Sat, Oct 05, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Tide of Romanization could shift

POLITICAL FORTUNES The Cabinet's approval of Tongyong Pinyin as the nation's official system for Romanization may flounder because local government disagree

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Political observers yesterday expressed divided views over the Cabinet's official approval of the Tongyong Pinyin as the nation's official system for Romanization and the plan to offer incentives to encourage local governments to adopt the system.

Local governments are free to decide whether it will follow the policy or not because the measure is an administrative order.

Emile Sheng (盛治仁), a political science professor at Soochow University, said that the government should first realize the fact that the Romanization system is made mainly for foreigners to better understand places and easy to travel around in Taiwan.

"But instead of handling the matter in a professional manner, it becomes a political issue," Sheng said.

The form of spelling had been the source of strong political passions over the years and had boiled down to a duel between the Hanyu and the Tongyong systems. Other people formerly involved with the issue say they are exacerbated over the issue and have long since given up fighting for one side or the other, complaining that the issue has become politicized.

The Hanyu Pinyin system was developed in China and is now in use by most aca-demic institutions and other organizations as an international standard. The Tongyong system, on the other hand, was developed in Taiwan by a small group of Taiwanese linguists.

Taiwanese linguists argue that the Tongyong system is superior to the Hanyu Pinyin system because it is able to cope with not only Mandarin Chinese but also Taiwanese and Hakka, which are seen by many as important elements in Taiwan's cultural identity.

This identity issue is countered by supporters of the Hanyu camp who said that if Taiwan wants international recognition, it must adopt the international standard.

Sheng is one of those who supports this argument.

"If the Romanization system is mainly made for foreigners, it only makes sense to adopt the one they're most familiar with," he said. "The [Tongyong] policy is so ridiculous that it does nothing more than complicate the already chaotic situation," Sheng said.

However, Chin Heng-wei (金恆 煒), a political observer and editor in chief of Contemporary magazine, disagrees.

"If they want international recognition, why not discard Chinese altogether and use English as the official language instead?" Chin asked. "France can win international recognition but they don't use English street signs."

Commenting on the govern-ment's policy of allowing local governments to decide whether to follow the policy, Chin said that it is intended to avoid political confrontation, especially with the Taipei City Government, which is insisting on using Hanyu as its

Romanization standard.

"The tables will turn if incumbent Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) loses his re-election bid in the year-end election," he said.

In addition to Taipei City, the KMT-led Hsinchu City and County have said that they will defy the policy. The KMT-led Taitung County said it will follow the policy only if the central government subsidizes the cost.

Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), chairman of the Taipei Society (澄社), said it is difficult to have a standard Romanization system because the issue is a political one.

"Let's face it, the policy is a compromise under political pressure," Ku said. "Rome isn't built in one day. I don't think the government's policy makes that much of a difference to foreigners who have already been confused by our spelling systems."

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