Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Romanization debate stirs passions at forum

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Academics and foreign residents debated at a forum yesterday which Romanization system the government should adopt for road and traffic signs.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications' Institute of Transportation and the Cabinet's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission co-hosted the forum dubbed "Building a Bilingual Living Environment: Bilingual Signs for Road and Traffic."

The forum was part of the government's project to put Chinese and English on all public signs within six years to create a more friendly environment for foreigners.

Around 100 officials, academics and foreigners attended the forum.

Whether the government should adopt Tongyong Pinyin (通用拼音) or Hanyu Pinyin (漢語拼音), the system used in China, dominated the discussion.

Allen Yu (游裕仁), operation director of DHL Taiwan Corp and a member of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT), said both the ECCT and the American Chamber of Commerce Taipei (AmCham) backed Hanyu Pinyin.

"We hope the government can take the ECCT's and AmCham's requests into account," Yu said.

Mark Swofford, webmaster of and, described the Romanization of Taiwan's road signs as a mess.

While the mixed use of Tong-yong Pinyin and Hanyu Pinyin on road signs has caused enough confusion, the old-fashioned Wade-Giles system is also used on many public signs, Swofford said.

"There is no system and no standard," he said.

An advocate of Hanyu Pinyin, Swofford said things will not improve if the government strives for consistency by adopting Tongyong Pinyin.

"Tongyong Pinyin is a bad system. It's not used anywhere except Taiwan. If the government says we are going to use Tongyong Pinyin here, well, where are the dictionaries? Where are the guidebooks?" he asked.

"The government says it wants to increase foreign trade and bring more foreign investment in. Tongyong Pinyin makes it more difficult," Swofford said.

The merits of Tongyong Pinyin and Hanyu Pinyin have been debated for years and are considered politically sensitive because of the divided views held by pro-unification and pro-independence groups.

Tongyong Pinyin was developed by Taiwanese linguists in 1998. They claim the system preserves Taiwan's cultural sovereignty, corresponds to foreigners' spelling habits and accommodates sounds in Hoklo, Hakka and Aboriginal languages.

Yu Bor-chuan (余伯泉), an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Ethnology, defended Tongyong Pinyin's acceptability among foreigners. He once visited the ECCT to present the merits of Tongyong Pinyin.

But Allen Yu said Yu Bor-chuan failed to convince the ECCT of Tongyong Pinyin's superiority.

Yu Bor-chuan said as long as the government can make road signs consistent, the country will make strides toward internationalization.

"There is no reason why the government must adopt Hanyu Pinyin," he said.

Yu Bor-chuan said research carried out earlier this year showed that foreigners who have no knowledge of Mandarin find Tongyong Pinyin more acceptable than Hanyu Pinyin.

He added most foreigners in Taiwan prefer Hanyu Pinyin because they have learned Mandarin, which is taught through Hanyu Pinyin.

Meanwhile, some academics and transportation officials at the forum questioned the necessity of creating a bilingual environment by putting Chinese and English on all road signs.

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