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Ma expresses doubts on new Pinyin system

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou expressed doubts yesterday about the wisdom to adopt the locally developed Tongyong Pinyin for Romanizing Chinese characters.

“Since President Chen Shui-bian himself has proposed that English be designated a second official language to facilitate Taiwan’s globalization drive, why would we adopt a Romanization system that would only be used on this island?” Ma asked.

The outspoken mayor was commenting on a recommendation adopted by the Ministry of Education’s Mandarin Promotion Council (MPC) Wednesday that the home-grown Tongyong Pinyin system be legalized as the only way to Romanize Chinese letters. The ministry is expected to present the recommendation to the Cabinet by the end of this month for final approval.

Ma said the procedures through which the council came up with the recommendation were questionable. For one thing, he said, only 15 of the 26 MPC members attended Wednesday’s meeting. Moreover, he went on, two of the attendees left before the end of the conference and three abstained. The council then passed the recommendation with a vote of 10:0.

“Only 10 of the MPC members supported the recommendation, including B.C. Yu, who invented the Tongyong Pinyin system. How can the inventor of the system be allowed to vote on whether to adopt it?” Ma questioned.

Ma, a stalwart of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), said he has no intention of fighting against the Democratic Progressive Party-led central government over the Romanization issue.

But he stressed that the Taipei City Government will continue using the globally prevalent Hanyu Pinyin on street signs around the city for the convenience of foreign visitors, even if the central government formally adopts the Tongyong Pinyin system.

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“We must adopt Hanyu Pinyin if we want globalization,” Ma said, adding that since 85 percent of the annual 2.6 million foreign visitors to Taiwan come to Taipei, its street signs must be comprehensible to foreigners. The mainland China-developed Hanyu Pinyin is used in all Mandarin Chinese-speaking countries except Taiwan.

In reality, Tongyong Pinyin is 85 percent similar to Hanyu Pinyin. Ma said for Chinese letters that are Romanized differently under the two systems, the city government would add Tongyong Pinyin in parenthesis on street signs. “The move would signify our respect for the central government,” he said.

Basically, Ma said, he would be pleased to see the government make a final decision on the issue, which has been pending for more than five years.

“What worries me is possible difficulties in Taiwan’s future cultural, artistic and educational exchanges with other countries if the government really decides to adopt Tongyong Pinyin,” Ma said.

“Is it wise to adopt a different spelling system when the world mostly uses Hanyu Pinyin? I hope the central government will consult with linguistic experts and executives of major foreign trade associations in Taipei before reaching a formal decision.”

As a matter of fact, Ma said, the majority of ordinary local people is not familiar with the Tongyong Pinyin system.

“Against this backdrop, it’s no easy task to promote the system to the world. If the central government cannot force all local governments to adopt the system, how chaotic will the island’s street signs be?”

In contrast, Lee Ying-yuan, the DPP candidate for the year-end Taipei mayoral election, said he supports the adoption of Tongyong Pinyin because the system is more suited to Taiwan’s culture and society.

The debate on the Romanization issue was politically sensitive in Taiwan. Proponents of Tongyong Pinyin said the system represents local efforts to promote Taiwan’s own cultural identity. According to the system’s inventor B.C. Yu, Tongyong Pinyin can be used to Romanize not only Mandarin Chinese, but also other languages commonly used in Taiwan, including Hokkien and Hakka.

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