Fri, Jul 12, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Ma throws a spanner in Pinyin works

DIE-HARD ISSUE While the Ministry of Education has come out in favor of Tongyong Pinyin, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou insists that Hanyu Pinyin is the only way to go

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Ministry of Education's announcement on Wednesday to adopt Tongyong Pinyin (通用拼音) as the nation's standardized Romanization system for Man-darin has increased tensions between the central and Taipei City governments.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday questioned how the system -- which is little known outside of Taiwan -- could serve as a communications tool with the outside world.

Ma insisted that Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼音) -- the system used by China and accepted by the UN -- will be the one used in Taipei.

Tongyong Pinyin is about 85 percent similar to Hanyu Pinyin.

"More than 85 percent of the 2.6 million visitors who come to Taiwan visit Taipei," Ma said. "The need for globalization in the capital is more urgent than anywhere else. Taipei City must adopt Hanyu Pinyin."

To show respect for the education ministry's decision, Ma said both systems will be used on streets connecting the city to outside areas. Hanyu Pinyin will appear first, with Tongyong Pinyin added underneath in parentheses.

The Mandarin Promotion Council, a task force under the education ministry, decided two days ago to choose the Tongyong system. While the council has made a decision, the controversy surrounding the Romanization debate isn't likely to end.

The council voted 10 to zero in support of Tongyong Pinyin. But 16 members of the 26-person panel did not cast ballots. Reports said many of the members who supported Hanyu Pinyin skipped the meeting because a decision in favor of Tongyong Pinyin seemed a fait accompli.

Backers of Hanyu Pinyin support the system because of its prevalent use overseas. But Tongyong Pinyin advocates say the system preserves Taiwan's cultural sovereignty and accommodates sounds in the Hokkien, Hakka and Aboriginal languages.

"If Taiwan adopts the Hanyu Pinyin system used in China, Taiwan will lose its unique cultural traits and national identity," said Yu Bor-chuan (余伯泉), an associate researcher at the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica and the leader of the team which invented the Tongyong Pinyin system in 1998. "It would be an irreparable loss."

Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun (黃榮村) said it was up to regional governments to decide which system they prefer; the central government won't force local administrators to accept the Tongyong system.

With the exception of Taipei City, many governments including Kaohsiung City and Taipei County have agreed to adopt Tongyong Pinyin.

Huang added the central government hopes to develop techniques and codes so that the two systems are understood by computers. The education minister also acknowledged the "political sentiments" held by supporters of either system. Indeed, one KMT lawmaker charged that the policy supporting Tongyong was part of the DPP's efforts to "split Taiwan from the mainland."

Asked whether the needs of foreigners were taken into account when choosing the system, Huang said "foreigners will solve the question themselves."

Chen Chi-nan (陳其南), minister without portfolio, said not to worry too much about whether the Tongyong system will pose difficulties for foreigners.

He said only very few foreigners who understand Mandarin know the differences between Tongyong and Hanyu, given that Hanyu is the system used overseas for Mandarin study.

Chen argued that for most foreigners, what's most important is that street signs use consistent spelling and are easy to read.

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