The impetus behind the invention of Tongyong Pinyin came from the need for a standardized romanization system in Taiwan. For decades the island had employed various systems, usually simplifications or adaptations of Wade-Giles.
Tourists, expatriates and immigrants in Taiwan most often use English when they are not familiar with Mandarin. The Hanyu Pinyin system, the system used in the and by the United Nations, offers strengths as a consistent phonetic system for Mandarin but has serious shortcomings in helping speakers with no training pronounce Mandarin words reliably. The sounds Hanyu Pinyin assigns to the letters ''q'' and ''x'', for example, are not idiomatic in the languages of most users of the Roman alphabet. Tongyong Pinyin represents an effort to preserve the strengths of the pinyin system while overcoming some of these difficulties.
The majority of Taiwan native citizens do not speak Standard Mandarin as their mother tongue. The first language most individuals learn as children is Taiwanese. This language, unwritten until the nineteenth century, has historically lacked a consistent means of phonetic representation. The same situation exists with the mother tongues spoken by sizable minorities in Taiwan, such as Hakka and aboriginal peoples. The languages and literature of these people is a subject of study and education in Taiwan, and many place names are derived from languages other than Mandarin. Tongyong Pinyin thus represents an effort to provide a phonetic romanization system for Mandarin that, with very little modification, could be used to represent Taiwanese and other languages of the island .
Tongyong Pinyin was introduced in Taiwan in 1998 by Yu Bor-chuan . The goal was to preserve the strengths of pinyin while overcoming some of the pronunciation difficulties Hanyu Pinyin presents to international readers. Ironically, using the system he developed to ameliorate this problem, most international readers will pronounce the second character of his name incorrectly as "bore." Yu's system has undergone some subsequent revision.
Discussion and adoption of Tongyong Pinyin, like many other initiatives in Taiwan, quickly acquired a partisan cast turning on issues of national identity . Officials who identified most strongly with the nation itself, such as the Democratic Progressive Party and allied parties, saw no reason to adopt Hanyu Pinyin just because mainland China and the UN had. If Tongyong Pinyin more adequately met the nation's needs, the ROC had reason enough to adopt it . Officials who identified more strongly with Chinese culture, such as the Kuomintang , saw no reason to introduce a new system unique to Taiwan if Hanyu Pinyin had already gained international acceptance. Each side accused the other of basing its preference on anti-China or pro-China sentiment rather than an objective discussion of community goals .
In early October 2000 the Mandarin Commission of the Ministry of Education proposed to use Tongyong Pinyin as the national standard. Education Minister Ovid Tzeng submitted a draft of the Taiwanese Romanization in late October to the Executive Yuan but the proposal was rejected. In November 2000 Minister Tzeng suggested the government adopt Hanyu Pinyin with some modifications for local dialects, but the proposal was rejected. On 10 July 2002 the ROC's Ministry of Education held a meeting for 27 members. Only 13 attended. Two left early, plus the chairman could not vote, so the bill for using Tongyong Pinyin was passed by ten votes .
With the KMT's and electoral victories in 2008, Tongyong Pinyin will be replaced by Hanyu Pinyin as the ROC government standard, and will be the only official romanization system, starting in 2009 . The romanization system one encounters in Taiwan varies according to which government authority administers the facility. Street signs in most areas employ Tongyong Pinyin, including the cities of Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung and neighboring counties. Taipei uses Hanyu Pinyin exclusively . Taipei County uses Hanyu Pinyin with Tongyong Pinyin given in parentheses. Modified Wade-Giles spellings are still popularly used for many proper names, especially personal names and businesses.
The political impasse stalled Ministry of Education goals of replacing Zhuyin with pinyin to teach pronunciation in elementary school. Zhuyin is still widely used to teach Mandarin pronunciation to schoolchildren. Children's books published in Taiwan typically display Zhuyin characters next to Chinese characters in the text.
On September 17, 2008, the Ministry of Education announced that the government standard for romanization will be switched to Hanyu Pinyin nationwide, effective January 1, 2009.
Notable features of Tongyong Pinyin are:
* Tone 1 is unmarked.
* Hanyu Pinyin's ''zh-'' becomes ''jh-'' .
* Hanyu Pinyin's ''x-'' and ''q-'' are completely unused in Tongyong Pinyin: they become ''s-'' and ''c-'' .
* The Hanyu Pinyin ''-i'' known as the empty rime , are shown as ''-ih'' , i.e, those in Hanyu Pinyin as ''zi'' , ''ci'' , ''si'' , ''zhi'' , ''chi'' , ''shi'' , and ''ri'' all end in ''-ih'' in Tongyong Pinyin.
* ''ü'' used in pinyin is replaced by ''yu''.
* ''-eng'' becomes ''ong'' after ''f-'' and ''w-''
* ''wen'' becomes ''wun''
* ''-iong'' becomes ''yong'', e.g. ''syong'' instead of pinyin ''xiong'' . .
* Unlike Wade-Giles and Hanyu Pinyin, ''-iu'' and ''-ui'' contractions can be optionally written out in full as ''-iou'' and ''-uei''. However, according to the Ministry of the Interior, in romanizations of names of places that is at township-level or below township-level, the letters must be written in full.
* Tongyong syllables in the same word are to be separated by hyphens, like Wade-Giles. Except that, in Ministry of the Interior's romanizations, placenames have no spaces between the syllables.
* Tongyong uses marks like Zhuyin, and not like Hanyu, i.e., Tongyong has no mark for the first tone, but a dot for the neutral tone .
* The optional syllable disambiguity mark is apostrophe , e.g., ''ji'nan'' vs. ''jin'an''. The mark may also, as in the Ministry of the Interior placenames, be a hyphen.
