Taiwanese Hokkien

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Taiwanese Hokkien
臺語 Tâi-gí (-gú) [upper-roman 1]
Native to Taiwan
Native speakers
> 16 million (2017) [1]
Latin (Pe̍h-ōe-jī), Chinese characters
Official status
Official language in
Taiwan [lower-alpha 1]
Regulated by Ministry of Education in Taiwan and relevant NGOs in Taiwan
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog taib1242  Taibei Hokkien
Linguasphere 79-AAA-jh
Home usage of Taiwanese by district in Taiwan gradient map (2010).svg
Proportion of residents aged 6 or older using Hokkien at home in Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen & Matsu in 2010 [7]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
Taiwanese Minnan
Traditional Chinese 臺灣 閩南語
Hokkien POJ Tâi-oân Bân-lâm-gí / Tâi-oân Bân-lâm-gú
Taiwanese language
Traditional Chinese 臺灣話
Hokkien POJ Tâi-oân-oē
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 臺灣語
Hokkien POJ Tâi-oân-gí / Tâi-oân-gú

Taiwanese Hokkien ( /ˈhɒkiɛn,hɒˈkɛn/ ), [lower-alpha 2] also known as Taiwanese Minnan [upper-roman 1] , Holo, [8] [9] Taiwanese, [upper-roman 2] or Taigi, [10] is a variety of the Hokkien language spoken natively by about 70% of the population of Taiwan. [11] It is spoken by the Taiwanese Hoklo people, who descended from immigrants from southern Fujian during the Qing dynasty. [12] The Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) romanization is a popular orthography for Taiwanese Hokkien.

Taiwanese Hokkien is generally similar to the speeches of Amoy, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou (branches of Chinese Minnan), as well as their dialectal forms used in Southeast Asia, and are generally mutually intelligible. [13] The mass popularity of Hokkien entertainment media from Taiwan has given prominence to the Taiwanese variety of Hokkien, especially since the 1980s.


Taiwanese Hokkien is a branched-off variety of Hokkien, a group of Southern Min dialects. Like many Min varieties, it has distinct literary and colloquial layers of vocabulary, often associated with formal and informal registers respectively. The literary layer can be traced to the late Tang dynasty, and can thus be related to Middle Chinese. In contrast, the colloquial layers of Min varieties are believed to have branched from the mainstream of Chinese around the time of the Han dynasty. [14] [15] [16] [17]

Regional variations within Taiwanese may be traced back to Hokkien variants spoken in Southern Fujian, specifically those from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, then later Amoy. Taiwanese Hokkien also contains loanwords from Japanese and the native Formosan languages. Recent work by scholars such as Ekki Lu, Toru Sakai (酒井亨 Sakai Tōru), and Lí Khîn-hoāⁿ (also known as Tavokan Khîn-hoāⁿ or Chin-An Li), based on former research by scholars such as Ông Io̍k-tek, has gone so far as to associate part of the basic vocabulary of the colloquial Taiwanese with the Austronesian and Tai language families; however, such claims are controversial.

The literary form of Hokkien once flourished in Fujian and was brought to Taiwan by early emigrants. Tale of the Lychee Mirror , a manuscript for a series of plays published during the Ming dynasty in 1566, is one of the earliest known works. This form of the language is now largely extinct. However, literary readings of the numbers are used in certain contexts such as reciting telephone numbers (see Literary and colloquial readings of Chinese characters).[ citation needed ]

History and formation

Spread of Hokkien to Taiwan

During Yuan dynasty, Quanzhou, Fujian province became a major international port for trade with the outside world. [18] From that period onwards, due to political and economic reasons, many people from Hokkien-speaking regions (southern Fujian) started to emigrate overseas. This included the relatively undeveloped island of Formosa, starting around 1600. They brought with them their native language, Hokkien.

During the late Ming dynasty, due to political chaos, there was increased migration from southern Fujian and eastern Guangdong to Taiwan. The earliest immigrants who were involved in the development of Taiwan included pirate-merchants Chinese Peter  [ zh ] and Zheng Zhilong. In 1621, Chinese Peter and his forces, hailing from Zhangzhou, occupied Ponkan (modern-day Beigang, Yunlin) and started to develop Tirosen (modern-day Chiayi). After the death of Peter and another pirate, Li Dan of Quanzhou, Zheng sought to dominate the Strait of Taiwan. By 1628, he had grown so powerful that the Ming court bestowed him the official title, "Patrolling Admiral". [19]

In 1624, the number of Chinese in the island was about 25,000. [20] During the reign of Chongzhen Emperor (1627–1644), there were frequent droughts in the Fujian region. Zheng and a Chinese official suggested to send victims to Taiwan and provide "for each person three taels of silver and for each three people one ox". [21] Although this plan was never carried out, the Zheng family maintained an interest in Taiwan that would have dire consequences for the Dutch, who ruled Taiwan as Dutch Formosa at the time.

Development and divergence

In 1624 and 1626, the Dutch and Spanish forces occupied the Tainan and Keelung areas, respectively. During the 40 years of Dutch colonial rule of Taiwan, many Han Chinese from the Quanzhou, Zhangzhou and Hakka regions of mainland China were recruited to help develop Taiwan. Because of intermingling with Siraya people as well as Dutch colonial rule, the Hokkien dialects started to deviate from the original Hokkien spoken in mainland China.

