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"Martian language" banned in Taiwanese college entrance exam


This article was written by Christine Sun on March 6, 2006. It reports that officials from Taiwan's College Entrance Examination Centre recently announced that "Martian language" would be banned from all future tests.

The so-called "Martian language" refers to a kind of Internet chat room language used by Taiwanese teenagers. In the college entrance exam held in January this year, more than 160,000 high school graduates were confronted with two questions that asked them to interpret symbols and phrases written in "Martian language".

The controversial questions appeared in the "Chinese" test, the first of five required tests in the exam that evaluates the students' Chinese language abilities. The other four tests are English, nature (physics and chemistry), mathematics, and social science (history and geography).

The first question asked the students to decipher the symbol "::>_<::", which means "crying (with tears on the cheeks)". The second question was trickier, which required the students to interpret the phrase "3Q Orz".

Only those students who are frequent Internet users were able to answer the second question. It turned out that "3Q" in "Martian language" means "thank you", for the number "3" in Mandarin is pronounced as "san".

As for "Orz", the image of the word resembles a person facing left and kneeling on the ground to show the utmost appreciation. The phrase "3Q Orz" therefore indicates "thank you very much".

Some students said they had no problem answering these questions because similar symbols and phrases are common in online chat room messages and emails. However, others, as well as many parents and teachers, complained that the test was "ridiculous" and "unfair" against those who don't have PCs or those who don't spend time chatting away on the Internet.

Chat room messages and emails written in "Martian language" in Taiwan are supposed to consist completely of letters from the English alphabet, numeral numbers, punctuation marks, keyboard symbols and arrows, and other strange signs. It is considered an absolute "alien" language that gives critics headaches because it is not even using "loan" words that have been integrated into Chinese from other major languages used on earth.

The annual college entrance exam in Taiwan serves as the most important benchmark for students' university and college application portfolios. Despite the wild outrage caused by the appearance of questions about "Martian language", officials from the College Entrance Exam Centre deemed the exam results successful on February 23rd and claimed that there was no need to grant all students free points for these questions.

Nonetheless, a spokesman from the Centre announced on March 3rd that in a bid to avoid further disputes, "Martian language" would not appear again in all future college entrance exams.