Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Who the heck are Wade and Giles?

As if the Traditional vs Simplified script thing wasn't confusing enough... it got me thinking about the pinyin that they use in Taiwan... well, they don't! They use the Wade-Giles method but even then not always. They could use different methods of writing in the same sentence or sign. I remember reading a hilarious article about it in Culture Shock Taiwan about it all.

Actually, when I was growing up I never learnt pinyin OR Wade-Giles, I learnt 'zhuyin' which is by far more accurate than pinyin in terms of getting the right pronunciation of a character. (I also believe it made it easier for me to learn Japanese hiragana and katakana as it's the same kind of thing).

My surname starts with Ch in Wade-Giles but in pinyin starts with Zh. When stupid strangers ring me up on the phone (both back home in Sydney and here in Shanghai) they try to say my name in Chinese but they always get it wrong because it doesn't actually have a 'Ch' sound at all!

Wade-Giles was developed by Thomas Francis Wade, a British ambassador in China and Chinese scholar who was the first professor of Chinese at Cambridge University. Wade published the first Chinese textbook in English in 1867. The system was refined in 1912 by Herbert Allen Giles, a British diplomat in China.[2]
The Wade-Giles system was designed to transcribe Chinese terms, for Chinese specialists. This origin has led to a general sense that the system is non-intuitive for non-specialists and not useful for teaching Chinese pronunciation.
The Republic of China (Taiwan) has used Wade-Giles for decades as the de facto standard, co-existing with several official but obscure Romanizations in succession, namely, Gwoyeu Romatzyh (1928), MPS II (1986), and Tongyong Pinyin (2000). Taiwanese place names are still being virtually written in Wade-Giles, and many Chinese Americans and Canadians also write their Chinese names in Wade-Giles.

Read more here if you are interested

I think due to pressure from China and from the rest of the world, though, that Taiwan will gradually convert all their English signage and documents to pinyin. It just makes more sense to have a standardized way of 'writing' Chinese in English. Those poor foreigners who have been to both Taiwan and China must be confused out of their wits!! I know I was.

So... Taiwan will remain Taiwan (no change)
Taipei will become Taibei (small change)
Kaohsiung will become Gaoxiong (big change)

On a different topic but same line of thinking. When the bloody heck is the USA going to change from imperial to metric system, huh?

1 comment:

Amyee said...

You know what? Zhu-Yin was the first way of 'spelling' things anyway. The Chinese took everything traditional away so they could be different (sort of the same way the Americans simplified the English to suit their intelligence)