In the 1661 Siege of Fort Zeelandia, Chinese general Koxinga expelled the Dutch and established the Kingdom of Tungning. Koxinga originated from the Quanzhou region. Chen Yonghua  [ zh ], who was in charge of establishing the education system of Tungning, also originated from Quanzhou. Because most of the soldiers he brought to Taiwan came from Quanzhou, the prestige variant of Hokkien on the island at the time was the Quanzhou dialect.

In 1683, Chinese admiral Shi Lang attacked Taiwan in the Battle of Penghu, ending the Tungning era and beginning Qing dynasty rule (until 1895). In the following years, in order to prevent people from rebelling, the Qing court instituted a ban on migration to Taiwan,[ citation needed ] especially the migration of Hakka people from Guangdong province, which led Hokkien to become a prestige language in Taiwan.[ citation needed ]

In the first decades of the 18th century, the linguistic differences between the Qing imperial bureaucrats and the commoners was recorded by the Mandarin-speaking first Imperial High Commissioner to Taiwan (1722), Huang Shujing:

In this place, the language is as birdcall totally unintelligible! For example: for the surname Liú, they say 'Lâu'; for Chén, 'Tân'; Zhuāng, 'Chng'; and Zhāng is 'Tioⁿ'. My deputy’s surname becomes 'Ngô͘'. My surname Huáng does not even have a proper vowel: it is 'N̂g' here! It is difficult to make sense of this.

Records from the mission to Taiwan and its Strait, Volume II: "On the area around Fort Provintia, Tainan" (臺海使槎錄 卷二 赤嵌筆談)

The tone of Huang's message foretold the uneasy relationships between different language communities and colonial establishments over the next few centuries.

The ban on migration to Taiwan was relaxed sometime after 1722 (and was completely removed in 1874). During the 200 years of Qing dynasty rule, thousands of immigrants from Fujian arrived yearly; the population was over one million in the middle of the 18th century. [22] Civil unrest and armed conflicts were frequent. In addition to resistance against governments (both Chinese and later Japanese), battles between ethnic groups were also significant: the belligerents usually grouped around the language they used. History has recorded battles between Hakka speakers and Hokkien speakers; between these and the aborigines; and even between those who spoke different variants of Hokkien.

In the early 20th century, the Hoklo people in Taiwan could be categorized as originating from Xiamen, Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, and Zhangpu.[ clarification needed ] [23] People from the former two areas (Quanzhou-speaking) were dominant in the north of the island and along the west coast, [24] whereas people from the latter two areas (Zhangzhou-speaking) were dominant in the south and perhaps the central plains as well.

Although there were conflicts between Quanzhou- and Zhangzhou-speakers in Taiwan historically, their gradual intermingling led to mixing of the two accents. Apart from Lukang city and Yilan County, which have preserved their original Quanzhou and Zhangzhou accents, respectively, almost every region of Taiwan now speaks a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou Hokkien. [25] A similar phenomenon occurred in Xiamen (Amoy) after 1842 when the mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou Hokkien displaced the Quanzhou dialect to yield the modern Amoy dialect. [26]

During the Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan, Taiwan began to hold Amoy Hokkien as its standard pronunciation; the Japanese called this mixture Taiwanese (臺灣語, Taiwango). [27]

After 1945,[ citation needed ] Amoy Hokkien and Taiwanese Hokkien began to diverge slightly.

Modern times

Proportion of languages used at home by residents aged 6 or over in Taiwan in 2010, sorted by birth year. The chart shows the tendency that speech communities of Taiwanese local languages are shifting to speak Mandarin. Proportion of Taiwanese Language Used in House.svg
Proportion of languages used at home by residents aged 6 or over in Taiwan in 2010, sorted by birth year. The chart shows the tendency that speech communities of Taiwanese local languages are shifting to speak Mandarin.

Later, in the 20th century, the conceptualization of Taiwanese is more controversial than most variations of Chinese because at one time it marked a clear division between the Mainlanders who arrived in 1949 and the pre-existing majority native Taiwanese. Although the political and linguistic divisions between the two groups have blurred considerably, the political issues surrounding Taiwanese have been more controversial and sensitive than for other varieties of Chinese.

After the First Sino-Japanese War, due to military defeat to the Japanese, the Qing dynasty ceded Taiwan to Japan, causing contact with the Hokkien-speaking regions of mainland China to stop. During Japanese rule, Japanese became an official language in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Hokkien began to absorb large number of Japanese loanwords into its language. Examples of such loanwords (some which had in turn been borrowed from English) include piān-só͘ from benjo ( 便所 , "toilet"), phêng from tsubo ( , "pyeong", an areal measurement) (see also Taiwanese units of measurement), ga-suh from gasu ( 瓦斯 , "gas"), o͘-tó͘-bái from ōtobai ( オートバイ , "autobicycle", motorcycle). All of these caused Taiwanese to deviate from Hokkien used elsewhere.

