Thursday, December 08, 2005

Taipei? Taibei?

Recently there's a question that really intrigues me. Why is Taipei not "Taibei"? It's actually the first time that came across my mind. I've never used the spelling of "Taibei" as far as I can remember, not that it's not correct(the sounds are definitely correct), because in the pin-yin system this is how you spell it in order to spell for the character "臺北 / 台北(táibĕi)". But the thing is, I just don't think I live in Taibei at the moment. After all, the word isn't just a sound, it's a city with some history behind it.

Let's see how people in the world pronounce this city's name:

Tā'īpa'eتائی پئےUrdu
Taibei臺北 / 台北Chinese

French* (thanks to Ronan's correction)
Dutch, English
Taipei台北 / タイペイJapanese
TajbèjТайбэйBelarussian, Russian
Hungarian, Polish
Tāybāyتايباي / تايباىArabic
Tāybayتايبي / تايبىArabic


Or you can try Google "taibei" and see what turns out. It actually asks me "Did you mean to search for: taipei "

Wan An!



Blogger Mark said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:49 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

The reason is this: in the past, Taiwan used a method of romanization called Wade-Giles. Wade-Giles uses apostrophes to denote whether or not a sound is voiced. For example, "p" in pinyin is "p`" in Wade-Giles, while "b" is "p". In a similar way, "k" in pinyin is "k`" in Wade-Giles, and "g" in pinyin is "k" in Wade-Giles.

Unfortunately, the Taiwanese government decided to use Wade-Giles WITHOUT the apostrophes. As a result, it became impossible to distinguish between voiced and unvoiced sounds. All p's and b's, were written as p's; all k's and g's became k's; and all t's and d's became t's. Thus, all words that would be "taipei", "taibei", "daipei", OR "daibei" in standard pinyin became "taipei" according to the ROC.

When I first moved to 台北 (tái bĕi), all of the MRT stations used this horrible system. For example, 古亭 was written as "kuting". From this, it was impossible for me to tell if those characters should be pronounced as "kuting", "kuding", "guting", or "guding". It turns out the third choice was the correct one (gŭ tíng).

I cannot even begin to explain how many difficulties I had asking people how to get to places back when I didn't know many characters. Fortunately for everybody, the mayor of 台北 (tāibĕi) actually listened when a lot of foreigners complained about this problem 3 years ago. Unlike most politicians who felt that romanization should be based on political agendas, he actually considered the needs of the people romanization was originally made for (non-Chinese speakers who can't read hanzi).

Now, nearly all of the street signs (in Taibei) and MRT signs have been corrected and now use standard pinyin. The one biggest exception is the word "Taipei". Since it has been a well known name for a long time, it is much harder to change its written form to match the way it is pronounced. Just think how long it took people to start writing "Beijing" instead of "Peking". It may be just as long before "Taibei" starts appearing on street signs.

If any of you are interested in how to write words in Wade-Giles, there is conversion chart on Wikipedia.

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Ronan said...

in french it is Taipei and not Taipeh

10:54 PM  
Blogger JT said...

Thank you Ronan!

How silly I didn't even double check it. It was because when my French friend wrote me, she spelt "Taipeh" all the time! That's why it didn't hit me to just assume that was it.

Merci beaucoup! :-)

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not sure about Mark's explanation but I believe it was postal spelkling not regular WG or Yale.

12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark 3 years ago? You mean mayor Ma? So Ma using a Mainlan Pinyin system wasn't political? LOL

12:54 AM  
Blogger JT said...

Thanks for y'all comments.

I am not even sure what to use now because every one just seem to stick to their own preference. And the Taiwanese postal service is so good that it can guess what the address was meant to be, be it Yale or WG or pinyin! Proud of that! haha

4:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home