Re: Burnaby man raises concerns over election signs in Chinese - not French, Burnaby NOW, April 24.
I read Jennifer Moreau's article on Chinese characters on election signs. It seems that there is a fundamental failure to understand what the purpose of other characters (Chinese characters or Dvenagari, a writing system used for Hindi and Punjabi) on signs is.
The purpose is simple: to more completely identify the candidate for the benefit of voters who may hear or read the name in a non-English forum.
Also, when it comes to Chinese names, the spellings in English can be quite at variance to what the name sounds like in a Mandarin, Cantonese or Taiwanese context.
Consider for instance the Chinese family name which means "forest". In Hong Kong, this name might be spelled as Lam. In Beijing it would be Lin. In Singapore (Hokkien) it could be Lim or other possibilities, but in all those places there would be no ambiguity in the end because the character, not the nearly endless pronunciation variations, determines what a name is.
Consider two other names, Huang (yellow) where I have given the Mandarin pronunciation using pinyin, and Wang, which sound similar but different in Mandarin. In Cantonese, (ignoring
tones) both names collapse to Wong.
Or consider the Cantonese (Hong Kong) name Ng. In Beijing this name is totally different: Wu. Romanization variants within the same Chinese dialect cause trouble too.
Consider the name which could be Lui or Louie or various other things depending on which official romanized the name 100 years ago. Of course in Mandarin it's quite different: Lei (rhymes with the English word lay).
Consult the Vancouver phone book for some of the possibilities. Even a name like
(horse), which has nearly the same sound across China is spelled in at least two ways in English: Ma and Mah.
So a voter listening to the news on Fairchild Television (Cantonese-language TV) talking about all these names cannot be expected to know how their favorite candidate has romanized their name - that is why the characters on the election signs are extremely helpful. They are not slogans - just names in the original forms. Is it not customary to place an acute accent on the final letter of "John le CarrÃ©" even though it's a pen name and he isn't even French?
For the case of an Anglo candidate who places Chinese or Dvenagari symbols on their signs the situation is similar - they are attempting to link themselves to those communities, with what success of course depends on the individual.
But for $100 anyone can visit a Chinese astrologer and get a favourable matching Chinese name. There are complex rules about how to achieve that but roughly speaking you want to compress into three Chinese characters a name that is perhaps unpronounceable in Chinese, but has a similar meaning and sound, but clipped to three syllables, and has good Feng Shui (look that one up if you don't know what it means). Most PR agents would call that money well spent - especially if the candidate can write the symbols, an artistic achievement! Even making the attempt shows you care.
Of course, it's becoming more common these days for all candidates to know minority languages - think of Sam Sullivan who speaks both Cantonese and Punjabi. They don't necessarily know much of these languages - say enough to say greetings.
This inverts the complaint that Ms. Moreau found. These candidates are simply trying to be inclusive, surely appropriate in an election context.
Bruce Balden, via email
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