During Kōminka of the late Japanese colonial period, the Japanese language appeared in every corner of Taiwan. The Second Sino-Japanese War beginning in 1937 brought stricter measures into force, and along with the outlawing of romanized Taiwanese, various publications were prohibited and Confucian-style private schools which taught Classical Chinese with literary Southern Min pronunciation – were closed down in 1939. [29] Taiwanese Hokkien thus was reduced to a common daily language. [30]

After the handover of Taiwan to the Republic of China in 1945, there was brief cultural exchange with mainland China followed by further oppression. The Chinese Civil War resulted in another political separation when the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) government retreated to Taiwan following their defeat by the communists in 1949. The influx of two million soldiers and civilians caused the population of Taiwan to increase from 6 million to 8 million. The government subsequently promoted Mandarin and banned the public use of Taiwanese as part of a deliberate political repression, especially in schools and broadcast media. In 1964 use of Taiwanese in schools or official settings was forbidden, [31] and transgression in schools punished with beatings, fines and humiliation. [32]

Only after the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the mother tongue movement in the 1990s did Taiwan see a true revival in the Taiwanese language. Today, there are a large number of Taiwanese scholars dedicated to researching the language. Despite this, according to census data the number of people speaking Taiwanese continued to drop. [28]

The history of Taiwanese and its interaction with Mandarin is complex and at times controversial, even regarding its name. The language has no official name in Taiwan. [33] Some dislike the name "Taiwanese" as they feel that it belittles other languages spoken on the island such as Mandarin, Hakka, and the aboriginal languages. Others prefer the names Southern Min, Minnan or Hokkien as this views Taiwanese Hokkien as a form of the Chinese variety spoken in Fujian province in mainland China. Others dislike those names for precisely the same reason.[ citation needed ] Taiwanese is referred to as "Formosan" on the United States Census and the American Community Survey. [34] [ failed verification ]


Phonologically, Hokkien is a tonal language with extensive tone sandhi rules. Syllables consist maximally of an initial consonant, a vowel, a final consonant, and a tone.


Bilabial Alveolar Alveolo
Velar Glottal
Nasal [ m ]m
[ n ]n
[ ŋ ]ng
Stop voiced[ b ]b
[ ɡ ]g
tenuis [ p ]p
[ t ]t
[ k ]k
aspirated [pʰ]ph
Affricate voiced[ dz ]j
[ ]j(i)
tenuis[ ts ]ch, ts
[ ]ch(i), ts(i)
aspirated[tsʰ]chh, tsh
[tɕʰ]chh(i), tsh(i)
Fricative [ s ]s
[ ɕ ]si
[ h ]h
Liquid [ l ]~[ ɾ ]l
Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Nasal [m]
[ ◌̃ ]
Plosive [p̚]
-p ㆴ
-t ㆵ
-k ㆶ
[ ʔ ]
-h ㆷ

Unlike many other varieties of Chinese such as Mandarin and Cantonese, there are no native labiodental phonemes (i.e., [ f ]).

  1. Coronal affricates and fricatives become alveolo-palatal before /i/, that is, /dzi/, /tsi/, /tsʰi/, and /si/ are pronounced [dʑi], [tɕi], [tɕʰi], and [ɕi].
  2. The consonant /dz/ may be realized as a fricative; that is, as [z] in most environments and [ʑ] before /i/.
  3. The voiced plosives (/b/ and /ɡ/) become the corresponding fricatives ([ β ] and [ ɣ ]) in some phonetic contexts. This is similar to begadkefat in Hebrew and a similar allophony of intervocalic plosive consonants and their fricatives in Spanish.


Taiwanese has the following vowels:

Front Central Back Syllabic consonant
Oral Nasal Oral Nasal Oral Nasal
Close [ i ]
i ㄧ
iⁿ ㆪ
[ u ]
u ㄨ
uⁿ ㆫ
m ㆬ
ng ㆭ
Mid [ e ]
e ㆤ
eⁿ ㆥ
[ ə ] ~ [ o ]
o ㄜ, ㄛ
[ ɔ ]
o͘ ㆦ
oⁿ ㆧ
Open [ a ]
a ㄚ
aⁿ ㆩ

The vowel o is akin to a schwa; in contrast, (with dot) is a more open vowel. In addition, there are several diphthongs and triphthongs (for example, iau). The consonants m and ng can function as a syllabic nucleus and are therefore included here as vowels. The vowels may be either plain or nasal: a is non-nasal, and aⁿ is the same vowel with concurrent nasal articulation. This is similar to French, Portuguese, Polish, and many other languages.

There are two pronunciations of vowel o. In the south (e.g., Tainan and Kaohsiung) it is [ə]; in the north (e.g., Taipei) it is [o]. Due to development of transportation and communication, both pronunciations are common and acceptable throughout the country.


Taiwanese tones, close to Taipei values. Taiwanese tones.png
Taiwanese tones, close to Taipei values.

In the traditional analysis, there are eight "tones", numbered from 1 to 8. Strictly speaking, there are only five tonal contours. But as in other Chinese varieties, the two kinds of stopped syllables are considered also to be tones and assigned numbers 4 and 8. In Taiwanese tone 6 has merged into tone 7, and thus duplicated in the count. Here the eight tones are shown, following the traditional tone class categorization, named after the tones of Middle Chinese:

Taiwanese tones [35]
Pitch in
DescriptionPitch in
1yin level (陰平)a[á] = [a˥] (55)high[á] = [a˦] (44)high
2yin rising (陰上)á[â] = [a˥˩] (51)falling[â] = [a˥˧] (53)high falling
3yin departing (陰去)à[à] = [a˧˩] to [˨˩] (31~21)low falling[à] = [a˩] (11)low
4yin entering (陰入)ah[āʔ] = [aʔ˧˨] (32)mid stopped[àʔ] = [aʔ˨˩] (21)low stopped
5yang level (陽平)â[ǎ] = [a˩˦ ~ a˨˦] (14~24)rising[ǎ] = [a˨˦] (25)rising
7 (6)yang departing and yang rising (陽去與陽上)ā[ā] = [a˧] (33)mid[ā] = [a˨] (22)mid
8yang entering (陽入)a̍h[áʔ] = [aʔ˦] (4)high stopped[áʔ] = [aʔ˥] (5)high stopped

See (for one example) the modern phonological analysis in Chiung (2003), which challenges these notions.

