2011年12月29日 星期四

Thoughts about another thing I hate: Romanization system disasters

It’s one thing to not know how something is pronounced. It’s one thing to pronounce a foreign word in a certain way because of quirks in your language and culture. It’s another thing to be a native speaker of of the foreign words in another language and not know what the meaning of a romanization system is.

In the land of Taiwan there is a hostility towards coming to grips with how English and Mandarin relate to each other. This WILL continue forever into the future barring a teaching of kid Pinyin (in any form) to children. I have no doubts about this.

Taipei is the exception that proves the rule. That p is not a p. It is a b. Yes, I know it is technically not a b, but it is a b. Writing a p out in roman letters will NEVER inspire a reader of the romanization to sound out a b. Therefore it should go. It is a failed romanization system. If the goal of a romanization system is not inspire the reader to pronounce the word as accurately as possible, or it will never reasonably achieve that, than it is a failure. You might as well romanize 台北 as flabberjock if you don’t care about getting things right or as close to right as possible.

Given all that, Taipei is the exception that proves the rule. If people have heard of Taiwan in the world, the one place they might possibly have heard of is Taipei. And that’s Taipei with a p. In that sense it has become fixed and I have no serious qualms with it staying, though like Peking I do think it should be abandoned in favor of what is unambiguously a better alternative.

台中 is often romanized as Taichung here. It is sounded out as something that rhymes with lung. There is no reason native speakers should do that.

高雄 is a city most people in the word have never heard of and never will hear of. Its common romanization is the famously inscrutable (read: horrible) Kaohsiung. If you’re a native mandarin speaker and you drop a K in your speech, I don’t know what you’re doing. I do know what you’re doing. You’re saying that there’s a k in the front of that romanized word so you better pronounce a k. Wrong. But you can never explain this to someone or it’s a hassle or whatever.

But you know what? It’s a big important city and you don’t have that many other foreign words you’re going to have to use in English (or other language that requires the romanization) so you might as well just do it right.

Taoiseach is an important word. You don’t get to pronounce it like an idiot just because it’s hard to say and or markedly different than how you might sound it out.


Romanization should be be transparent to the reader. There are reasonable allowance you’re going to have to make. If someone wants to pronounce Shanghai with their a’s a certain way that’s seemingly forgivable. Tell them the a’s are another way and they’ll understand. But no one will ever understand why a ch is a zh/j sound or why a k is really a g. Those are just pure, unfixable failures. Continuing to promote those is just horseshit. If some native mandarin speaker wanted to condescend and humor (or pronounce it like an idiot because they have ZERO concept of what romanization means, or whatever other reasons there are out there!) others by pronouncing Xi’an (Xian to the lazy and or apostrophically disabled) as “ecks” e on, you would slap them in the face(except that would never happen in China where any kid over the age of 4 can read and understands pinyin and basically can never forget it. Only some horrible misinformed or whatever Taiwanese or other person might try something like that). That’s what it’s like to hear Taichung or Kao whatever the fuck people say. It’s not a national tragedy or a horrible fucking shame but it’s pure shit. Ma Ying-jeou and Wu Den-yih are still around, but they’re actually the ones who would fix this crap. Maybe if the names weren’t as ugly and inscrutable as those two piles of poo people wouldn’t be running for president as Annete or Frank. Did you guys not get the memo? No one in the world does that! It’s Sony, not Acer. Samsung, not Asus. Even China doesn’t pull their (and Taiwan’s) backward-ass theories about translation and localization into reverse like Taiwan. You get Haier, not Foxconn.

I resist the urge to write posts like this all the time. Sometimes they leak out. Apologies in post.

2011年12月24日 星期六

Tired thoughts

Sleepy is not a word in the English language. It’s the name of one of the dwarfs from Snow White. It’s one of those “kid” words that even kids don’t use. At a young age they are already using “tired” to describe that feeling as kids are too full of energy to ever actually be “tired.”

Sleepy is one of those poppy sounding words that makes it into Mandarin as a “loan word” in the sense that it’s not a loan word at all, but rather an English sound or collection of letters replacing the Mandarin concept (see: happy, joy, etc.)

