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Tag: romanization

The Romajinator was tool I made for converting Japanese Katakana into romaji, i.e., roman characters. I’ve recently updated it so that it can also convert Hiragana into romaji. Any serious student of Japanese will have no more problems reading hiragana or katakana than a student of Chinese would have reading pinyin.

It’s mostly just for fun, but for people living in China or other countries in Asia, it might be useful.


さむらい   ->   samurai 
にんじゃ   ->   ninja 
いちご     ->   ichigo  ->  strawberry
いぬ       ->   inu     ->  dog


In general, romaji vowels are pronounced fairly similarly to pinyin vowels. The big exception is the “e”, which sounds a bit closer to a “short e” in English. The “o” sounds somewhat like an English “long o”. Vowels with a macron bar over them are voiced for a longer period of time. Doubled consonants represent a pause before the consonant. For example “kippu” would sound like “key”, followed by a pause, and then “poo”.

The above is obviously a very rough explanation. For a more pronunciation guide, I recommend the Wikimedia Commons: Japanese pronunciation page.

Regular readers of this site will be aware of my feelings about the, uh… “creative” romanization schemes used in different parts of Taiwan. As a newcomer, it really did make life a bit more difficult not having any clue how to pronounce various street signs or MRT station names. It appears that the problem may be coming to an end. According to, the Taiwanese government has finally adopted Hanyu Pinyin (Chinese language source), the romanization scheme known simply as used by China as well as foreign students all over the world.

It’s been a long time since reading the characters commonly used on street signs has been much of a problem for me, but it is good to see that the era of haphazard romanization drawing to a close. I can’t say I’ll miss seeing a single street 中山 being labeled as “zhongshan”, “chungshan”, “chongsan” and “zongsan” at various points over a 20km stretch, either.

Related Entry: Tone Marks on Roadsigns

(For those of you who can’t wait for the answer, it’s wulong tea.)
Today, I stumbled across a page called Tea From Taiwan, via Angelica’s blog. At first glance it seemed to be suffering from a serious case of over optimizing for search engines. Search engines from 1997, that is. On the home page, I saw the word “oolong” fifteen times, “wulong” 17 times, including the title, and a couple of “wu longs” and an “wulung”. If only search engines still rewarded web masters for this sort of thing!

oolong vs wulongFortunately, there’s a page to clear up any confusion that comes from being alternately bombarded with “oolong” and “wulong”. Unfortunately, the page is about as misinformative as is possible in such a small space.
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Several people have pointed me towards this piece, which is directed at Mark S. of, and other Taiwan bloggers, including myself. In it, Tonyong Pinyin supporter, Mark Caltonhill (why oh why does he have to be named Mark, too?), tells foreign bloggers to “shut up and fit in”.
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Tone Marks on Roadsigns Part IMark’s opening argument.
Tone Marks on Roadsigns Part IIPrince Roy’s opening argument.
Tone Marks on Roadsigns Part IIIMark’s rebuttal.
Tone Marks on Roadsigns Part IVPrince Roy’s rebuttal.

What should the road signs have on them?

  • Mark was right, characters and pinyin with tones (42%, 22 Votes)
  • Prince Roy was right, characters and pinyin without tones (31%, 16 Votes)
  • Nothing but oracle bone script, you wusses (12%, 6 Votes)
  • Only characters, foreigners who can't read them suck (10%, 5 Votes)
  • Whatever the guerrilla tone-markers deem fit (4%, 2 Votes)
  • Only pinyin, it's about time the locals learn it (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 52

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Dueling Lăowài is a new feature on This is my rebuttal of Prince Roy’s arguments against adding tone marks to roadsigns. If you missed the opening arguments of our friendly debate, be sure to check them out!
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Dueling Lăowài is a new feature on Each “duel” will consist of four pieces by two writers: each writer will write one opening argument and one rebuttal.
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Sometimes I can’t even fathom the world of self-delusion that CSL (Chinese as a Second Language) planners in Taiwan live in. Yesterday, I saw an article in the TaibeiTaipei Times titled, Teachers seek edge over China.

Great, I thought. A sense of competition will be great for us students. Maybe the schools here will even stop pushing zhuyin, get rid of all the local romanization schemes and teach pinyin, the way CSL schools everywhere else in the world do. Maybe, I thought, we’ll be able to take the HSK in Taiwan, or even, (gasp!), learn the simplified characters used in modern China. I guess that was really naive of me. The entire article was about some knock-off test that Shida made a couple of years ago.

The [Chinese Proficiency Test (CPT)] has been computerized this year, the first step toward competing in the global Mandarin learning market, said Chou Chung-tien (周中天), the director of the center.