For tones 4 and 8, a final consonant p, t, or k may appear. When this happens, it is impossible for the syllable to be nasal. Indeed, these are the counterpart to the nasal final consonants m, n, and ng, respectively, in other tones. However, it is possible to have a nasal 4th or 8th tone syllable such as siaⁿh, as long as there is no final consonant other than h.

In the dialect spoken near the northern coast of Taiwan, there is no distinction between tones number 8 and number 4 both are pronounced as if they follow the tone sandhi rules of tone number 4.

Tone number 0, typically written with two consecutive hyphens -- before the syllable with this tone, is used to mark enclitics denoting the extent of a verb action, the end of a noun phrase, etc. A frequent use of this tone is to denote a question, such as in "Chia̍h-pá--bē?", literally meaning 'Have you eaten yet?’. This is realized by speaking the syllable with either a low-falling tone (3) or a low stop (4). The syllable prior to the -- maintains its original tone.

Syllabic structure

A syllable requires a vowel (or diphthong or triphthong) to appear in the middle. All consonants can appear at the initial position. The consonants p, t, k and m, n, ng (and some consider h) may appear at the end of a syllable. Therefore, it is possible to have syllables such as ngiau ("(to) tickle") and thng ("soup").

Tone sandhi

Schema of the tone sandhi rules in Taiwanese. Taiwanese Hokkien Tone Sandhi 01.svg
Schema of the tone sandhi rules in Taiwanese.

Taiwanese Hokkien has extremely extensive tone sandhi (tone-changing) rules: in an utterance, only the last syllable pronounced is not affected by the rules. [36] What an ‘utterance’ (or ‘intonational phrase’) is, in the context of this language, is an ongoing topic for linguistic research, but some general rules apply: [37]

The following syllables are unaffected by tone sandhi:

Normal tone sandhi

The following rules, listed in the traditional pedagogical mnemonic order, govern the pronunciation of tone on each of the syllables affected (that is, all but those described according to the rules listed above):

  • If the original tone number is 5, pronounce it as tone number 3 (Quanzhou/Taipei speech) or 7 (Zhangzhou/Tainan speech).
  • If the original tone number is 7, pronounce it as tone number 3.
  • If the original tone number is 3, pronounce it as tone number 2.
  • If the original tone number is 2, pronounce it as tone number 1.
  • If the original tone number is 1, pronounce it as tone number 7.
  • If the original tone number is 8 and the final consonant is not h (that is, it is p, t, or k), pronounce it as tone number 4.
  • If the original tone number is 4 and the final consonant is not h (that is, it is p, t, or k), pronounce it as tone number 8.
  • If the original tone number is 8 and the final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 3.
  • If the original tone number is 4 and the final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 2.
Normal tone sandhi (IPA)
5tang⁵⁻³ / tang⁵⁻⁷[taŋ˨˦꜔꜖][taŋ˨˦꜕]

Double tone sandhi

There are a number of a single syllable words that undergo double tone sandhi, that is, they follow the tone change rule twice and are pronounced according to the second tone change. These syllables are almost always a 4th tone ending in -h, and include the words 欲 (beh), 佮 (kah), 閣 (koh), 才 (chiah), as well as the 3rd tone verb 去 khì. As a result of following the tone change rule twice, these syllables are all pronounced as tone number 1.

Double tone sandhi (IPA)

Before the -á suffix

Apart from the normal tone sandhi rules described above, there are two special cases where a different set of tone sandhi apply. [38] In a noun with the noun suffix ' ' (á), the penultimate syllable is governed by the following rules:

  • If the original tone number is 5, pronounce it as tone number 7.
  • If the original tone number is 7, pronounce it as tone number 7.
  • If the original tone number is 2 or 3, pronounce it as tone number 1.
  • If the original tone number is 1, pronounce it as tone number 7.(same as normal)
  • If the original tone number is 8 and final consonant is not h (that is, it is p, t, or k), pronounce it as tone number 4.(same as normal)
  • If the original tone number is 4 and final consonant is not h (that is, it is p, t, or k), pronounce it as tone number 8.(same as normal)
  • If the original tone number is 8 and final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 7.
  • If the original tone number is 4 and final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 1. (same as double)
Tone sandhi before -á (IPA)

In triplicated adjectives

Finally, in the case of single-syllable adjective triplication (for added emphasis), the first syllable is governed by the following rules (the second syllable follows the normal tone sandhi rules above):

  • If the original tone number is 5, pronounce it as tone number 5.
  • If the original tone number is 7, pronounce it as tone number 1.
  • If the original tone number is 3, pronounce it as tone number 2 (same as normal).
  • If the original tone number is 2, pronounce it as tone number 1 (same as normal).
  • If the original tone number is 1, pronounce it as tone number 5.
  • If the original tone number is 8 and the final consonant is not h (that is, it is p, t, or k), pronounce it as tone number 4 (same as normal).
  • If the original tone number is 4 and the final consonant is not h (that is, it is p, t, or k), pronounce it as tone number 8 (same as normal).
  • If the original tone number is 8 and the final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 5.
  • If the original tone number is 4 and the final consonant is h, pronounce it as tone number 2 (same as normal).
Triplicated tone sandhi (IPA)

See Tiuⁿ (2001), Chiung (2003) and the work of Robert L. Cheng (鄭良偉; Tēⁿ Liông-úi) [39] for modern linguistic approaches to tones and tone sandhi in Taiwanese Hokkien.


