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Pinyin bumps English on trains

By Bai Tiantian (Global Times)

08:09, September 19, 2012

All Chinese railway stations are required to spell out their names in pinyin, replacing the current mix of characters, pinyin and English for train stations across the country, according to a new regulation by the Ministry of Railways that went into effect this month.

The regulation, drafted by the ministry in August, standardizes the station name appearing on electronic screens and train tickets.

Under the new regulation, the station name that includes the Chinese character indicating direction has to be spelled out in pinyin. For example, the Beijing South Railway Station, is now called the Beijingnan Station. "Nan" is the pinyin for the word south.

The regulation sparked debate on Sina Weibo, with some netizens saying the change is more respectful of the Chinese language, while others question the necessity of the move.

A British man in Beijing, who only gave his name as Philip, said he was not bothered by the change.

"Most other countries don't use English names for their station. If you go to Paris, they will tell you, go to 'Gare de l'Est' instead of 'East Station,'" said Philip, adding that figuring out how to get to a destination in an unknown country is part of the trip.

Brian Mitchell, a 28-year-old American who frequently travels to China, told the Global Times that the signs need to be consistent.

"I don't think the change is going to make a difference to people who don't understand pinyin. However, a road sign reading both Jiefang Dong Lu and Jiefang East Road will cause confusion," he added

The Beijing News Tuesday reported that the Beijingnan station is labeled as "Beijing South Railway Station" on subway Line 4.

"Different systems tend to use their own method of translating. No uniform standard on how to translate public signs in China has been made. There can be a lot of confusion," said Lü Hefa, a language professor from Beijing International Studies University.

Lü said establishing a national standard for translation of public signs is the responsibility of China's Standardization Administration.

Discussions have been ongoing for years but no translation standard has yet been set.

Lü said Beijing tried to improve road sign translations prior to the 2008 Olympic Games but the standard has never been adopted by other cities.

"Public signs indicate a city's level of openness and sophistication," said Lü, "Considering the need for tourism and internationalization in many cities, putting pinyin under the Chinese character which foreigners cannot understand is just pointless."

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