Archive for Romanization

Taiwanese romanization and subtitles

Song by a Taiwanese band with sinographic and romanized transcriptions of the lyrics in the center and Mandarin translation at the bottom as subtitles, via Bilibili:

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Mixed script writing in Taiwan

[This is a guest post by Kirinputra]

Something happened* a few days ago that some of your readers might find surprising. It reflects a mood change that's set in over the last few years in Formosa.
[*VHM:  The content of the Facebook post linked here may not be available at this time, but you can still get the gist of what it was about from the remainder of this post.]
My apologies — the link has been set to private. But the incident has spawned a new Facebook group that anybody can view.
So this guy posts a message in mixed-script Taioanese (sinographs & romanization, mixed inline) in a pro-motorcyclist Facebook activist group…. The message was aligned with the views of the group, but the first few waves of comments were almost all reactions of disgust at the post not being in Mandarin; some group members blocked the guy right away. Some of the reactions were specifically against the romanized elements, but the reaction to the sinographic elements was pretty disparaging too….

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Perso-Arabic script for Mandarin, Pe̍h-ōe-jī for Taiwanese: sad cripples?

We have been intrigued by Iskander Ding since encountering him on X/Twitter a while back, several posts from his account having made it onto Language Log (see "Selected readings").

With a handle like his, where Iskandar is the Persian form of the name of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (256–323 BC) and Ding has an unmistakable Sinitic / Hannic ring to it, we suspected from the start that he is a Hui (Chinese Muslim).  So far, though, we have not been able to track down the sinographs for his full Hannic name, which is a bit unusual, where even Mongols, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and other non-Sinitic people are compelled to take Sinographic names.

Iskandar Ding is currently writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Yaghnobi linguistics and culture at SOAS in London (see this page for basic information about him).

Yaghnobi is an Eastern Iranian language spoken in the upper valley of the Yaghnob River in the Zarafshan area of Tajikistan by the Yaghnobi people. It is considered to be a direct descendant of Sogdian and has sometimes been called Neo-Sogdian in academic literature.


Here is a 53 second video of ID announcing a talk on Perso-Arabic-script Hannic.

Here is the 43.44 talk ("Xiao’erjing – Writing Chinese with Perso-Arabic Letters" – Iskandar Ding | PG 2022) as it actually happened.  IA comment:  "What he said throughout the talk was pleasing now and then — saying 'Eastern Turkistan' in Uighur for example…".

Here is a 1 hour 22 minute interview with ID. If you click the link it will open at the 18:11 mark, where he speaks of Perso-Arabic-script Hannic . That part ends at 22:40.

The above is based largely on information provided by IA, and the following quotes IA directly:

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Pinyin resurgent


Some exciting news.

A member of the PRC's National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (the yearly meeting of which is taking place in Beijing right now) is urging schools to increase the time spent teaching Pinyin (currently 4-6 weeks) to a semester or even longer to help ensure more students have a solid foundation in this skill. Intriguingly, there's also a mention of using more "texts."

Here's an account of what's happening:

"Schools should spend more time teaching Pinyin: PRC politician", Pinyin News (3/7/24)

Xu Xudong (徐旭東/徐旭东), a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, is advocating that public schools in China allocate substantially more time to the teaching of Hanyu Pinyin.

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Major romanization change coming in Japan

From Pinyin News (3/4/24):  

"Japan to switch official romanization from Kunrei-shiki to Hepburn"

Japanese newspapers are reporting that Japan will officially switch from Kunrei-shiki romanization to Hepburn romanization.

In a front-page column last week, the Asahi Shimbun said, “A draft report recently published by the Council of Cultural Affairs pointed out that the Hepburn system is more widely used than the Kunrei system, and it is expected that the notation will be adjusted to reflect this. It is surprising because the writing system has not changed for about 70 years, but if confusion can be avoided, the change is to be welcomed.”

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What is the difference between a dragon and a /lʊŋ³⁵/?

Today is the Lunar New Year's Day, and it's the Year of the Dragon / /lʊŋ³⁵/ . As such, a kerfuffle is stirring in China and the English-speaking world regarding the English translation of lóng ⿓ / 龙 / 竜 (J), which is usually "dragon".