Modern linguistic studies (by Robert L. Cheng and Chin-An Li, for example) estimate that most (75% to 90%) Taiwanese Hokkien words have cognates in other Chinese varieties. False friends do exist; for example, cháu () means "to run" in Taiwanese Hokkien, whereas the Mandarin cognate, zǒu, means "to walk". Moreover, cognates may have different lexical categories; for example, the morpheme phīⁿ () means not only "nose" (a noun, as in Mandarin ) but also "to smell" (a verb, unlike Mandarin).

Among the apparently cognate-less words are many basic words with properties that contrast with similar-meaning words of pan-Chinese derivation. Often the former group lacks a standard Han character, and the words are variously considered colloquial, intimate, vulgar, uncultured, or more concrete in meaning than the pan-Chinese synonym. Some examples: lâng ( or , person, concrete) vs. jîn (人, person, abstract); cha-bó͘ (查某, woman) vs. lú-jîn (女人, woman, literary). Unlike the English Germanic/Latin contrast, however, the two groups of Taiwanese Hokkien words cannot be as strongly attributed to the influences of two disparate linguistic sources.

Extensive contact with the Japanese language has left a legacy of Japanese loanwords, with 172 recorded in the Ministry of Education's Dictionary of Frequently-Used Taiwan Minnan . [40] Although a very small percentage of the vocabulary, their usage tends to be high-frequency because of their relevance to modern society and popular culture. Examples are: o͘-tó͘-bái from ōtobai (オートバイ, "autobike"/motorcycle) and pháng from pan ( パン , "bread", itself a loanword from Portuguese). Grammatical particles borrowed from Japanese, notably te̍k from teki () and ka from ka (), show up in the Taiwanese Hokkien of older speakers.

Whereas Mandarin attaches a syllabic suffix to the singular pronoun to make a collective form, Taiwanese Hokkien pronouns are collectivized through nasalization. For example, i (he/she/it) and goá (I) become in (they) and goán (we), respectively. The -n thus represents a subsyllabic morpheme. Like all other varieties of Chinese, Taiwanese Hokkien does not have true grammatical plurals.

Unlike English, Taiwanese Hokkien has two first-person plural pronouns. This distinction is called inclusive, which includes the addressee, and exclusive, which excludes the addressee. Thus, goán means we excluding you, while lán means we including you (similar to pluralis auctoris). The inclusive lán may be used to express politeness or solidarity, as in the example of a speaker asking a stranger "Where do we live?" while implicitly asking "Where do you live?".


The syntax of Taiwanese Hokkien is similar to southern Chinese varieties such as Hakka and Yue. The subject–verb–object sequence is typical as in, for example, Mandarin, but subject–object–verb or the passive voice (with the sequence object–subject–verb) is possible with particles. Take a simple sentence for example: 'I hold you.' The words involved are: goá ('I' or 'me'), phō ('to hold'), ('you').

With this, more complicated sentences can be constructed: Goá kā chúi hō͘ lí lim ('I give water for you to drink': chúi means 'water'; lim is 'to drink').

This article can only give a few very simple examples on the syntax, for flavour. Linguistic work on the syntax of Taiwanese Hokkien is still a (quite nascent) scholarly topic being explored.

Scripts and orthographies

A selection of literary works (original and translated) in Taiwanese Hokkien, in several orthographies. Holo bunhak chokphin.JPG
A selection of literary works (original and translated) in Taiwanese Hokkien, in several orthographies.

Taiwanese Hokkien does not have a strong written tradition. Until the late 19th century, Taiwanese speakers wrote mostly in Classical Chinese [ citation needed ]. Among many systems of writing Taiwanese Hokkien using Latin characters, the most used is called pe̍h-oē-jī (POJ) and was developed in the 19th century, while the Taiwanese Romanization System has been officially promoted since 2006 by Taiwan's Ministry of Education. (For additional romanized systems, see references in "Orthography in Latin characters", below.) Nonetheless, Taiwanese Hokkien speakers nowadays most commonly write in Standard Chinese (Mandarin), though many of the same characters are also used to write Taiwanese Hokkien.

Han characters

In most cases, Taiwanese Hokkien speakers write using the script called Han characters as in Mandarin, although there are a number of special characters which are unique to Taiwanese Hokkien and which are sometimes used in informal writing. Where Han characters are used, they are not always etymological or genetic; the borrowing of similar-sounding or similar-meaning characters is a common practice. Bilingual speakers of both Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien sometimes attempt to represent the sounds by adopting similar-sounding Mandarin Han characters. For example, the Han characters of the vulgar slang 'khoàⁿ sáⁿ-siâu' ( 三小 , substituted for the etymologically correct 啥潲 , meaning 'What the hell are you looking at?’) has very little meaning in Mandarin and may not be readily understood by a Taiwanese Hokkien monolingual, as knowledge of Mandarin character readings is required to fully decipher it.

In 2007, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan published the first list of Taiwanese Southern Min Recommended Characters, a list of 300 Han characters standardized for the use of writing Taiwanese Hokkien and implemented the teaching of them in schools. [41] In 2008, the ministry published a second list of 100 characters, and in 2009 added 300 more, giving a total of 700 standardized characters used to write uniquely Taiwanese Hokkien words. With increasing literacy in Taiwanese Hokkien, there are currently more Taiwanese online bloggers who write Taiwanese Hokkien online using these standardized Chinese characters. Han characters are also used by Taiwan's Hokkien literary circle for Hokkien poets and writers to write literature or poetry in Taiwanese Hokkien.

