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.
There are hardly any countries or international organizations that use Hanyu Pinyin to spell places in Taiwan except maps published by China.
We demanded that the MOE show us data to prove that the Hanyu Pinyin “Taizhong” is used more often than the Tongyong “Taichung” and that “Gaoxiong” is used more than “Kaohsiung” by the international community, but the MOE just ignored the question.
The MOE said all libraries in the world use Hanyu Pinyin to catalog their collections in Chinese. Although it is true that most libraries classify collections of their Chinese materials with Hanyu Pinyin, the fact is other phonetic systems are also accepted in their catalogues.
TT: How has Tongyong Pinyin been implemented in Taiwan in the past six years? The MOE has said that Romanization is still a mess, with 65 percent in Tongyong and 35 percent in Hanyu Pinyin and other systems.
Yu: That was a complete fabrication. It was outrageous that officials falsified the results of a survey on the status of implementation of Tongyong Pinyin over the past years. The MOE conducted a survey that polled local governments and central government agencies on their experience with adopting Tongyong Pinyin between 2002 and 2008.
In the original survey documents — obtained by Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] Legislator Wong Chin-chu [翁金珠] — in a list of items that were required to be transliterated with Tongyong Pinyin, only 6 percent were marked as “unable to be carried out.”
Most of those were marked by Taipei City, where Hanyu Pinyin has been implemented as the standard since 2002 by then-Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou [馬英九] in defiance of the DPP government’s policy.
When asked about the “level of difficulty” of switching to Tongyong Pinyin, 19 percent of the items were regarded as “difficult,” tagged with the note that “the difficulty can be resolved.”
The survey also found that only 6 percent of the interviewed units suggested that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration replace Tongyong Pinyin with Hanyu Pinyin.
Overall, it can be said that there has been significant improvement over the past six years in standardizing the Romanization of road signs and street names in Tongyong Pinyin nationwide.
TT: The main reason given by the government to adopt Hanyu Pinyin was to bring Taiwan in line with international standards.
Yu: If that was the real reason behind the policy shift, the government should have replaced the traditional characters used exclusively in Taiwan with simplified characters, because more than 95 percent of the [Chinese-speaking] population worldwide uses simplified characters.
During the era of its one-party rule, the KMT only used Zhuyin Fuhao to teach children Mandarin pronunciation in schools.
Retaining Zhuyin Fuhao was a relic of the old KMT era under the principle that “gentlemen don’t stand with thieves.” Bopomofo was replaced with pinyin in China in 1949, so the KMT’s mindset has been that it must defend Zhuyin Fuhao and reject Hanyu Pinyin.
In 1996, former Academia Sinica president Lee Yuan-tseh [李遠哲] and other distinguished academics called on the government to replace Zhuyin Fuhao with pinyin in school but to no avail. At that time, when we proposed Tongyong Pinyin in 1998, Ma still insisted that his Taipei City government retain the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II system [the transliteration of bopomofo].
So the KMT has been a staunch advocate of Zhuyin Fuhao. It just didn’t make sense for the KMT, a defender of bopomofo, to favor Hanyu Pinyin for the purpose of internationalization.
The issue of internationalization can be seen from two perspectives.
As far as Mandarin-teaching is concerned, given the reality of diplomacy and the widespread prevalence of Hanyu Pinyin globally, there is no doubt that market forces will lead to the adoption of Hanyu Pinyin in this field.
However, in the field of proper names, Taiwan has a right to choose a Romanization system suited to it and the international community will respect our choice.
Adopting Tongyong Pinyin will not pose difficulties for foreigners.
For foreigners who do not understand Mandarin, whether a road sign is spelled in Hanyu Pinyin or Tongyong Pinyin makes no difference, not to mention that Tongyong is more friendly to English speakers than Hanyu in terms of pronunciation.
The primary differences between the two systems are that Tongyong uses “s,” “c” and “jh,” which corresponds more to English spelling, instead of “x,” “q” and “zh” as used in Hanyu Pinyin, which English speakers without Mandarin skills do not usually know how to pronounce. There wouldn’t be a problem as long as street signs an maps were spelled consistently everywhere.
TT: What will be the consequences if the government insists on pushing Hanyu Pinyin? Are you concerned that Hanyu Pinyin will bring Taiwan closer to China?
Yu: One could say that was one of our concerns, but it is not correct to focus on the issue of national identity first. We have to talk some sense about the nature of the matter and put the identity issue second.
The Hanyu Pinyin system is not entirely suitable for Taiwan given the fact that not every Chinese character is pronounced in Taiwan as it is in China.
Immediately after Hanyu Pinyin was adopted by the government in September, the MOE promulgated guidelines for using Hanyu Pinyin to Romanize Hakka, replacing the application of Tongyong Pinyin for teaching Hakka.
As Tongyong has been used for the Romanization of Hakka, even some KMT lawmakers were against the new guidelines. They said that it would make learning Hakka more difficult because Hanyu Pinyin did not accommodate sounds in the language.
The most serious problem is how our names are to be Romanized.
Although the Hanyu Pinyin guidelines allow individuals to decide the spelling of their name, it suggested using the format of surname first, followed by given name without a hyphen between the syllables ... If my name were that way, my initials would be [Y.] B. instead of [Y.] B.C. in Tongyong Pinyin ... How can the government ignore the fact that Taiwanese people have used a hyphen in their given name ... for about 20 to 30 years?
No one has the right to arbitrarily decide what other people’s names should be. By the same token, Taiwan has every right to decide its proper names.
We should not give up autonomy over this as it is a representation of our sovereignty.
TT: What are your suggestions for the government?
Yu: Japan, where two different Romanization systems have been used since 1954, could serve as an example.
In 1954, Japan’s Cabinet announced a program including the Hepburn and the nippon-shiki [“Japan-style”] systems, under which the Hepburn Romanization system devised by an American is employed in overseas Japanese-language teaching materials, while the nippon-shiki system is used to transliterate local names and for domestic education.
Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems does not hurt a country’s competitiveness. In addition, [there is] compatibility between the Tongyong and Hanyu Pinyin systems.
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