Why don't newspapers print diacriticals when using Pinyin?
They do for languages like French and Spanish.
It's not going to make it worse for people who don't know what they mean. And it might help people pronounce Chinese better.
For such a tone dependent language like Chinese, it's like only printing half the vowels in English.
bodaweiDecember 19, 2011, 12:34 PM
But newspapers don't use pinyin ... or do you mean when Chinese names appear in English language newspapers? Yes that would be helpful if the names showed the tones.
I can never understand why the pinyin on the street signs in Shanghai doesn't have the tone marks. If they've gone to the trouble to include pinyin in the first place, then surely it can't be that much more effort (or ink) to include the tone marks. I'm sure this simple measure would immeasurably help foreigners get around and communicate more clearly with taxi drivers. Even more advanced learners may not always know the tone for the characters used in street signs.
Yes，you make a good point. What is the answer? One argument might be that only foreigners really need the pinyin - if you are Chinese and using street signs you have already learnt the characters. (Almost all characters used in street signs are pretty common if only because they are used in street signs.) A very small number of Chinese people may be helped by this pinyin system. Remembering that many of those who do not speak putonghua probably cannot read pinyin anyway.
It is hard to think of another place in everyday life of China that uses pinyin. Why bother with pinyin in street signs?
Then as you say, if you are going to use pinyin, why not show the tone marks?
I'll hazard a guess along the lines I have argued before about the roman letters used in association with banks - virtually no Chinese people know what they mean. Someone, somewhere, thought it was a good idea, or looked 'international', so one bank put its 'letters' in the name. Then all of the banks had to do it. It's all symbolic and has nothing to do with communication in the conventional sense. It just says that the banks are part of the wider world.
With roads and street signs maybe there is something similar going on - maybe it is an attempt to 'internationalise' the system. I am not convinced, because in remote west China you get street signs with pinyin... I can't see the internationalisation argument working out there. Maybe it is the case that Beijing decided that all street signs should have pinyin ... maybe this is one of those cases where a Beijing edict actually works. That still leaves the question of why unanswered.
Is it actually one of those areas where a decision is taken for the benefit of foreigners? Sounds unlikely but in China anything is possible.
As an aside - I don't know whether you've noticed but the pinyin is not always correct. (I bet there are a few 'g's missing in Shanghai.) But this is not surprising if you accept the argument that it is not really there for practical reasons.
dennisliehappoDecember 19, 2011, 12:40 PM
Context is much more important than tones.
Chinese and and advanced learners can easily read a text in Pinyin without the tone marks if the text is presented in the right context.
If the context isn't presented in the rigt way, even text written with the right tone marks cannot be understood.
I agree that you can get the meaning from context, but if you want to promote understanding and learning, wouldn't tone marks help, especially those who are learning?
Plus surnames. In a previous post, someone pointed out how Wang can have different tones. I'd like to learn how to pronounce a name correctly.
I want to say Hú Jǐntāo, instead of who jin tao.
Plus Dàodéjīng, instead of dow the jing.
SF_RachelDecember 20, 2011, 02:34 AM
Great question. It's not just newspapers; I bought this otherwise fantastic atlas of China and I find it frustrating that none of the placenames have the tone marks. Or Peter Hessler's books on life in China, which also don't have the tone marks for placenames. Without them, I am usually unable to reasonably guess not only the pronunciation but also unable to guess the 汉字, and therefore the underlying meaning that often lurks behind a placename. I always feel like I'm missing out on some essential flavor or a feel for a place.
In newspapers it's people's names as well as placenames, and the same complaint goes. I would love to know the 汉字 behind names when I read news stories about China. And I suppose not just in newspapers -- I've been reading a translation of the Dream of the Red Chamber, and with just a couple of exceptions I don't know either the pronunciation or the 汉字 are behind the characters' names, so again I'm missing out on layers of meaning. I'm by no means ready to try and tackle this in a non-translated form! (Maybe I should have tried to find a dual-language version with the Chinese on one page and the translation on the facing page -- those are always kind of fun).
I usually blame the publisher for just thinking the reader doesn't care; that it doesn't matter. And for overseas people like me but who aren't students of the language, truly it doesn't matter. Still -- how much could it possibly cost to add the tone marks? Why not include them, for the huge potential enrichment? Especially since, as the original poster pointed out, publishers usually include these special marks for French, German, Czech, 什么的.
kimiikDecember 20, 2011, 02:01 PM
How often do you see words in french, german or spanish written with their original accents in "mainstream" american newspapers ?
There's no accent on the american keyboard !
dennisliehappoDecember 28, 2011, 02:41 PM
Street names without tones has the same logic as the names for the Welsh cities Swansea, Cardiff and Llangollen have in an Amercian or British atlas.
The city of Swansea: Why are these maps using the English name Swansea instead of its Welsh name Abertawe.
The city of Cardiff: Why are these maps using the Welsh name Cardiff but write the name Cardiff in the English spelling. (The Welsh spelling is Caerdydd)
The city of Llangollen: Why are these maps using the Welsh name and spelling for Llangollen and did not give the city an English name like they did with Swansea.
ouyangjun116December 28, 2011, 03:30 PM
(To play devil's advocate)... We're in China. Why should the Chinese accommadate for speakers of foreign langauges in their own country? There are a lot of spanish speaking persons in America, but I've never seen a street sign in English and then Spanish below it...
After all, Chinese is the most widely spoken native language in the world and the most populated country... for maximum fluecny, it is best to learn the characters. Difficult, yes, but when the Chinese learn English or go overseas for work or study, there is nothing for them to use as a crutch to help with their native language either.
(devil's advocate done)... but I can see how having the tone marks would help a lot from a learning/communicating perspective when starting out learning/visiting/or just moving to China and it can't be that much work to add it :)
Totally agree and perversely I think I'd gripe less if the street signs were just in Hanzi. It's simply the fact that having made the decision to provide the pinyin, for which I'm very grateful, the authorities then forget to include the crucial tone marks that I find strange/irritating.
@ chris, hehe, i hear you there. The best is when I see the traffic police and on the back of their uniform is says "jiaotong" or something like this in pinyin... i just ask myself, "Why?" :)