Orthography in Latin characters

An issue of the Taiwan Church News, first published by Presbyterian missionaries in 1885. This was the first printed newspaper in Taiwan, and was written in Taiwanese Hokkien, in the Latin orthography peh-oe-ji. Kauhoe.jpg
An issue of the Taiwan Church News , first published by Presbyterian missionaries in 1885. This was the first printed newspaper in Taiwan, and was written in Taiwanese Hokkien, in the Latin orthography pe̍h-oē-jī.

There are several Latin-based orthographies, the oldest being Pe̍h-oē-jī (POJ, meaning "vernacular writing"), developed in the 19th century. Taiwanese Romanization System (Tâi-ôan Lô-má-jī, Tâi-Lô) and Taiwanese Language Phonetic Alphabet (TLPA) are two later adaptations of POJ. Other 20th-century innovations include Daighi tongiong pingim (DT), Ganvsig daiuuan bhanlam ghiw tongiong pingimv (GDT), Modern Literal Taiwanese (MLT), Simplified MLT (SMLT), Phofsit Daibuun (PSDB). The last four employ tonal spelling to indicate tone without use of diacritic symbols, but letters instead.

In POJ, the traditional list of letters is

a b ch chh e g h i j k kh l m n ng o o͘ p ph s t th (ts) u

Twenty-four in all, including the obsolete ts, which was used to represent the modern ch at some places. The additional necessities are the nasal symbol   (superscript n; the uppercase form N is sometimes used in all caps texts, [42] such as book titles or section headings), and the tonal diacritics. POJ was developed first by Presbyterian missionaries and later by the indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan; they have been active in promoting the language since the late 19th century. Recently there has been an increase in texts using a mixed orthography of Han characters and romanization, although these texts remain uncommon.

In 2006, the National Languages Committee (Ministry of Education, Republic of China) proposed Taiwanese Romanization System (Tâi-ôan Lô-má-jī, Tâi-lô). This alphabet reconciles two of the more senior orthographies, TLPA and POJ. [43] The changes for the consonants involved using ts for POJ's ch (reverting to the orthography in the 19th century), and tsh for chh. For the vowels, could optionally represented as oo. The nasal mark could also be represented optionally as nn. The rest of the alphabet, most notably the use of diacritics to mark the tones, appeared to keep to the POJ tradition. One of the aims of this compromise was to curb any increase of 'market share' for Daighi tongiong pingim/Tongyong Pinyin. [44] It is unclear whether the community will adopt this new agreement.

Orthographies in kana and in bopomofo

Japanese-Taiwanese Dictionary, using the orthography in kana Japanese-Taiwanese Dictionary.jpg
Japanese–Taiwanese Dictionary, using the orthography in kana

There was an orthography of Taiwanese Hokkien based on the Japanese kana during Japanese rule. The Kuomintang government also tried to introduce an orthography in bopomofo.

Comparison of orthographies

Here the different orthographies are compared:

IPA aapatakãɔɔkɔ̃əoeiiɛniəŋ
Pe̍h-ōe-jī aapatakahaⁿokoⁿooeeⁿiianeng
Revised TLPA aapatakahaNoookooNooeeNiianing
TLPA aapatakahannoookoonnooeenniianing
BP aapatakahnaoooknooooeneiianing
MLT aab/apad/atag/akaq/ahvaoog/okvoøøeveiieneng
DT aāp/apāt/atāk/akāh/ahann/aⁿookonn/oⁿororeenn/eⁿiian/ening
Taiwanese kana アアアㇷ゚アッアㇰアァアアオオオㇰオオオオヲヲエエエエイイイェヌイェン
Extended bopomofo ㄚㆴㄚㆵㄚㆶㄚㆷㆦㆶㄧㄢㄧㄥ
Tâi-lô aapatakahannoookonnooeenniianing
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

IPA iəkĩaiauamɔmɔŋŋ̍uuaueuaiuanɨ(i)ũ
Pe̍h-ōe-jī ekiⁿaiaiⁿauamommongnguoaoeoaioani(i)uⁿ
Revised TLPA ikiNaiaiNauamommongnguuaueuaiuanir(i)uN
TLPA ikinnaiainnauamommongnguuaueuaiuanir(i)unn
BP ikniainaiauamommongnguuaueuaiuanin(i)u
MLT eg/ekviaivaiauamommongnguoaoeoaioaniv(i)u
DT ikinn/iⁿaiainn/aiⁿauamommongnguuaueuaiuani(i)unn/uⁿ
Taiwanese kana イェㇰイイアイアイアウアムオムオンウウヲアヲエヲァイヲァヌウウウウ
Extended bopomofo ㄧㆶㄨㄚㄨㆤㄨㄞㄨㄢ
Tâi-lô ikinnaiainnauamommongnguuaueuaiuanir(i)unn
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

IPA pbmtnlkɡhtɕiʑitɕʰiɕitsdztsʰs
Pe̍h-ōe-jī pbphmtthnnnglkgkhhchijichhisichjchhs
Revised TLPA pbphmtthnnnglkgkhhzijicisizjcs
TLPA pbphmtthnnnglkgkhhzijicisizjcs
BP bbbpbbdtnlnglgggkhzilicisizlcs
MLT pbphmtthnnnglkgkhhcijichisizjzhs
DT bbhpmdtnnnglgghkhzircisizrcs
Taiwanese kana パアバアパ̣アマアタアタ̣アナアヌンラアカアガアカ̣アハアチイジイチ̣イシイザアサ̣サア
Extended bopomofo ㄋㆭ
Tâi-lô pbphmtthnnnglkgkhhtsijitshisitsjtshs
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