But even as kids you never know that word. The adults use tired and occasionally the frighteningly odd “drowsy,” but even refrain from using the “kid” word on you, a kid.

In other words, it’s a barrel-full of inauthenticity.

Tired, on the other hand, is a delightful word, stretching across all the lethargic emotions and floating across to the critical realm where it stands in contrast to the overused and devoid-of-meaning commendatives (tour-de-force, masterpiece, etc.) Nothing is more cool (in the good, detached sense) than critically calling something tired.

That writing is so tired.


Moving on, here are some more thoughts about tiredness.

Unlike English, which allows a range of emotional complexity to be displayed with the smallest of vocal inflections or spelling variation, Mandarin is stuck on a much more stern taskmaster. 語氣詞 offer some escape routes, in addition to some vocal variation, but heavy lifting is often done by word choice itself. Word choice that others often note is absent in English. Well, the word diversity may be missing, but the translations need not suffer. Here are some examples to put that this thought on display. (without 語氣詞 in Mandarin to save some time.)

我好累 = I’m tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired.

我挺累 = I’m really tired.

我很累 = I’m tired.

我蠻累 = I’m beat.

我累得不得了= I’m unbelievably tired. I could sleep all day.

累得要命 = desperately, dangerously tired. My life may be in danger if I don’t get some sleep quickly.

相當累 = I’m quite tired.

非常累 = I am spectacularly tired. I am tired in a way that would be difficult to explain.  I am TIRED!

特別累 = I am especially tired.

累死了 = I’m dead tired.

累透了 = I’m pooped. (NO emails about this one, you hear me!)

真累 = I’m seriously tired.

太累了 = You do not have a good command of Mandarin.

and of course 累及了 = It’s as if I’ve been saving up all my tired just for this. (NO emails about this one either!)

Interesting suggestions in the comments may be added to the list after careful consideration.

And no, commendative is not a word but you can figure out what it means so I’m using it.

2011年12月7日 星期三

Translators, again

Just ask them if they want to start calling one fifth of the population by names Samantha Yellow, Bill Forest, Zedong Red. Or perhaps it should be Pond East Hair. That sure would be swell. I’m sure we could even add a bunch of hyphens in too! Can’t wait for those names with 之 in them.

So are you still sure your “stomach is hungry?” Cuz last time I checked it seemed more like your brain was the one with problems.

2011年12月1日 星期四

Some early, preliminary thoughts on more of what happens at Paper Republic

For some time now I’ve had it in my mind that what some people say about criticism, that the best way to criticize others is to do something better yourself, is in fact correct.


It’s not that I find the recent forays into publishing to be uninspired (in fact, I’m pretty sure I commented on either their comment section or the comment section of another site about how people should publish or get off the pot) but rather that I find them to be uninspiring.


I suppose I could write a post about niching (burrowing deeper into your own niche) but I think I said plenty of relevant things about universes in a recent post. And then there’s that quote from Franzen which I really detest, a version of which goes something like this:


"To keep giving people, the single-digit percentage of people, books they’d value and enjoy.”



So, I think it’s best if I keep my distance and let them remain an enemy at the gates.


小團圓's get you small victories. It can sometimes be hard to think big, especially when you have to think galactically big, like at the size of a universe.


For something just slightly more inspiring, there recently was a podcast which discussed “higher-resolution experiences.” It can be found here:


It still seems set on going down with the ship of “books,” but some of the ideas in there are smart if they can be liberated from dead-as-a-corpse models and thinking.


In other words, literary translators take objects “sometimes” prepared for people and make them “readable” to other people. Translation and interpretation, however, is about fueling communication and interaction. A lot of things rightly labeled transfer are mislabeled translation and interpretation, when their real goal has little or anything to do with what real people would identify as interaction and communication. Interaction as in Human-Computer Interaction or communication like communicating with Siri, but not inter-action or really “communicating with Siri.”

(God, how did that last paragraph sneak in here? Let’s hope I take it out before I publish this. Guess it stays.)