Chou said that more than 500,000 people take the HSK every year, but now with the computerized CPT, Taiwan’s test can be taken worldwide too.

What he didn’t bother to mention, is that while half a million people take the HSK each year, it’s unlikely that half a million CSL learners have even heard of the CPT. HSK scores can get us into Chinese universities, and interviews at many, many companies that use it as a standard. What does the CPT do for us?

Also, the simplified Chinese characters taught by China’s language schools do not have historical roots and meanings, unlike the traditional characters taught in Taiwan.

Really? The characters in China don’t have historical roots and meanings? Gosh, and I’d figured that they had been selected based on simplifications already in use before the PRC even existed. So, if “simplified” characters don’t have any historical roots, then why would “traditional” characters? I mean, traditional characters have changed quite a bit since the era of Oracle Bone Script (甲骨文), right? If it isn’t okay for characters to change now, why was it okay for them to change in the thousands of years before they became what are currently known as traditional characters?

Does my little tirade mean that I don’t think learning traditional characters is important for those interested in Chinese culture, literature, or history? Absolutely not. Actually, the biggest reason I came to Taiwan was that people here still use traditional characters. However, I’m a bit of an oddity. I probably would have happily studied Chinese 30 years ago, when almost nobody was. The huge numbers of students who want to learn Chinese now, though, are different. They’re learning Chinese because China is a growing power, and they probably think it will be good for their careers. At least having the option of learning simplified characters would make Taiwan an attractive CSL location for more people.

As for romanization, I don’t have so much sympathy for the prevalent Taiwanese view. I can’t think of anybody who comes to study here for the zhuyin or non-standard romanization systems. What I really wish I could tell Mr. Chou Chung-tien (周中天) is that while Taiwanese people are free to use whatever whacked-out funky romanization system they please in their textbooks, their street signs, or even their names, 99.9% of CSL learners are going to want to learn pinyin, standard pinyin.

Considering the “colorful” romanization schemes, the large numbers of Taiwanese people who can and want to speak English, the greater cost of living here, and the different character script, I can’t honestly say I’d recommend Taiwan as a place to study to any of my friends. Computer-based test that nobody’s heard of or not, you just won’t learn the same Chinese here that a company back home would want you to be able to speak and read if they hired you for your Chinese ability. Unfortunately, due to political reasons, that sort of Chinese is hard to get in Taiwan, even in the classroom. The only people that I’d feel okay recommending Taiwanese schools to are those that have scholarships and those that are interested mostly in history or classical literature. Taiwan is a pretty good place to live, though. And for English teachers, it’s a completely different story. The pay is much higher here than it is on the mainland, and from what I understand, there are more interesting higher-end opportunities for teachers here, too.

Update: David blogged on the same article a couple of days ago.

Everybody knows how confused Taiwan is when it comes to pinyin, that’s no news. Likewise, it’s not surprising that few of the foreigners who came here without prior study have a firm grasp on any method of romanization, let alone a standard one. But one thing I’ve been noticing more and more is that all the “old Taiwan-hand” foreigners here seem to use the same funky romanizations. Two different bosses of mine wrote 罰寫 (which is fáxiĕ in pinyin) as “fasye”. Numerous old timers have written 中山 (which is zhōngshān in pinyin) as “chungshan”. One time, I read one of Michael’s posts about a restaurant he visited in Yŏnghé, very close to where I used to live. Despite the fact that I used to live within walking distance of the place, I didn’t realize where he was talking about until I asked him what some of his old Taiwan-hand pinyin meant. Similarly, I was once confused by a Leakypen posting which criticized the romanization used in a document and then went on to romanize 政治 (zhèngzhì) as “chengchi”. I pointed that out, and he defended the romanization as the “correct local romanization”. Knowing he’d been around a long time, I asked him how the system works. He didn’t get back to me, so I’m asking all the “old Taiwan-hands” out there!

If the correct way to romanize ㄓㄥ is “cheng”, ㄓ is “chi”, and ㄓㄚ is “cha”, then how are ㄔㄥ, ㄔ, and ㄔㄚ romanized in Taiwan? Also, are retroflexive r’s romanized at all? I.e., is a distinction kept between 俄 (ㄜ) and 二 (ㄦ) in Taiwanese romanization?

Obviously, I’m going to keep using the standard pinyin romanization system, and I’m not going to change the way my pinyin tone tool works to match some weird Taiwanese convention. I would love to learn what the convention is, though. I’ve read a bit about the history of romanization here and just assumed it was random, but there are way too many old-timers coming up with the same romanizations. There must be more to it than that. Anybody care to enlighten me?