Lost in Romanisation
Ideological warfare over spelling
THE policy of détente with China espoused by Taiwan's president, Ma Ying-jeou, has caused fears among some Taiwanese that the island's rowdy democracy will be pushed into Beijing's political embrace. Fears of future reunification are even causing some Taiwanese cities to reject hanyu pinyin, the official system for Romanising Chinese words in both China and Taiwan, in favour of an older system.
Mr Ma's government declared more than five years ago that the country would start using hanyu pinyin. The reasoning is sensible. It is the phonetic system used virtually everywhere in the world, including the United Nations and the International Organisation for Standardisation, for transcribing Mandarin pronunciation of Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet. The one problem: it was developed in Communist China in the 1950s and so, for some Taiwanese, remains suspect.
Officials argue that its use will improve Taiwan's economic competitiveness by co-ordinating with other Chinese-speaking societies. But some Taiwanese believe this is a ploy by Mr Ma covertly to integrate Taiwan more closely with mainland China.
Hanyu pinyin is now used on street signs in the island's capital, Taipei, but some cities ruled by opposition mayors are staging a boycott. They include Kaohsiung, the island's second-largest metropolis, and Tainan, a popular tourist spot filled with charming temples. These cities are clinging to the Romanisation system known as tongyong pinyin, which was introduced in 2002 and is closely associated with Mr Ma's predecessor, Chen Shui-bian, a passionate advocate of independence. Tongyong pinyin is unique to Taiwan, and its use was once lambasted by Xinhua, the mainland's official news agency, as a move to rid Taiwan of Chinese influence.
Expatriate newcomers who cannot read Chinese characters easily lose their way. The Altar of Heaven, a temple in Tainan, is located on a lane off Jhongyi Road on the city government website, but is off Zhongyi Road on Google Maps. A lingering third system known as Wade-Giles, used before both the others, confuses visitors even more. Mr Ma's officials say there is no legal requirement for local governments to adopt hanyu pinyin and they are reluctant to push too hard, lest theystir up memories of the harsh martial-law regime that ended over two decades ago. But, even in language, Taiwan remains divided.
不懂汉语的移民后代重回台湾时，很容易就会迷路。比如，台南天坛位于忠义路边上的小巷中，这条路的路牌上写的是Jhongyi Road，而谷歌地图的显示是Zhongyi Road。还有第三种拼音方案叫做威妥玛式拼音法，曾被双方使用，但是却更让游客迷惑。马英九政府的官员表示，法律上并没有要求地方政府接受汉语拼音，政府也不愿意强制推行，以免让他们觉得回到了20多年前残酷的军统时期。即便是从语言上说，台湾仍出在和大陆分离的状态。