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Romanization in the catalog and databases

Romanization in library resources

Searching for and using library materials written in non-Romans alphabets or ideographs present special challenges for library users.

Until 1999 the Library of Congress, who sets standards for libraries in the United States, used the Wade-Giles transliteration system. This system, developed by Sir Thomas Francis Wade in the mid-nineteenth century and modified by Herbert Allen Giles in 1912, remained the world standard for most of the 20th century. The Wade-Giles system was based on pronunciation from nonstandard speech sounds and contains symbols that represent different sounds and sometimes different symbols for the same sound.

Pinyin, the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet based on the pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, was created by the Committee on Language Reform in China in 1956 and further modified in 1958. In 1979 the State Council of the People's Republic of China for Romanization prescribed that Pinyin would be used for all translated publications for English speaking countries.

Searching library resources

You may encounter several problems in searching for Chinese names and titles in the catalog and in databases. There are several reasons why the records for the items may still use Wade-Giles instead of Pinyin romanization:

  • even though the People's Republic of China has adopted Pinyin, Taiwan has not fully adopted it. Many names of Taiwanese authors are still romanized in Wade-Giles.
  • with some names the combination of syllables is not consistently applied. Sun Tzu is a good example. It can be found in recent items as Sun Zi or Sunzi. In the catalog it is Sunzi [The Library of Congress guidelines indicate it should be Sun Zi.]
  • publishers can be inconsistent as to whether they use the Chinese form of the author's name with the patronymic first or the English form with the patronymic last. Sometimes this also happens in the catalog if the record has been prepared by a cataloger not familiar with the Chinese language.
  • although most of the Reed Library catalog has had authors, titles and subjects changed to the Pinyin romanization there are still some Wade-Giles romanization left. These could be older materials, books where the origin of author is uncertain and there is no authoritative record in the Library of Congress files to justify using one or the other system, or they are translated works where the original author and/or title is not easily verifiable.
  • titles and contents from English language materials with Wade-Giles romanization.
  • searches in Summit may require using both romanization schemes as not all Summit libraries have completed the conversion. If you pass a search from our catalog to Summit, you may want to then try the same search with the Wade-Giles romanization
  • call number labels inside the books on the verso of the title page still have the Wade-Giles romanization.
  • while most Chinese books we have use the simplified rather than traditional ideographs, the library does have some books with traditional ideographs or reproductions of calligraphic ideographs.