Gwoyeu Romatzyh in Taiwan

YR Chao (赵元任) is my hero. Aside from being a self-described 常州人 and really getting the ball rolling on modern Sinitic linguistics, we share a university in our academic progession, down to the same department even. I’ve been slowly following him around Asia, though admittedly not in the proper order.

Ironically, the university was originally set up with money the Unites States gave back after the Boxer Rebellion in order to help Chinese students prepare for going to universities in the United States. More reversal. While in Taiwan to visit the school, I saw this:

The company name is 芃諭名品, péng yù míng pǐn. They sell women’s clothing. None of this is why I bring it up. The spelling, Perng Yuh, is a perfect example of Gwoyeu Romatzyh (hereafter called GR), a system of romanisation devised by Mr. Chao. In the system, which we’ve touched on here before, tones are marked by variations on spelling.

So for example, pinyin’s ‘yu’ in GR for the four tones is as follows:
 iu yu yeu yuh
And for ‘peng’:
 peng perng peeng penq

There’s a chart with all the possibilities available over at Definitely worth a look.

So why is a Taiwanese fashion company using GR for their name? Who knows. Maybe for the same reason that places are called Ye Olde Automat in English. It does add a bit of elegance to the name, calling on images of Old Shanghai or Hong Kong. It’s like Chow Tai Fook or Din Tai Fung, kinda. That’s my guess, at least. If anyone knows otherwise, I’d love to hear it.

Hanyu Pinyin is slowly winning the war, and maybe that’s really for the best. But at least for Gwoyeu Romatzyh, it hasn’t been a total loss.

3 responses to “Gwoyeu Romatzyh in Taiwan”

  1. Mark S. says:

    The most common use of GR in Taiwan is on the sides of coach buses, though this is slowly being replaced by English, Hanyu Pinyin, and even French.

    As for why GR is seen at all, it was until 1986 the ROC’s official romanization system — even if almost no one used it. 1986 saw the introduction of MPS2, which was similarly almost never used … except in the case of street signs, most of which have since been replaced by Hanyu Pinyin or Tongyong Pinyin.

    BTW, Xinzhu has, even given the chabuduo nature of Taiwan’s signage, a wide variety of systems on its street signs; you should be able to find some MPS2 there (along with Hanyu Pinyin, Tongyong Pinyin, bastardized Wade-Giles, and some outright mistakes).

    Back to the question of the use of GR in Taiwan. I don’t think it was regarded as an elegant choice — though it certainly has been regarded as such by its adherents. Most people in Taiwan do not now nor have ever known *any* romanization system. I think it’s simply a matter of copying whatever the dictionary at hand happened to use. But most older dictionaries would give Wade-Giles, so that’s what was more common, esp. for people’s names.

    Regardless, though, Y.R. Chao is still the man!

    • Kellen Parker says:

      Could not have asked for a more informative response.

      Xinzhu (or as we call it around here, Hsinchu) definitely has no shortage of systems. I was just whining to Steve about how (mostly expat) places around here never use characters, even in their addresses, and so it becomes nearly impossible to find a place the location of which you don’t already know. The example that came to mind was Chienshow Road, or something like that, for Jieshou Lu. Note the stray n in there. And for the bar in question, not a single 字 to be found.

      竹 (as in Hsinchu) can be ‘zhu’, ‘chu’ or even ‘jhu’ as ‘Jhubei’ is the preferred spelling for 竹北. Google maps has cleaned up the area, even just in the last month, pinyinising almost all of the 竹s to ‘zhu’. It seems they go with the usual author’s policy though, and use Pinyin only when it’s not an already well known name.

      I did not know about GR being official until the 80s. That’s what I get for my long-running Mainland focus, I guess.

    • Peter says:

      I would agree, my experience matches the theory that people just copy what they find in whatever random dictionary they happen to own. Most people I know aren’t really aware that multiple romanization systems exist.

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