On April 6 last year, the Ministry of Education sponsored a national conference in Taipei on Mandarin Romanization systems. Four competing systems were presented for deliberations at the conference: the Wade Giles (WG) System (
Of these, the Wade Giles system is the most traditional and, until very recently, the most widely used. But it has now lost its appeal largely because a total of 136 syllables require additional phonetic signs or diacritic marks, making it a fairly cumbersome system for printing and typing. As a consequence, a consensus emerged at the conference that the WG system should be rescinded from the list of potential systems for future deliberations.
The remaining three systems represent three different models of thinking. What underlines MPS-II is the credo that Taiwan should say no to whatever system China comes up with; adoption of the Hanyu Pinyin system, on the other hand, represents a contrary belief that there is little rational basis for going against a system that is already enjoying international currency. Finally, Taiwan Tongyong Pinyin was developed to achieve an optimal balance between internalization and national autonomy.
On June 21, the Ministry of Education, having decided to dump the MPS-II, proposed a still-newer system -- Guoyu Pinyin (
Six county commissioners and a dozen or so legislators from both sides of the aisle soon endorsed a proposal for the Executive Yuan to strive for a Romanization system which embodies the idea of internalization and national autonomy.
On July 26, the government, in a surprise move, announced the use of China's Hanyu Pinyin System for the Romanization of street names throughout the island, a move seen by many as a blatant disregard of the fact that the system is currently used in Beijing and could therefore suggest to the world that Taiwan is part of PRC.
Thereupon, 14 county commissioners and a number of prominent educators and linguists openly voiced strong opposition to the policy change, including Paul Jen-Kuei Lee (
On Sept. 16, legislator Weng Chin-chu (
Since the concept of IMS is nearly equivalent to that which underlies Tongyong Pinyin, it behooved us to consider in some detail the differences between Guoyu Pinyin and Taiwan Tongyong Pinyin. Basically, they boil down to two issues: One has to do with the way the zero-initial is handled. In Tongyong Pinyin, one single value is applied to all of the syllables with the same zero-initial. Thus the morpheme "
A second difference between Guoyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin pertains to the issue of dentals and palatals.In Guoyu Pinyin, "
It is important to note that Tongyong Pinyin has joined hands with inventors of the Natural Input Method (
To sum up briefly, we believe that any Mandarin Romanization system developed for Taiwan should ideally strive for a principled balance between internalization and national autonomy as suggested above and that the Taiwan system should, therefore, contain distinctive features that sets it apart from China's Hanyu Pinyin. It is our hope, however, that the two systems may learn to accommodate each other in a productive symbiosis.
Hwang Hsuan-fan is director of the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at National Taiwan University; Chiang Wen-yu is associate professor of the Graduate Institute of Linguistics at National Taiwan University; Lo Seo-gim is a professor in the department of Chinese at National Changhua University of Education; and Robert Liang-wei Cheng is a professor in the department of East Asian languages and literatures at University of Hawaii in Manoa.
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