Wed, Jul 17, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Minister to play down Tongyong controversy

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun (黃榮村) yesterday promised that he would minimize political confrontation when implementing Tongyong Pinyin (通用拼音) as the country's official spelling system for Romanizing Mandarin.

The selection of Tongyong Pin-yin is regarded by opposition politicians as politically motivated.

While acknowledging that political concerns were part of the reason for the decision, the minister promised that he would strive to avoid the ensuing political tension when traveling the country advocating the system.

"The issue of adopting a language system is complex and cannot be forced. [The government] will not stir upheaval by compelling schools or local governments to use the system," Huang said at a meeting with scholars and PFP lawmakers.

The education minister promised that authorities would show respect to the will of individual regions, because it would not be in the nation's interest if the government coerces implementation without the approval of opponents.

Huang made the statements in an attempt to answer the concerns of some regional governments, including Taipei City, which insist on using Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼音), the system used in China.

The education ministry triggered a fierce controversy after it announced last week that Tongyong Pinyin, a system created by a group of Taiwanese linguists in 1998, would be adopted as the standardized Mandarin Romanization system.

The decision ended a year-long debate which divided academics and officials and raised the passions of many foreigners living in Taiwan.

Street signs have created a major obstacle for foreign travelers in Taiwan, as at least four systems are in use concurrently.

The system used most often is the Wade Giles (威妥馬式) system, which was created by British scholars in the 19th century. The other three systems are Second Chuyin (注音二式), Tongyong Pinyin and Hanyu Pinyin.

In deciding on an official system, Wade Giles and the Second Chuyi system were ruled out immediately. Wade Giles was ruled out because it is unfriendly to computer users, as it requires too many supplementary notes, whereas the Second Chuyi system was abandoned because it contradicts the widely-used Hanyu system -- which has also been accepted by the UN.

Backers of Hanyu Pinyin support the system because of its prevalence overseas. They condemn supporters of Tongyong, saying they oppose Hanyu simply because it is used in China.

But Tongyong Pinyin advocates say the system preserves Taiwan's cultural sovereignty, corresponds to local spelling habits and accommodates sounds in Hokkien, Hakka and Aboriginal languages. Supporters consider it a perfect combination of "globalization and localization."

The system has about 85 percent of the spellings used in Hanyu Pinyin.

The primary differences between the two are that Tongyong uses "s," "c" and "jh," which corresponds more with English spelling habits, instead of the "x," "q," and "zh" used in Hanyu, which English speakers without Mandarin skills cannot usually pronounce.

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