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Sun, Oct 08, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Official challenges Romanization

SPEAKING OUT The director of Taipei's civil affairs bureau says adopting the Tongyong Pinyin Romanization system is merely a shallow attempt to resist the accepted Chinese Hanyu Pinyin system

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

A Taipei City Government official said yesterday an agreement by the Ministry of Education about standardizing Mandarin Romanization was politically motivated and a deliberate attempt to challenge the system used in China and other Mandarin-speaking countries.

"The conclusion to adopt the Tongyong Pinyin system (通用拼音) was made for political reasons and demonstrates the new government's anxiety over unification with China.

"The fear is shown in purposely disregarding the system employed in China -- the Hanyu Pinyin system (漢語拼音)," said Lin Cheng-hsiou (林正修), director of the city government's Bureau of Civil Affairs. "Also, the decision flies in the face of the consensus reached last year to make use of the Hanyu system in Taiwan ? The new government owes the public a reasonable explanation. How come a formally agreed upon policy could be so drastically changed within a year?"

Lin's remarks were made at the end of a meeting by the Mandarin Promotion Council (MPC), under the Ministry of Education, that decided the Tongyong system would be the standardized Mandarin Romanization system in Taiwan.

In addition to officials from the civil affairs bureau, other attendees at the meeting included representatives from the the railways and highways department of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, and various linguistics scholars.

Director of the Mandarin Promotion Council, Tsao Feng-fu (曹逢甫), said their conclusion would be sent to the Executive Yuan for review before the end of the year.

Tsao said even if the Tongyong system was made official it would not affect children who are learning with the current phonetic system. But, from next year, elementary school students will have to learn two systems simultaneously.

He said that in the past, people in Taiwan did not use any Romanization system -- implying the Hanyu system did not have an advantage in Taiwan. "It is time for us to choose a favorable Romanization system and make it standard in our country," he said.

Chiang Wen-yu (江文瑜), associate professor at the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at National Taiwan University, said the Tongyong system was chosen because it was the system that would be accepted by most people in Taiwan within the shortest time.

Tsao said now that a choice had been made, attention should switch to how the system would be introduced. He said he would be looking for help from the administration and hoped the Romanized spelling of street signs would be standardized.

Inconsistencies in the Romanization system used in Taiwan has long been a contentious issue. Foreign visitors have often complained that discrepancies in street signs have made it hard to get around in the country.

Hanyu Pinyin was invented in China and accepted by the UN in 1986 as a standardized Mandarin Romanization system, whereas the Tongyong Pinyin system was designed by Yu Po-chuan (余伯泉), a researcher at Academia Sinica, in accordance with international phonetics and the Taiwanese method for Romanizing Chinese.

The main difference between the two systems is that the Tongyong system uses a lot of local words and dialects.

This, say some experts, will cause confusion for foreigners.

Citing Wanhua (萬華), a historic district in Taipei City as an example, its Romanized spelling in Tongyong Pinyin system is Menjia (艋舺), its ancient name.

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