While I was walking along the street in Shanghai, I noticed something unfamilar about some of the posters. They had pinyin for each character! Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have that in Taiwan!
It certainly would be nice to see a lot more Pinyin here in Taiwan. Alas, even China refuses to write its own system correctly. “LAN SHENG YING JU YUAN HUAN YING NIN DE GUANG LIN” should read “Lansheng Ying-Juyuan huanying nin de guanglin”. Of course, given that this is in Shanghai it would be better still to have it in Shanghainese as well as Mandarin; but hell is going to freeze over before the PRC allows that.
Hmm… interesting. The capitalization and spacing didn’t bug me. The top item on my wish list would have been tone marks.
Do you actually think there are many speakers of Shanghai dialect who can’t read the characters? If so, do you think they read romanized Shanghaihua?
It’s important to keep in mind what Pinyin is and is not. Pinyin is not a transcription method for characters, though it is often employed as such. Instead, Pinyin is a script for writing the Mandarin language.
Pinyin without tone marks is no more wrong than Hebrew without vowel pointing. On the other hand, Pinyin without proper word parsing is just plain wrong. The very first rule of Pinyin orthography is that words, not syllables, are the basic units of writing in Pinyin.
Even by the PRC’s official but drastically inflated literacy levels, more than one million people in Shanghai are illiterate. So, yes, there are many, many people in Shanghai who can’t read — much less write! — enough characters to qualify as literate.
When I wrote of the desirability of having romanized Shanghainese displayed, this wasn’t out of the notion that most people would know how to read it. (Of course they wouldn’t. Other than when it comes to English and other foreign languages, the Chinese government works to repress writing in anything other than Mandarin as written in Hanzi. But acquiring literacy in such a romanized script would take little time or effort.) Rather, what I was addressing was simply the notion that the native language (not “dialect”) of the people of a place should receive no less recognition than other languages imposed upon the people. I consider this a basic human right.
For a little on this from the perspective of Taiwan, see How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language.
I guess I care more about what’s useful than what’s correct. For me, pinyin is what I look at when I want to know how to read a character.
I think Pinyin, like all other scripts, is most useful when it is correct. But, as many of your site’s visitors probably know already, I tend to go on far too long on this subject, so I’ll bow out here for this thread.
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Mark Wilbur lived in Taiwan as a student, an EFL teacher and entrepreneur, later joined an edu tech start-up in Beijing and is now in SF.