Study of geographic names has been emphasized on such geographic and historical factors as the geographic position, area form and background of the name. The article, “To Interpret and Read Geographic Hakkanese Names Using Mandarin Sentence Structure and Voice – Examples of Hakkanese Towns in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli Counties” , hereinafter called Yeh’s article, has however invented a new route to stress instead on the language factor as a focal point for discussion. It is quite unique. In fact, Yeh’s article has started from the angle of phonetics and word-building science to categorize and review and correct the geographic names in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties. If the author will walk an extra mile by using the theories of semantics and pragmatics to approach the subject, we, as readers, are bound to augment and deepen our perspective toward the study of geographic names.
The basis of theory of Yeh’s article lies in Chapter II Using Pronunciation to Analyze and Read Hakkanese Geographic Names, and Chapter III Using Word-building to Analyze and Read Hakkanese Geographic Names. The two chapters introduce the special properties of Heilu Hakkanese respectively from the angle of phonetics and word-building science. In addition, the same special properties are used to analyze and read geographic Hakkanese names. Despite the title of the former says ‘to interpret and read geographic Hakkanese names’, in reality the chapter may be read as a brief description of the spoken Heilu Hakkanese by the use of geographic names. For the latter, it categorizes Hakkanese names by using the general Mandarin word-building principle as its guidelines.
The obvious weakness of the theoretic direction that Yeh’s article leans is the scope of application of the spoken Heilu Hakkanese. Since Heilu Hakkanese is a minority among Hakkanese language, spoken primarily in Hsinchu County, very seldom in Taoyuan, and almost none in Miaoli. However, Yeh’s article uses Heilu Hakkanese to cover the whole Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli to analyze the geographic names, without mentioning the rationale of the theory. Despite Yeh’s article has mentioned the pronunciation characteristics of Heilu Hakkanese by saying “once the voiced consonants are purified, they turn to produce positive tone”, thus suggesting implicitly the advantage of using Heilu Hakkanese to interpret and read geographic names (see Yeh 24). The point is that Yeh’s article reflects only one stroke to cover the subject that is hard to convince readers. The commentator believes that the best solution would be either to shorten the scope of geographic names or to expand the basis of theory.
Analysis and interpretation of geographic Hakkanese names are covered in Chapter IV Style of Hakkanese in Naming Geographic Names and Chapter V From the Angle of Pronunciation and Word-building Science to Spot Errors of Geographic Hakkanese Names of Yeh’s article. While the former lies the core of the thesis, the latter may be viewed as the upfront work for analysis and interpretation. Yeh’s article take pains to solve many errors found in geographic Hakkanese names. For example, Luchukeng of Toufeng Township, Miaoli County is in fact Lutukeng. But the error is attributable to the writer who did not understand Hakkanese language, for lutu is an agricultural tool or the writer might understand what it was, but unable to write it down in Mandarin. As a result, the word was written as Luchu (see Yeh 39). But Yeh’s article fails to note that although correction is important, yet the most important issue is interpretation of the erroneous phenomena. We take Guanhsi Township of Hsinchu County for example, the terrain of this area looks like an urn of salted pickles, thus the name after it. In the days of Japanese occupation, pronunciation of salted pickles in Hakkanese sounds like Guanhsi in Japanese and so the changed name (see Yeh 71).This is of course an error. Moreover, under plural ethnic interactivity over the last 400 years, this phenomena have been repeated many times over and again in not only geographic names, person’s names and article’s names. So, how do we explain? Let’s first discuss Yeh’s article on the style of Hakkanese in naming geographic names.
Yeh’s article believes that the style of geographic Hakkanese names is fourfold, namely, simple and pragmatic, reminiscence of past and in awe of ancestors, respect for nature, and prayer for peace and prosperity (see Yeh 57-69). Take reminiscence of past and in awe of ancestors for example, Yeh’s article lists three geographic names that are related to native country on mainland China; 19 geographic names related to clan’s names. As such, Yeh’s article comes to the conclusion that the style of naming geographic Hakkanese names tends to be reminiscent of past and in awe of ancestors (see Yeh 67). But this interpretation is arbitrary. Let’s see, after Indian’s hunting ground is renamed New England, shall we say this is homesick of the white people? Or shall we say it is hegemony? So we cannot but take it seriously to think who has the right to define and interpret a geographic name. Further, we must note that the discussion has entered the field of pragmatics. The commentator believes that to further interpret a geographic name, Yeh’s article needs to explore what the semantic artillery and vein of geographic name is, apart from phonetics and word-building science. The pragmatics issue of “What is the process to determine the semantic artillery and vein?” would naturally come next. The commentator believes that errors of geographic names should be touched upon under such a semantic artillery and vein before it can fully interpret the transformation background of geographic Hakkanese names.
Hakkanese leaders have urged the government to conduct nation-wide census on domestic Hakkanese community and Hakkanese people at an early date. The census, once conducted, may be deemed the fundamental work for Hakkanes science and Hakka movement. The Commentator believes that the study results of Yeh’s article can be deemed a part of the nation-wide census on domestic Hakkanese community and Hakkanese people. In reality, the Ministry of the Interior, Executive Yuan has commissioned Academia Sinica to conduct a domestic survey on geographic names and the results now await Yeh and other followers to combine and infer in a further move. The commentator estimates that once the theory of linguistic semantics and pragmatics is heavily applied, the study of geographic Hakkanese names must have a breakthrough. Incidentally, following the establishment of the School of Taiwanese and Language Education (臺灣語言與語文教育研究所) at the National Hsin-chu Teachers College, a batch of students specialized in the study of Hakkanese science has been successfully trained. It is hoped that these new bloods will continue to pursue the study of Hakkanese science from the angle of linguistics so that development of Hakkanese science can be expected in the days to come.