Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Creative Romanizations/変わったローマ字/有創意的拼法

Mandarin Chinese nowadays is typically romanized using the "Hanyu Pinyin" system, developed in China.  However, until the late 20th century, the Wade-Giles system was actually the most commonly used system.  As a result, a lot of place names in Taiwan still use the "traditional" Wade-Giles spelling of their name.  This includes the two biggest cities in the country; Taipei and Kaohsiung, which would be "Taibei" and "Gaoxiong" respectively under the Hanyu Pinyin system.

Taiwan currently has made China's Hanyu Pinyin system their official system, but after they abandoned Wade-Giles and before they started using Hanyu Pinyin, they used a couple of home-grown systems.  Two of these systems I had never even heard of until I started writing this post and looked up information, but the most recent of the bunch, "Tongyong Pinyin", can still be seen on a lot of street signs here in southern Taiwan.  Put simply, in the course of the less than 70 years since Taiwan stopped being a Japanese colony, they've gone through like five different official systems of romanization for Mandarin.

Additionally, none of these systems has ever been enforced in any way, and Taiwanese people are perfectly free to pick and choose, or totally ignore all of the rules when they, say, romanize their names, or put up signs on their businesses.  In fact, a lot of Taiwanese people are surprisingly unfamiliar with any romanization system at all, and even a lot of young, well-educated people don't know how to write Chinese in Roman letters in a consistent way.  This is because in elementary school, kids learn Chinese characters' readings through the use of a set of phonetic characters created specifically for Mandarin.  (They look like this: ㄅ,ㄑ,ㄜ,etc.)  Taiwanese people also use these characters when they type Chinese.  I've been told by Chinese teachers here that the first thing they teach college students in "Mandarin as a Second-Language" courses is how to write Chinese in Hanyu Pinyin, since this is what people in foreign countries use to learn Chinese, but the Taiwanese college students are mostly unfamiliar with the system.

Finally, one last note: Historically the most commonly spoken language in Taiwan has been not Mandarin, but Taiwanese Hokkien, so it's also not uncommon to see signs with Roman letters that are supposed to represent Taiwanese instead of Mandarin.  You know, just to make things more confusing.

As a result of all of these factors, romanization is pretty inconsistent in Taiwan, and you often see interesting names on signs, such as the bank above which has chosen to romanize their name as "EnTie".  I have no idea if this is based on any sort of systemized romanization at all, or if they just made it up themselves, but actually, based on English spelling rules, this is a very good approximation of how to say the name.  An English speaker who knew no Chinese would probably get closer to the Chinese pronunciation from reading this than they would from reading "Antai", which is what it would be according to Hanyu Pinyin rules.

日本語と同じく、中国語は本来アルファベットが存在しない。中国語は20世紀前半はウェード式(Wade-Giles Pinyin)が一般だったが、20世紀終わり頃には中国が発明した「漢語ピン音」式に替わった。しかし、台湾の政府は中国より長くウェード式を使用して、しかも自分の国で創作した綴り方(通用ピン音など)を使用して、最近やっと漢語ピン音を正式な綴り方にした。だから台湾が日本から独立して以来、まだ70年も経っていないのに、五つのアルファベットの綴り方を使用してきた。しかも、どれも義務ではない。学校では中国語専用の「ボポモフォ」(日本語の仮名みたいな字。こういう字だ:ㄊ,ㄔ,ㄡ,など)を使って子供に漢字の読み方を教えるので、まずは義務教育にアルファベットが入っていない。日常生活の中には、店の看板から人の名前に至っても、アルファベットで物事を書く時、台湾人は別に正式的な「漢語ピン音」式の決まりに従わなければいけないというわけではない。だから意外と大学生でもアルファベットの使い方が曖昧という人は多い。中国語の先生から聞いたけど、「第二言語として中国語を教える」という授業では、最初に大学生に教えるのは漢語ピン音のやりかたらしい。中国語を勉強している外国人は皆使うけど、台湾人にはあまり馴染みがないのだから。






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