ABx wrote:Hm, I always understood them to be different spellings of the same word, but as you say they don't generally show the actual characters used. If you accept "bao" and "pou" as being the same (the b is kinda pronounced with kind of a pop), "chong" is a little closer to the pronunciation than "zhong." I actually don't know why they don't just spell it "jong."
So there might be some mistakes or oversimplifications here, but here goes...
At least one of the old Taiwanese romanization systems uses a 'ch' for what would be 'zh' in hanyu pinyin (confusingly, I think it may use 'ch' for 'ch' as well). So the surnames 'zhou' or 'zhang' is often 'chou' or 'chang'. In the same system, 'P' represents 'b'. 'B' and 'p' in Mandarin are are the same sound, except 'p' is aspirated.
As far as how it's "spelled", Hanyu Pinyin (and most romanization systems) weren't designed to be phonetically pronouncable when pronounced as they would be in English. "j" has a very different sound than "zh". j is like an English j, but with the tongue farther forward, ('x', 'z' and 'c' have similar placement). 'zh' is like 'j' in English also, but with the tongue way back, kind of on the roof of the mouth (same with 'ch' and 'sh').
That's standard Mandarin; in actual practice, many Mandarin speakers, especially those from Taiwan or South China say 'zh' and 'z', 'ch' and 'c', and 'sh' and 's' basically identically.
But going back to the original question, even assuming the romanization system is the same, it's very possible for a word to have the same sound, and even the same tones, but have a different meaning. Without knowing at a bare minimum, what tones the words are, and preferably seeing the characters, it's impossible to tell whether they are the same word or not.
A lot of talking for something that would be a simple matter if we could see the actual "words" we're talking about. But hopefully this was useful to someone.