Tone nameYin level
Yin rising
Yin departing
Yin entering
Yang level
Yang rising
Yang departing
Yang entering
High rising
Neutral tone
IPA a˥˧a˨˩ap˩
Pe̍h-ōe-jī aáàap
BP āǎàāp
DT aàâāp
Taiwanese kana
(normal vowels)
アアアア Taiwanese kana normal tone 2.png アア Taiwanese kana normal tone 3.png アㇷ゚ Taiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アッ Taiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アㇰ Taiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アァ Taiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アア Taiwanese kana normal tone 5.png アア Taiwanese kana normal tone 7.png アㇷ゚ Taiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
アッ Taiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
アㇰ Taiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
アァ Taiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
Taiwanese kana
(nasal vowels)
アア Taiwanese kana nasal tone 1.png アア Taiwanese kana nasal tone 2.png アア Taiwanese kana nasal tone 3.png アㇷ゚ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アッ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アㇰ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アァ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アア Taiwanese kana nasal tone 5.png アア Taiwanese kana nasal tone 7.png アㇷ゚ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
アッ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
アㇰ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
アァ Taiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
Extended bopomofo ㄚˋㄚ˪ㄚㆴ
Tâi-lô aáàahâǎāa̍h--ah
(traditional Chinese)

(simplified Chinese)



Peh-oe-ji inscription at a church in Tai-lam commemorating Thomas Barclay. Pa-khek-le Kau-hoe.jpg
Pe̍h-ōe-jī inscription at a church in Tâi-lâm commemorating Thomas Barclay.

Many keyboard layouts and input methods for entering either Latin or Han characters in Taiwanese Hokkien are available. Some of them are free-of-charge, some commercial.

The Min Nan dialect group is registered per RFC   3066 as zh-min-nan. [45] Taiwanese Min Nan can be represented as 'zh-min-nan-TW'.

When writing Taiwanese Hokkien in Han characters, some writers create 'new' characters when they consider it is impossible to use directly or borrow existing ones; this corresponds to similar practices in character usage in Cantonese, Vietnamese chữ nôm, Korean hanja and Japanese kanji. These are usually not encoded in Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), thus creating problems in computer processing.

All Latin characters required by pe̍h-oē-jī can be represented using Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal character set), using precomposed or combining (diacritics) characters.

Prior to June 2004, the vowel [ɔ] akin to but more open than ⟨o⟩, written with a 'dot above right', was not encoded. The usual workaround was to use the (stand-alone; spacing) character ‘middle dot’ (U+00B7, ⟨·⟩) or less commonly the combining character 'dot above' (U+0307). As these are far from ideal, since 1997 proposals have been submitted to the ISO/IEC working group in charge of ISO/IEC 10646 namely, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 to encode a new combining character 'dot above right'. This is now officially assigned to U+0358 (see documents N1593, N2507, N2628, N2699, and N2770). Font support has followed: for example, in Charis SIL.


Regional variations

Distribution of Hokkien dialects in Taiwan:
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Quanzhou dialect predominant
Zhangzhou dialect predominant
Both Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects Taiwanese Hokkien Map.svg
Distribution of Hokkien dialects in Taiwan:
  Quanzhou dialect predominant
  Zhangzhou dialect predominant
  Both Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects

The prestige variant of Taiwanese Hokkien is the southern speech found in Tainan and Kaohsiung. Other major variants are the northern speech, the central speech (near Taichung and the port town of Lukang), and the northern (northeastern) coastal speech (dominant in Yilan).

The distinguishing feature of the coastal speech is the use of the vowel uiⁿ in place of ng. The northern speech is distinguished by the absence of the 8th tone, and some vowel exchanges (for example, i and u, e and oe). The central speech has an additional vowel [ɨ] or [ø] between i and u, which may be represented as ö. There are also a number of other pronunciation and lexical differences between the Taiwanese Hokkien variants; the online Ministry of Education dictionary specifies these to a resolution of eight regions on Taiwan proper, in addition to Kinmen and Penghu. [47] [48]

Concerning the fifth (rising) tone in normal sandhi patterns, the Quanzhou/Coastal/Northern dialects change to seventh (mid level) tone, whereas the Zhangzhou/"Mixed"/Southern dialects change to third (low falling) tone.

Certain new north–south distinctions have appeared in recent decades.[ citation needed ] [49] The fourth and eighth tones tend to be reversed in the north and south. [50] [ better source needed ]

QuanzhouZhangzhou inclinations

Hokkien immigrants to Taiwan originated from Quanzhou prefecture (44.8%) and Zhangzhou prefecture (35.2%).[ citation needed ] The original phonology from these regions was spread around Taiwan during the immigration process. With the advanced development of transportation and greater mobility of the Taiwanese population, Taiwanese Hokkien speech has steered itself towards a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech, known as ChiangChôan-lām (漳泉濫, in Mandarin ZhāngQuán làn). [25] Due to different proportion of mixture, some regions are inclined more towards Quanzhou accent, while others are inclined more towards Zhangzhou accent.

