An alliance of pro-localization groups, formed to oppose the exclusive use of Hanyu pinyin to translate station names into English on the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line, protested outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei on Tuesday last week.
“The romanization used on road signs and public transport is intended for foreigners. Every foreigner learning Mandarin learns Hanyu pinyin, because it is the international standard. The decision has nothing to do with the nation’s self-determination or any ideologies, because the point is to ensure that foreigners can read the signs,” an official from the ministry said, responding to the protest.
The use of Hanyu pinyin for place names and street signs is nothing more than a tool to aid understanding and has nothing to do with politics, according to the ministry.
Following this logic, since only a minority of the world’s “foreigners” speak Chinese, only a minority learn Hanyu pinyin, which is somewhat different from English phonetics. For example, in Hanyu pinyin the letter “x” is used to pronounce the Chinese character 西 (xi), rather than “si,” which is closer to how it sounds in English.
The romanized names on the Taoyuan airport MRT are there for the benefit of all foreigners, not just those who understand Chinese. If a foreigner understands Chinese, they are able to read Chinese characters and therefore probably do not need to read any form of pinyn.
Since Taiwan’s Tongyong pinyin is closer to how English is actually pronounced and spoken around the world, — it uses “si” instead of “xi” — the new MRT line should use Tongyong pinyin. Kaohsiung’s MRT has used Tongyong pinyin for many years, yet foreign visitors and residents have no problem navigating the system.
If we follow the logic of the ministry, it should recommend to China that its airport metro systems use Tongyong pinyin, since the romanization of station names on China’s metro systems is for the benefit of all foreigners around the world, not just those who understand Chinese.
One suspects that the Chinese government would have something to say about that.
It would probably state unequivocally that Hanyu pinyin forms a part of the official language of China, it is a sovereign matter and that Chinese metro systems will not be using Tongyong pinyin.
Calling on Chinese metro systems to adopt Tongyong pinyin, based on the notion that the romanization of place names and street names has nothing to do with politics would — quite rightly — be seen as political interference in China’s internal affairs — and a violation of basic international norms.
A sound language policy should strike a balance between the competing arguments of language as identity and language as a tool.
In 2002 then-premier Yu Shyi-kun approved the use of Tongyong pinyin. Why does the ministry still insist on rolling out the extreme and highly ideological argument of Hanyu pinyin as “purely a linguistic tool”?
Liu Chien-kuo, Chen Ting-fei, Kuan Bi-ling and Cheng Pao-ching are Democratic Progressive Party legislators.
Translated by Edward Jones
As I write this in mid-June, Chinese strongman Xi Jinping (習近平) seems to be at it again, pressuring and bullying Taiwan both rhetorically and militarily. Chinese war planes have been circling Taiwan in an overtly menacing manner, the rhetoric in state-run media has been shrill and threatening, and in general the one party dictatorship on the mainland has been showing its fear and loathing of the democratic republic 90 miles east of the “People’s” Republic. This at a time when the economy on the mainland continues to be in a slump connected to the global economic decline, though there is
On Tuesday, a total of 28 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft intruded into southwestern, southern and eastern areas of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), a record number since the Ministry of National Defense began publishing PLA aircraft movements last year. Taking off from air bases on China’s east coast, 10 Shenyang J-16 multirole strike fighters, six Shenyang J-11 fighter jets and two Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control aircraft flew on a course adjacent to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands, 東沙群島) before turning back. In a separate formation, an assortment of aircraft, including heavy bombers, more J-16s, electronic warfare
NATO leaders in a communique on Monday described China as a threat to the “rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” marking a major change of focus for the organization. They said that China “is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal,” is “opaque” about its military modernization and is “cooperating militarily with Russia.” Following the NATO meeting in Brussels, US President Joe Biden assured the alliance that the US would honor its NATO commitments, and said that China and Russia were attempting to drive a wedge between the Washington and European allies. “I want all Europe to know that the United
At their meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, last week, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to once again exchange ambassadors, continue arms reductions and avoid nuclear war, but they continue to wrangle over cyberattacks and human rights issues. Since Biden took office, he has had only one unofficial telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), but he hurried to hold a summit meeting with Putin just after the G7 meeting. Biden’s reasons for these decisions invite speculation. Russia used to be a member of the G8 industrialized countries, but its membership was revoked after it instigated a referendum