I just spotted this article on romanization in Taiwan at a good and brand-new Taipei related blog with the unfortunately bland name of Taipei, Taipei. This article he(she?) links to, as well as the blog post on Taipei2 do a good job of introducing the problem of completely un-standardized, incompetent romanization of place names in Taiwan.
At least the situation seems to be improving in a way. Here in Taipei, all official signs now use standard Hanyu pinyin.
Let’s look at the way 古亭 has been romanized. The MRT stop is labelled “Kuting.” But because the apostrophes are routinely omitted in Taiwan, it is completely impossible — even for the relatively few people who are familiar with Wade-Giles — to know if the name is really Ku-ting (Guding ㄍㄨ ㄉㄧㄥ), K’u-ting (Kuding ㄎㄨ ㄉㄧㄥ), K’u-t’ing (Kuting ㄎㄨ ㄊㄧㄥ), or Ku-t’ing (Guting ㄍㄨ ㄊㄧㄥ). (Note that hanyu pinyin, Guting, has no such ambiguity and works well to show the correct pronunciation.)
That’s four equally likely possibilities — and that’s without considering tones, which are an essential component of Chinese. If tones are included in the computations, there are 64 different possible pronunciations of the two syllable “Kuting” — hardly a useful representation of 古亭.
As it so happens, I live right by 古亭 MRT station, and it’s official romanized name is, of all things, Guting! Exactly what it should be. The Taipei city/county government has, sometime in the past few years, rewritten all of the signs in proper Hanyu pinyin.
Another example that those of us currently living in Taipei luckily do not have to deal with.
But Tamshui is the historical Taiwanese name for the city.
No. Tamsui (no h) is the correct historical spelling, reflecting the Taiwanese name for the city. Tan-shui would be correct Wade-Giles, and Danshui correct hanyu pinyin. Of course, the “Tam-shoo-ee” pronunciation formerly used on the MRT is quite beneath contempt.
Like Guting, 淡水 is now rendered in the correct Hanyu pinyin of ‘Danshui.’ It may not match 17th century Dutch maps, but it sounds closer to the Chinese pronounciation, and it’s consistent with, for a start, the way people write Chinese words in the Roman alphabet in the other 99% of the planet that isn’t Taiwan.
Unfortunately the problem persists in other areas of Taiwan. For example, I have seen the character 中 romanized as, zhong, chong, chung, jhong, and now thanks to Taipeitaipei, the inexplicable ‘jhorg.’
How on Earth is this inconsistency helpful to anyone?