12. Romanization II

     Although Wade-Giles has been the de facto standard for Romanizing Chinese in Taiwan, it is not the official system. In 1928, the ROC Ministry of Education promulgated the Gwoyeu Romatzyh (GR) 國語羅馬字 system (usually known as 注音第二式 in Taiwan) as the official Romanization system of the Republic of China. People in Taiwan have never paid much attention to this system or used it anywhere very noticeable.

     GR originally used a very complex system of tonal spellings instead of tone marks or raised numbers. For example, 拼, 貧, 品, 聘 are written: pin, pyn, piin, pinn. But the rules change for different syllable types: 媽, 麻, 馬, 罵 are written: mha, ma, maa, mah. This system was largely developed, then strongly promoted, by the enormously gifted Chinese linguist, Y. R. Chao (Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任). Learn just about everything you'll ever want to know about this system, and more, at:


     Eventually, the GR tone spellings were determined to be too complicated. In 1986, Taiwan's Ministry of Education replaced the use of the tone spellings in GR with tone marks. So one of the main advantages of this system in the first place, namely, being able to indicate the tone of a word without an extra symbol, was lost. Never mind – people still didn't take much notice of this system, so it didn't really make a big difference.

     Currently, the Romanization system most widely used outside of Taiwan is the Pinyin (PY) 漢語拼音 system developed and promoted on the Chinese mainland since 1958. It corresponds quite closely to the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols (MPS) 注音符號, and should be easy to learn for anybody educated in Taiwan – if you make the effort! Tones are indicated by the marks 一, ˊ ˇ ˋover the main vowel. (Unlike in MPS, the first tone must be indicated too.) The neutral tone is unmarked. The main objection to this system seems to be that some sounds are indicated with 'odd' Latin letters, leftovers after the easy-to-match ones were used up. They are: q for ㄑ, x for ㄒ, and c for ㄘ. ㄓ, ㄔ, and ㄕ are zh, ch, and sh. Another objection in Taiwan is that Pinyin is used on the mainland, and Taiwan has since 1949 made great efforts not to appear as though the mainland dictates Taiwan policy in any area.

     Here's a link to a conversion tool that converts MPS to Pinyin:


     Here are tables to help you convert Wade-Giles to Pinyin:


(View this with the 'Western European' character set, found under 'View/Encoding'.)

     And here is a very useful tool that will convert numbered Pinyin Romanization to Pinyin with the correct tone marks added:


     There are many other systems of Romanization, such as Yale 耶魯, which is an intuitive and thus fairly easy-to-learn system for English speakers, but it is used only in a few textbooks. Here is a Pinyin-to-Yale conversion table:


    This site also offers a simplified overview of some of the Romanization systems and how they have been used:


     But which system is the 'right' one for Taiwan? Keep reading.

Next: Romanization III

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