Saturday, October 4, 2008

Romanization of Chinese in the Republic of China

Romanization systems used in the Republic of China includes the following natively developed systems, adopted officially by the national government: Gwoyeu Romatzyh , Mandarin Phonetic Symbols II , Tongyong Pinyin , and Hanyu Pinyin . Alongside these aforementioned nominally official systems, Wade-Giles has been used for decades in many contexts.

Generally speaking, street signs have been transcribed in one of the native systems; other proper names are written in Wade-Giles. However, since the introduction of Tongyong, place names — save for counties and the top-level municipalities — are now usually romanized using Tongyong. There are a few anomalies; for example, Taipei City uses Hanyu Pinyin.

The contention surrounding romanizations has never been purely academic or in response to the needs of the foreign community in Taiwan, but rather shrouded by politics. As a result, modern romanization of in Taiwan is by and large inconsistent and quite difficult for most overseas visitors, foreign-born residents and local Taiwanese to interpret.


Romanization is not normally taught in Taiwan's public schools at any level. Consequently, most Taiwanese do not know how to romanize their names or addresses. Teachers use only Zhuyin for teaching and annotating the pronunciation of Mandarin. There have been sporadic discussions about using a romanization system during early education to teach children Mandarin pronunciation . However, like all other aspects of romanization in Taiwan, this is a controversial issue. The plan in the early 2000s to adopt Pinyin was delayed due to disagreements over which form to use . The move is complicated by the massive effort needed to produce new instructional materials and retrain teachers.

Textbooks teaching other languages of Taiwan — namely, , , and Formosan languages — now also often include pronunciation in romanizations in addition to Zhuyin. Textbooks purely supplemented by romanization, without Zhuyin annotations, are very rare at the elementary-school level, since a sizeable minority of Taiwanese schoolchildren cannot easily read the English alphabet.

Government publications for teaching overseas Taiwanese children usually are completely bilingual, but only have Zhuyin in the main body of the texts and a comparison chart of Zhuyin and one or more Romanization systems. Those for teaching advanced learners have infrequent phonetic annotations for new phrases or characters. These annotations, usually in the footnotes, are romanized, in addition to having Zhuyin.

Like most Mandarin instructional materials released in North America, phrasebooks and textbooks targeting Mandarin students from overseas in Taiwan usually include only Hanyu Pinyin with tone marks .

Place names

The national government officially adopted Tongyong Pinyin in 2002 Taipei replaced its earlier signage, most of which had used a bastardized version of Wade-Giles influenced by the . Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second city, adopted Tongyong. Elsewhere in Taiwan, signs tend to be in a mixture of systems; with Tongyong Pinyin being increasingly common, but still many signs left over from the MPS II era. In 2008, the Ministry of Education announced it was switching from Tongyong Pinyin to Hanyu Pinyin as of January 1, 2009. On the other hand, the Jhongli Land Office has updated its title to Tongyong , but URL remains in MPS II. And the Jhongli Household Registration Office have a Wade-Giles URL but refers to itself in Tongyong .

Personal names

Most people in Taiwan have their names romanized using a variation of Wade-Giles. This simplified version employs no diacritics and, in semi- and unofficial contexts, usually incorrectly capitalized. The first letter in the second character of the given names should be, according to governmental and academic conventions, in the lower case, but in reality usually not. For example, ''Lu Hsiu-lien'' is sometimes written incorrectly as ''Lu Hsiu-Lien'', contrary to the set rules of Wade-Giles. The use of Wade-Giles is generally not out of personal preference but because this system has been used by most government offices' reference materials in Taiwan to date.

There are a few Taiwanese personalities whose names are transcribed in obscure or idiosyncratic schemes. For instance, using any major romanization, Lee Teng-hui's surname would have been ''Li''. Vincent Siew's surname and Ma Ying-jeou's given name are also peculiarly romanized. The single closest romanization to Chen Shui-bian's name would be Hanyu Pinyin, except that Hanyu never uses hyphens.


Public and private enterprises are not bound to any set of standards in their English names. The variations in this areas are therefore even greater and unpredictable. Some choose to transliterate their names, but other transcribe. The first parts of Chunghwa Telecom, the Central Bank of the Republic of China, and China Airlines are actually identical in Mandarin, i.e., ''Zhonghua'' , meaning " China".

Many business owners use an ad hoc approach, just so long as the end result is pronounceable and visually pleasant. The Hualon Group and Yulon Motor have opt for readability and lose a couple of letters .

As many conglomerates in Taiwan are owned by the , it is not uncommon to find companies that romanized their names in Hoklo. The Shin Kong, for example, is faithful to its Hoklo pronunciation but not Mandarin.

Like those on street signs, romanization on store signs and commercial products' labels are not yet systematized.

Other contexts

Chunghwa Post currently provide official support to address romanization in both Hanyu and Tongyong Pinyin. Prior to 2000, addresses were usually written in Wade-Giles or MPS II. Given the correct 5-digit zip code, the postal workers are usually able to deliver mail in any other romanization as well.

Most of the universities in Taiwan have names in Wade-Giles, such as , , and . A few with pre-Taiwanese existence were romanized using the , i.e., , , and . Few universities have names in other local languages, such as and .

Since elementary, middle, and senior high schools are under the jurisdiction of the local government, they follow whatever romanization the particular county or city uses at the time, which is now usually Tongyong Pinyin.

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