Taoism/Talk

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One All Together [The seagull and the crow] Confucius called upon Lao Zi to discuss benevolence and righteousness. Lao Zi then told him," The whiteness of the seagull is not the result of daily baths in the sea. And the blackness of the crow is not the result of daily dyeing in the ink. Seagull argued that white is beautiful, and the crow argue that black is beautiful. Black and white are natural qualities, we can't say one is beautiful and the other is not. To distinguish good and bad by concept of benevolence and righteousness, is like a man well-versed in the great Tao, and make the same mistake as the crow and the seagull." ---sin wei


"Taoism" is a word in the *English* language, not Chinese, and has been there for >150 years. It doesn't and shouldn't follow fashions in transliteration schemes. "pinyin is better than Wade-Giles" is a subjective statement one can agree or disagree with. "Taoism is a word in the English language, used much more often than its newer variant Daoism" is an objective fact, attested to by all major dictionaries.

Now whether to use Tao/Dao is another question, and also not altogether clear. --AV


Interesting argument!!

See Daoism and Daoism/Talk


Yes, but the newer variant Daoism is more correct. The idea behind "Taoism" is "Tao" (Chinese word) + "ism" (English suffix). If we were to take the Chinese word Tao/Dao into English, we should write it as "Dao" anyway, since that is how it is pronounced in Chinese, and therefore how it should be written with English orthography. In Wade-Giles, "T" is not the English "T", it is closer to the English "D"; "T'" (T followed by an ayn) is closest to the English "T". And it's Tao in Wade-Giles, not T'ao. The English word originates through confusion between Wade-Giles and English orthography.

And so what if its more common; surely we should encourage people to use more correct terms? Note I have placed the older forms after the more correct ones in practce.

Finally, you might disagree, but pinyin vs. Wade-Giles isn't just a fashion in transliterations; pinyin is in general better than Wade-Giles, which is one of the reasons it is being increasingly used in preference to Wade-Giles. -- Simon J Kissane


"more correct" is not a linguistic argument. Modern linguistics abhores prescription. It is a judgement call, nothing more than that.

Are you also in favour of abolishing the word "Confucius"? It being a result of a "less correct" transcription, of course. Even if you are in favour, I believe that even majority of scholars would disagree, not to mention common English speakers.

Well, its a lot smaller change from "Taoism" to "Daoism" than it is from "Confucius" to "Kung fu zi" or whatever the transliteration is. -- Simon J Kissane

It is simply incorrect to say that "Dao" is so pronounced in Chinese, because it isn't. "D" at least partly voiced in the English "Dao" and is completely unvoiced in Mandarin. Wade-Giles Tao and pinyin Dao are both compromises, meant to preserve this or the other feature of the Chinese word in English (voicelessness vs. aspiration).

I'm not saying that Chinese "D" is the same as English "D"; all I am saying is that it is closer to English "D" than English "T"; and for an English speaker trying to approximate Mandarin, they'd be closer if they said "D" than if they said "T". -- Simon J Kissane


You say:

And so what if its more common; surely we should encourage people to use more correct terms? Note I have placed the older forms after the more correct ones in practce.

Again, "more correct" here is a judgement call, while the undisputable fact is that one is a well-rooted word, another is a new and rare variant. 'All words in language are arbitrary, and are backed up only by tradition of use and common agreement.

As for pinyin being better than Wade-Giles: I didn't dispute it's better. From many scientific points of view it is. But something better yet may come along in 50 more years. It's no reason at all to change spelling and pronunciation of English words, and Taoism is such a word. --AV


"Daoism". We gotta go with "Daoism". We don't write "shew" for "show" or "hlaf" for "loaf".

