation have voted ..."

Recently, a noted politician was quoted as saying: "To make the most of the island's limited resources ... "

But does Tony Blair ever refer to Britain as an "island?" No, Britain is always referred to as a "nation."

It's time to get rid of this "island mentality" and move toward a better sense of national identity.

While the Japanese also suffer from a so-called "island mentality" and sometimes use this term to explain their so-called "uniqueness," we all know Japan is a nation of some 125 million people.

Now is the time for the media to refer to Taiwan as a nation of 22 million people. Let's put the full force of Lee's remarks into effect. Think big, think "state- to-state," think sovereignty, think nation, country, polity. The time has come for all politicians, wire service reporters and statesmen, here and overseas, to stop referring to Taiwan as an island.

Taiwan cannot develop a true national identity as long as it remains imprisoned in the "island mentality" of the past. For young people, especially, having and developing a sense of national identity is vital for the future of this country. Taiwan, be ambitious!

John Todd


Before putting up that sign

Much controversy has been raised about transliteration using Latin alphabets, or the romanization of street signs in Taipei ("Romanization must strike a balance," page 8, Jan. 9). I have been involved in transliteration issues for some years, working with Dr Cheng Liang-wei of Hawaii and Dr Yu Boquan of the Academia Sinica in Taipei and experts from the International Organization of Standardization (ISO). Here are some things I have noticed:

1. Nomenclature:

Before romanizing the street signs, first de-Sinicize them.

Opponents of using Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan have said that using q's and x's and zh's on street signs challenges Taiwan's sovereignty and makes the casual traveler mistake Taipei for another PRC city.

Then what about street names such as Songjiang Road or Dihua Street? These make travelers think that they have traveled back in time to the Republican China of the 1940s, with streets named after now-nonexistent place names of that period. Any mayor with some sense of local identity would have wanted to change these names a long time ago.

There is no lack of new names for streets: the flora and fauna of Taiwan (black bear, lilies, the camphor tree); districts and counties (Sinchhuk/Hsinchu, the Pescadores/Penghu); the Formosan tribes (Thao, Kavalan, Sediq); or the 44 sister cities of Taipei (Ho Chi Minh, Ulan-Ude, Ulan Bator).

2. Ethnolinguistics:

Write the names according to local pronunciations, not just Mandarin.

In a Hakka town such as Meinong (or Minung, according to the locals) in Kaohsiung County, street signs with romanization according to the Mandarin pronunciation will look out of place. It is ridiculous to have Mandarin signs in Lanyu (or Pongso no Tao -- the People's Island). The signs should be written according to the local name and pronunciation. The whole point of putting up a useful sign is to indicate the name as it is actually used.

3. Orthography:

Support the established orthography rather than new inventions.

I don't care which transliteration scheme gets used; but I guess that, after the dust settles on the controversy, it won't be more than a handful of phonemes removed from Hanyu Pinyin.

As for the other languages, established orthography should be used. For example, the Peh-oe-ji (``colloquial writing,'' or ``church romanization''), established for more than 130 years, should be used for Taiwanese Ho-lo/Hokkien.

The Bible Society of the Presbyterian Church has a wealth of information on the orthography that's actually used on a daily basis.

4. Typography:

Street signs demand good typography,including both legibility and aesthetics.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that about half of the street signs in Taipei County were vertical. Even the romanized names were typeset vertically in very small letters, rendering them hardly legible. An illegible sign is a useless sign, nothing more than a waste of taxpayers' money.

If street sign designers exist in Taiwan, they need to be reminded that while it is generally accepted to write Han characters vertically, texts in Latin alphabets make little sense when written top-to-bottom.

The signs on the freeways are much better designed: they're crisp, clean and legible. Street signs in cities should follow these good examples.

5. Language Policy:

Street signs are a reflection of the overall language policy of Taiwan. Much of the controversy could have been avoided and a lot of money saved over the years had there been a clear policy on language issues.

So far, the only language policy institution in Taiwan is the National Language Promotion Committee under the Ministry of Education. Controlled by anachronistic hard-liners, its monolithic policy has been ``To kill all other languages and to force-feed everyone Mandarin.''

The 2000 presidential election is drawing near, but the candidates have not said a lot about languages. The people and the media should encourage them to speak on these issues.

Let's hope we'll have good street signs this century.

Kaihsu Tai (Te Khaisu)

San Diego, California

When in Rome...

I would like to respond to what in my opinion was a somewhat rambling commentary on Taiwan's Romanization system ("Romanization must strike a balance," Jan. 9, Page 8).

The authors argued that "any Romanization system developed for Taiwan should ideally strive for a principled balance between internationalization and national autonomy."

This convoluted, parochial logic completely contradicts itself. Taiwan will be "internationalized" by adopting a system known and understood only by a handful of Taiwanese acade-mics?

This is like the UN trying to be more international by making its members speak Bantu.

Their screw-in-a-lightbulb-by-committee approach is worsened by the fact that foreigners in Taiwan, the whole raison d'etre of the system, have been allowed no input into the debate.

The authors think that foreigners will look up at the street signs and say to themselves "Wow! Taiwan is so international and preserves its national identity at the same time!" But unfortunately, every foreigner I know looks up and says "Wow. These guys couldn't find their own behinds with a map and a flashlight."

Brian Shea