This week we reluctantly decided that the copy desk would have to learn Tongyong Pinyin for Taiwanese location names. This was not a popular move by any means. After all, those of us who are long-time residents in Taiwan already know Hanyu, the government's old bastardized Wade Giles and Yale, as well as the obviously non-Roman Mandarin Phonetic Alphabet or Zhuyinfuhao. Memorizing another system is not exactly anyone's first priority. Those new to the country barely know even one Romanization system and now find it a job requirement to learn three. \nWhen Tongyong was announced in 2002 we had hoped to be able to just ignore it. After all, we reasoned, nobody gives a damn about Romanization except foreigners, and they don't vote. \nIn China it is a different matter since Hanyu is used to teach Chinese to read. Hence there is far more effort to spell it correctly and far more knowledge and recognition of it among ordinary people. Taiwan on the other hand uses Zhuyinfuhao, not Romanization, for this purpose (and very good it is to, as anyone who has studied it knows). But putting that on street signs would hardly be helpful. \nSo given that the only people who had an interest in a consistent and useable system belonged to a group -- foreigners -- with no power and little usefulness to the powerful, we thought there was no incentive for anyone to change anything, just as there never was any incentive to use the Wade Giles system consistently in the first place. So why bother? (And please give our foreign editors a slap on the back here for success in acculturation). \nWe didn't reckon, however, with the fundamentalist zeal of Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), whose desire to make Taipei look as much like a city in China as possible spurred him to raise a finger to the yet to be implemented Tongyong and adopt Hanyu within Taipei City. While we don't understand why Ma wishes to capitalize the first letter of all "characters" even when they are in the middle of words -- hence ZhongXiao, not Zhongxiao, for example -- we admit that implementation has been refreshingly consistent throughout Ma's would-be "Taipei Special Administrative Region." \nTaipei County has been in the hands of the DPP since 1989; indeed it was the site of the party's first-ever win of a high-level administrative position. So naturally those ultragreens across the Tamsui and Hsintien rivers had to react by embracing Tongyong, the Romanization system of Taiwanese, by Taiwanese and for ... well, whoever. This has also been implemented with a degree of consistency and thoroughness that, frankly, we never expected. \nSo now we have "one city, two systems" given the maintenance of the anachronistic division of the conurbation between Taipei City and County. And hardly any of these names agree with any map published more than two years ago. It is easy enough to find maps for sale which refer to the Taipei County city (actually, of course, just a Taipei suburb) of "Hsintien." How is a visitor supposed to know that to get there you need to follow signs in Taipei City to "XinDian," and to know that once you see a sign saying "Sindian" you have actually arrived? And how exactly do you spell the name of the river that marks the boundary between this suburb and JingMei? \nFor a while this was simply a Taipei problem, though as a paper called the Taipei Times not one we could ignore. Now it is slowly spreading. The National Freeway Bureau has recast all its signs in Tongyong, for example, while most other county governments have stuck to Wade Giles. This means it is now easier for a foreigner to navigate using Chinese characters rather than the Romanization that is there to help. \nHere at the newspaper we are often accused of being inconsistent, of getting Romanization "wrong." But our policy is not to adhere to one system rather than any other but to call places by names which people can use to recognize them, so that you can find the same name in the newspaper and on a street sign. The problem is that the lack of standardization now is completely out of hand. Before we had one system, often misspelled. Now we have two more systems to deal with. Who is at fault here? Quite clearly the central government, which made Tongyong a standard and then said it was up to city and county governments to decide whether to use it or not. How this can be called a standard is anybody's guess. \nFinally let us add that we do not agree with those who say Taiwan should use Hanyu simply because the rest of the world does. To rephrase (and clean up) Michael Keaton's classic line from The Paper, we don't live in the world, we live in Taiwan. Some of our foreign editors are hoping, in fact, that by thinking in Tongyong they might be able to localize their Mandarin to give it a more Taiwan flavor. But they have already found a problem with the system: the lack of a a letter to be used for the initial in Taiwan Guoyu that can be "f" or "h" depending on how you feel. Suggestions are welcome.
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