Shared Features with Hanyu Pinyin
Ignoring tone, 80.53% of the ''Tongyong Pinyin'' syllables are spelled identically to those of ''Hanyu Pinyin;'' 19.47% are spelled differently. The difference widens when syllables are measured according to average frequency of use in everyday life, resulting in a 48.84% difference in spellings.
The prevalence of Hanyu Pinyin as an established system weighs at least as heavily on the debate over Tongyong Pinyin as any feature of the system itself. Arguments presented in the ongoing debate include these.
Supporting Tongyong Pinyin
* Tongyong spelling, by design, yields more accurate pronunciation from non-Chinese speakers than does Hanyu Pinyin. Tongyong does not use the letters ''q'' and ''x'', for example, in ways that confuse non-Chinese speakers who lack training in the system.
* Persons familiar with Hanyu Pinyin will encounter nothing radically different when using Tongyong Pinyin.
* Tongyong eliminates the need for diacritics for the umlauted-u sound.
* The spellings "fong" and "wong" more accurately reflect the sounds of 風 and 翁 as pronounced in Standard Mandarin in Taiwan, as compared to "feng" and "weng".
* Tongyong is business-friendly because of the ease it offers in pronunciation. Internationals in Taiwan may more easily describe and find place names, personal names, businesses and locales.
* Tongyong Pinyin requires no more special accommodation in international correspondence than the difference in Chinese characters already requires.
* Tongyong strikes a balance between the need for internationalization and Taiwan's local needs.
* Tongyong Pinyin would not supplant Hanyu Pinyin in Taiwan, as Hanyu is rarely encountered outside the Taipei area anyway and has never been in common use. Tongyong is intended to supplant the many variants of Wade-Giles which remain the dominant form of romanization encountered in Taiwan. No one questions the superiority of Tongyong Pinyin to Wade-Giles and the benefit to be gained from the change.
* Tongyong does not force its exclusive use on those who have already studied Hanyu. One can use any system one wishes in rendering characters while typing or formatting documents in Mandarin. Computers and electronic devices in Taiwan already offer Hanyu Pinyin and MPS keyboards as options. Transitions between romanized forms are also easily achieved if needed.
* Romanization is most useful to individuals who, lacking training in Mandarin, encounter names and terms in press reports and literature. Students of Mandarin gain literacy in Chinese characters and drop romanization systems of any kind. It therefore makes sense, if one can preserve other goals, to make a priority of enabling confident first-time pronunciation of Mandarin words by the untrained.
Against Tongyong Pinyin
* Hanyu Pinyin romanization includes fewer phonological rules in its systematization than Tongyong Pinyin, albeit at the expense of requiring more phonemes. This may be seen in the Tongyong Pinyin treatment of the letters ''c'' and ''s''.
/c/ --> /_i
/s/ --> /_i
* Internal inconsistencies exist within Tongyong Pinyin, such as the use of different letters to represent the same sound: ''e'' vs. ''u'' and ''i'' vs. ''y'' ; or the use of the same letter to represent different sounds .
* Every Mandarin syllable can be expressed in equal or fewer keystrokes in Hanyu Pinyin compared to Tongyong Pinyin .
* Despite the fact that 19.47% of Tongyong syllables are spelled differently from Hanyu Pinyin, if measured according to average frequency of word use in everyday life, the percentage of different spellings is 48.84%.
* The standard romanization system of the PRC, and is Hanyu Pinyin. For this reason it is the system taught in educational systems outside of Taiwan. Internationals learning Mandarin thus have to learn Hanyu Pinyin anyway. Whatever the merits of a new system, it is unlikely to displace Hanyu Pinyin at this level.
* Any new system of romanization, regardless of its merits, makes romanization choices more complex rather than more simple. New spellings are introduced where established spellings already exist and even compete. "Qing Dynasty" and "Ch'ing Dynasty" can now also be spelled as "Cing Dynasty" . "Zhou Dynasty" or "Chou Dynasty" can now also be spelled as "Jhou Dynasty" .
* The use of Tongyong or Hanyu in Taiwan appears tied to too heavily to the fortunes of specific political parties. Given the situation, why not just default to the system everyone else is already using?
* Hanyu Pinyin is more business-friendly because businesses already use it.
* Tongyong Pinyin is currently more useful to visitors and tourists who are unfamiliar with Mandarin than to residents who have to learn Mandarin. Because Tongyong has not been adopted for language learning in Taiwan's schools, most natives of Taiwan continue to use other romanization methods . Expats and immigrants who study Chinese generally have to learn Hanyu Pinyin.
* Unlike the PRC, where citizens are taught Hanyu Pinyin in schools, Tongyong romanization is not taught in the general educational curriculum. As a result, few citizens of Taiwan ever use it. Given the fact that overseas learners of Mandarin are not taught Tongyong Pinyin either, there are few people in the world who use it in any practical sense. In other words, if locals do not use it and foreigners do not use it, why promote it?
Comparison between Hanyu Pinyin and Tongyong Pinyin
The differences between Hanyu and Tongyong pinyin are relatively straightforward:
*The palatalized consonants are written ''j, c, s'' rather than ''j, q, x''
*The retroflex consonants are ''jh, ch, sh'' rather than ''zh, ch, sh''
*The "buzzing" vowels are written ''ih '' rather than ''i''
*''Yu'' and ''yong'' are written this way even after a consonant '','' rather than as ''ü, u,'' or ''iong''
*''You'' and ''wei'' are written ''iou'' and ''uei'' after a consonant '','' rather than contracted to ''iu'' and ''ui''
*''Eng'' is written labialized ''ong'' after the labial consonants ''f, w ,'' though ''weng/wong'' contracts to ''ong'' after another consonant in both systems
*''Wen'' becomes ''wun''
*First tone is not written, but neutral tone is