I will begin with the pronunciation of the word.  In MSM, it is lóng (Hanyu Pinyin), lung2 (Wade-Giles), lúng (Yale), long (Gwoyeu Romatzyh [the configuration of GR tonal spelling for this syllable indicates second tone), лун (Palladius).  They all represent the same MSM syllable.  I will not list the scores of other topolectal pronunciations for Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hakka, Hokkien, Xiamen / Amoy, Sichuan, etc., etc. and their dialects and subdialects.

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Butter chicken

Who owns it?

It's sort of like who owns kimchee, Koreans (of course!) or Chinese — we've been through that many times — except that the question of who has the rights to claim they invented butter chicken is ostensibly internecine / intranational rather than international (but maybe not [see below]), as is the case with kimchee.

"India’s courts to rule on who invented butter chicken:  Two Delhi restaurants both claim to have the right to call themselves the home of the original butter chicken recipe" by Hannah Ellis-Petersen, The Guardian (1/25/24)

Judging from the account in The Guardian, the squabbling between the two Delhi restaurants is both picayune and misplaced:

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Pinyin vs. English

I knew that in the future it would come to this.  More than forty years ago, I predicted that one day China would have to make a choice between Hanyu Pinyin and English when it comes to phonetic writing.  As we say in Mandarin, "guǒrán 果然" ("as expected / it turns out")….

It seems that there's been quite a flap over the replacement of signs for subway station stops from English to Hanyu Pinyin, as documented (verbally and visually [many photographs]) in this Chinese article.  Naturally, the Chinese characters are there in either case, but what people are complaining about is the replacement of English with Hanyu Pinyin.  For example, changing "Library" to "Tushuguan" or "Hefei Train Station" to "Hefei Huochezhan".

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Ta Mother Noodle

Sign on a noodle shop in Xindan, Taiwan:

(Via Google Street View)

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Greater China Co-Prosperity Sushi and Ramen Kitchen

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Sinological formatting

I recently received this book:

Sūn Sīmiǎo, Sabine Wilms.  Healing Virtue-Power: Medical Ethics and the Doctor's Dao.  Whidbey Island WA:  Happy Goat Productions, 2022.

ISBN:  978-1-7321571-9-4


As soon as I started to leaf through the volume, I was struck by its unusual format and usages:  every Chinese character is accompanied by Hanyu Pinyin phonetic annotation with tones, and all terms and sentences are translated into English.  But that's just the beginning; after introducing the original author and the translator, I will point out additional features of this remarkable, praiseworthy monograph.

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ChatGPT does cuneiform studies

We have seen ChatGPT tell stories (and variants of the stories it tells), fancify Coleridge's famous poem on Xanadu, pose a serious challenge to the Great Firewall of China, mimic VHM, write Haiku, and perform all manner of amazing feats.  In a forthcoming post, we will witness its efforts to translate Chinese poetry.  Today, we will watch ChatGPT make a credible foray into Akkadiology.

Translating old clay tablet by using chatGPT

Jan Romme, Jan's Stuff (5/15/23)

The author commences:

You might have heard how I asked chatGPT to pose as a Jehovah’s Witness, write a “witnessing letter” with 2 or 3 bible scriptures in it, and then translate that letter into an English rap song, Eminem style.  Or you might have missed that news. My point is, I like to play with AI’s.

I’m increasingly stupefied by how much AI models like OpenAI’s chatGPTGoogle’s BARD, and Facebooks LLaMMa and others are capable of.

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"Romanisation 'gives clarity'"

As we have pointed out countless times on Language Log, if one wishes to learn a Sinitic language, one can concentrate on the characters (writing system), one can rely exclusively on romanization or other phoneticization, or one can devise various means for combining the two approaches.  Here is a clever, fun method for learning Cantonese that tackles the problem head on.

Hongkonger creates colourful Cantonese font to foster language learning

Jon Chui’s new font shows coloured, context-sensitive jyutping for Chinese text. He created it as his partner “had a hard time with the tones” when learning Cantonese.

Mandy Cheng, Hong Kong Free Press (5/16/23)

Jon Chui "has created a new Cantonese font, which combines over 8,000 characters with colourful, Romanised pronunciation guides in order to foster language learning and teaching."

Cantonese Font. Photo: Jon Chiu.

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