Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Keelung's signs have foreigners perplexed

LOST IN TRANSLATION The port city's signs have come under fire in the latest dispute over which romanization system governments should use in naming roads


A street sign in Keelung reads ``Diong-zun Rd'' based on the Taiwanese pronunciation of the street name, ``Zhongchuan Rd.'' Keelung's Transportation and Tourism Bureau has kept some street names romanized based on the Taiwanese (also known as Hoklo) for historical reasons.


Ever find yourself lost in the alphabet soup that is Taiwan's inconsistently spelled streets?

Street signs' Chinese characters are consistent enough, but many hapless foreigners have little choice but to rely on streets' English names, and that's where the trouble starts.

Is the street "中正路" known in English as Chungcheng Road or Jungjeng Road? Neither -- in Taipei City proper, it's Zhongzheng Road. Outside the city limits, however, "中正路" is spelled "Jhongjheng Road." And as for outside of Taipei County, well, anything goes.

Especially in Keelung.

The same road in that city is known as "Diong-zing Road" which doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to the Mandarin pronunciation of the street's name.

That's because "Diong-zing" is an English approximation of the Taiwanese pronunciation of the street's Chinese name. But if you think that's confusing, just try actually navigating Keelung's streets.

Forget about asking the local residents for directions, though -- chances are they won't have a clue as to which road's name you're trying to spit out.

"I think street names using Taiwanese [romanization] are unhelpful to both foreigners and locals," said Chang Chia-ming (張家銘), an employee at the Keelung Visitor Information Center.

"I've seen a lot of foreigners ask for directions [according to street signs' Taiwanese romanization]," Chang said. "I can't understand them. I have to think for a while before I finally guess which road they're referring to."

The Keelung City Government has enlisted the public's help in correcting misspelled or inconsistently named English street signs, soliciting revisions and opinions online.

That in turn has sparked a debate over how Keelung's street signs should read in English.

Keelung's Transportation and Tourism Bureau stated recently that since 1999, the city has used Tongyong pinyin -- the nation's official Chinese romanization system -- in naming its streets.

However, because of certain historical and cultural factors, some streets' romanized Taiwanese names would not be changed, the bureau said.

That policy goes against the Ministry of Transportation and Communications' (MOTC) advice, which is to follow Taipei's example and name streets using Hanyu pinyin -- China's official Chinese romanization system -- within the city, and name streets outside of the city but within county limits according to Tongyong pinyin.

However, according to Yin Chen-pong (尹承蓬), deputy director of the Department of Railways and Highways, such conventions for naming streets at city and county levels are not hard-and-fast rules.

In other words, Keelung can name its streets in English as it pleases, regardless of what locals, foreigners or the central government think.

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