Mon, Feb 16, 2009 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Tongyong better suited to Taiwan: Yu Bor-chuan

Taiwan has employed various Romanization systems, from Wade-Giles to Tongyong Pinyin. In 2002, the Democratic Progressive Party administration made Tongyong the standard, a decision since reversed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration. Taiwan Pinyin League president Yu Bor-chuan, who headed the team that designed Tongyong Pinyin, sat down with ‘Taipei Times’ reporter Shih Hsiu-chuan last month and shared his thoughts on the decision to switch to Hanyu Pinyin as the national standard

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taipei Times: Do you think the government sought the opinions of civic groups before making a decision?

Yu Bor-chuan (余伯泉): No. The decision was made by Minister Without Portfolio Ovid Tseng [曾志朗] at a meeting on Sept. 16. The decision was not made in a context [involving linguistics experts] nor did language experts take part in the policy-making.

The wording on the document that the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission claimed Premier Liu Chao-shiuan [劉兆玄] had signed off on concerning the Hanyu Pinyin proposal was also problematic. The wording meant only that the proposal had been used as a reference, but it stopped short of saying that it had been approved.

What I took this to indicate was that government officials were exerting their powers arbitrarily while dodging responsibility for the actions they have taken and will take and are trying to avoid any questions people might ask about the policy.

TT: Did the Taiwan Pinyin League at any point contact the government about its policy? If so, what was the response?

Yu: The Taiwan Pinyin League first questioned the Executive Yuan concerning the legitimacy of and administrative flaws in the policy-making process that saw the Ministry of Education [MOE] promulgate the Guidelines of Using Chinese Phonetic Spelling on Dec. 18 [which replaced Tongyong with Hanyu Pinyin as the national standard.]

In its reply, the MOE discussed the rationale and benefits of the policy shift, but it offered bogus information to justify its argument that only Hanyu Pinyin was accepted by the international community.

We sent a document to the Executive Yuan asking for an explanation of this incorrect information and explaining our concern that adopting Hanyu Pinyin, the system used in China, would humiliate the nation and undermine its sovereignty. The MOE replied a second time with just a few words and still failed to answer our questions.

TT: What do you mean by ‘sacrificing the nation’s sovereignty’ and what was the false information cited by the ministry?

Yu: In the Guidelines of Using Chinese Phonetic Spelling, released on Dec. 18, a chart to convert Chinese characters and Zhuyin Fuhao [commonly called bopomofo] into Hanyu Pinyin and a Hanyu-Tongyong comparison chart were attached without citing a source.

That the MOE did not cite the source of the Hanyu Pinyin charts constituted an act of plagiarism as the phonetic system was approved by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China [PRC] and ratified by its National People’s Congress in 1958.

Nor did the MOE mention that Hanyu Pinyin has been adopted by the International Organization for Standardization [ISO] as the standard Romanization system for modern Chinese. The second version of the 1991 ISO 7098 [decision] said ISO 7098 referred to “Modern Chinese or putonghua [普通話], the official language of the PRC.”

The MOE left out the ISO reference on purpose with the intent of withhold this information from the public because it could lead to the misunderstanding that Taiwan is part of China.

As for the false information I mentioned, the MOE said Taiwan’s street and place names are spelled using Hanyu Pinyin on maps and atlases published by most countries and international organizations. This is not true, since the international community generally goes by the guideline of naming a person or a place after its original name.

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