Nonsense. We would, in fact, have writte "shew" for "show" if the former variant was more common than the latter. Since it isn't, we don't. The same should be the approach with "Taoism". --AV

I agree with AV. I think pinyin (especially with tone marks) is better than Wade-Giles, but what I or anyone thinks is not relevant when faced with the fact that English usage overwhelmingly prefers Taoism to Daoism. We don't write "shew" for "show" or "hlaf" for "loaf" for the very same reason, even if someone thinks "shew" and "hlaf" are objectively better. --Zundark, 2001 Oct 1



LOL -- we aren't real big on wu wei around here, are we?  :-)



Okay, new argument -- if we are going to use pinyin and write Dao, we should write English Daoism, to make it clear that Daoism is the -ism of Dao. It would seem rather incongruous to say something like "The Dao is a central doctrine of Taoism." -- Simon J Kissane


This might appear confusing, but not after one reads the introductory paragraph which explains the discrepancy. In fact, Google search for "dao taoism" finds 3,440 pages, much more than the search for "dao daoism" - only 1,870 pages. So twice more people prefer to use "Dao" with "Taoism" than with "Daoism" - for a good reason, since "Taoism" is a well-recognised word, which "Daoism" isn't.
I'm still uncertain over whether we should in fact use "Dao" and not "Tao". The same arguments I used earlier apply here but with much lesser force, since "Taoism" is much more entrenched in the English language than "Tao". I remain ambivalent. --AV

Just to throw in my .02, my professor of Chinese religion, a man born and educated in China, did indeed pronounce "Taoism" with a "D" and write it with a "T."

Thanks for that example! I also continue to see much more "Taoisms" than "Daoisms" around me, in layman writings as well as in expert articles. --AV
On the other hand, it also supports my contention that English "Dao", while not identical to the Chinese pronounciation, is a better approximation than English "Tao" -- Simon J Kissane
Let me try to explain: when a Chinese native says the Chinese word, a native of English will hear what he thinks is "Dao", though it isn't. In Mandarin, there're two versions of "t": with/without aspiration, but no "d" at all. In English, on the other hand, "t" at the beginning of a word is pronounced with aspiration, "d" without. The Chinese consonant in question lacks aspiration AND voice, so it has one feature from English "t" (lack of voice) and one from English "d" (lack of aspiration). In this particular context it often renders itself as "d" in the English speaker's consciousness, but it is still not "d", and objectively from a phonetical point of view it's as far from English "d" as it is from English "t".
The conclusion is that there're solid linguistic reasons for which "d" is better to use for that consonant than "t", but it is by no means an open-and-shut case. Don't get me wrong: I prefer pinyin myself, I just protest against characterising its superiority in such black-and-white terms. ANd in case of existing English words like Taoism, I think it terribly wrong to try and force them to change after a new transliteration scheme emerges.
Okay, well whatever the objective phonetic nature of the sound, the fact remains that English speakers hear Chinese speakers say a "d". And if they hear Chinese speakers say "d", surely they should be encouraged to say what they think they are hearing, not something which sounds to them to be completely different. If they can't easily say the Chinese "d", at least they should say what sounds to them like the Chinese "d". Especially since how they would naively pronounce the pinyin happens (coincidentally or not) to be closer to what they subjectively hear. (It would be interesting to know what a Chinese speaker interprets the English "d" as, closer to pinyin "d" or something else?) --- Simon J Kissane
A Chinese speaker can't hear voiced stops at all precisely because they don't exist in his language. For him that distinction (voiced/unvoiced) doesn't exist in this case, only aspirated/unaspirated. Since English 'd' is unaspirated, he hears Mandarin unaspirated (voiceless) consonant, which is pinyin 'd', yes.
I agree with you that we should encourage use of the consonant that English speakers actually hear for pinyin 'd', which happens to be English 'd', regardless of objective phonetical differences. I just disagree over how far this encouragement should go; in my opinion it definitely shouldn't intrude upon existing and well-known words in the English language. If in fact "taoism" was an obscure technical term only used in academic journals of Chinese studies, I wouldn't mind turning it into "daoism". But it's long ago become an English word of general stock. With "Tao", as I wrote before, things are less clear (to me).--AV

Okay, I relent for now on the Daoism/Taoism issue. Might I suggest that you incorporate the abovementioned discussion of phonetics into Daoism? (I could, but I think you understand it better than me.)