In general, Quanzhou accent is more common along the coastal region and is known as the hái-kháu accent; Zhangzhou accent is more common within the mountainous region of Taiwan and is known as the lāi-po͘ accent. The regional variation within Taiwanese Hokkien may be attributed to variations in the mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou accents and/or lexicons. It ranges from Lukang accent (based on Quanzhou accent) on one end, to the northern coastal Yilan accent (based on Zhangzhou accent) on another end. Tainan, Kaohsiung and Taitung accents, on the other hand, are closest to the prestige accent.

Variations in Taiwanese Hokkien accents
Quanzhou accent
Penghu, Taixi, Dajia coastal region (hái-kháu)
Taipei, Hsinchu (very similar to Amoy accent)
Tainan, Kaohsiung and Taitung (prestige accent, Amoy accent mixed Zhangzhou accent)
Taichung, Changhua and Chiayi (lāi-po͘)
Zhangzhou accent

Recent terminological distinctions

Recent research has found a need for new terminology of Taiwanese Hokkien dialects, mainly because the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects in Taiwan developed independently from those in Fujian. Thus, some scholars (i.e., Klöter, following 董忠司) have divided Taiwanese Hokkien into five subdialects, based on geographic region: [51]

  1. hái-kháu (海口腔): west coast, based on what was formerly referred to as Quanzhou dialect (represented by the Lukang accent)
  2. phian-hái (偏海腔): coastal (represented by the Nanliao (南寮) accent)
  3. lāi-po͘ (內埔腔): western inner plain, mountain regions, based on the Zhangzhou dialect (represented by the Yilan accent)
  4. phian-lāi (偏內腔): interior (represented by the Taibao accent)
  5. thong-hêng (通行腔): common accents (represented by the Taipei (spec. Datong) accent in the north and the Tainan accent in the south)

Both phian-hái and phian-lāi are intermediate dialects between hái-kháu and lāi-po͘, these also known as thong-hêng (通行腔) or "不泉不漳". In some ways this mixed dialect is similar to the Amoy dialect, which itself is a blend of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speech. The common dialect refers to that which can be heard on radio, television, official announcements, etc.[ citation needed ]


A great majority of people in Taiwan can speak both Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien although the degree of fluency varies widely. [28] There are however small but significant numbers of people in Taiwan, mainly but not exclusively Hakka and Mainlanders, who cannot speak Taiwanese Hokkien fluently. A shrinking percentage of the population, mainly people born before the 1950s, cannot speak Mandarin at all, or learned to speak Mandarin later in life, though some of these speak Japanese fluently. Urban, working-class Hakkas as well as younger, southern-Taiwan Mainlanders tend to have better, even native-like fluency. Approximately half of the Hakka in Taiwan do speak Taiwanese Hokkien. There are many families of mixed Hakka, Hoklo, and Aboriginal bloodlines. There is, however, a large percentage of people in Taiwan, regardless of their background, whose ability to understand and read written Taiwanese Hokkien is greater than their ability to speak it. This is the case with some singers who can sing Taiwanese songs with native-like proficiency, but can neither speak nor understand the language.

Which variant is used depends strongly on the context, and in general people will use Mandarin in more formal situations and Taiwanese Hokkien in more informal situations. Taiwanese Hokkien tends to get used more in rural areas, while Mandarin is used more in urban settings. Older people tend to use Taiwanese Hokkien, while younger people tend to use Mandarin. In the broadcast media where Mandarin is used in many genres, soap opera, variety shows, and even some news programs can also be found in Taiwanese Hokkien.

Sociolinguistics and gender

Taiwanese Hokkien is also perceived by some to have a slight masculine leaning, making it more popular among the males of the younger population. It is sometimes perceived as "unladylike" when spoken by the females of the younger population.

Special literary and art forms

Chhit-jī-á (literally, "that which has seven syllables") is a poetic meter where each verse has 7 syllables.

There is a special form of musical/dramatic performance koa-á-hì: the Taiwanese opera; the subject matter is usually a historical event. A similar form pò͘-tē-hì (glove puppetry) is also unique and has been elaborated in the past two decades into impressive televised spectacles.

See Taiwanese cuisine for names of several local dishes.

Bible translations

A collection of translations of the Bible in Taiwanese Hokkien. Top left, Today's Taiwanese version; top right, the Red-Cover Bible; bottom, Barclay's translation. Bibles in Taiwanese.jpg
A collection of translations of the Bible in Taiwanese Hokkien. Top left, Today’s Taiwanese version; top right, the Red-Cover Bible; bottom, Barclay's translation.

As with many other languages, the translations of the Bible in Taiwanese Hokkien marked milestones in the standardization attempts of the language and its orthography.

The first translation of the Bible in Amoy or Taiwanese Hokkien in the pe̍h-ōe-jī orthography was by the first missionary to Taiwan, James Laidlaw Maxwell, with the New Testament Lán ê Kiù-chú Iâ-so͘ Ki-tok ê Sin-iok published in 1873 and the Old Testament Kū-iok ê Sèng Keng in 1884.

A copy of Barclay's Amoy translation, opened to the Proverbs. Taiwanese Bible Chim-gian 1933.jpg
A copy of Barclay's Amoy translation, opened to the Proverbs.

The next translation of the Bible in Taiwanese Hokkien or Amoy was by the missionary to Taiwan, Thomas Barclay, carried out in Fujian and Taiwan. [52] [53] A New Testament translation was completed and published in 1916. The resulting work containing the Old and the New Testaments, in the pe̍h-ōe-jī orthography, was completed in 1930 and published in 1933 as the Amoy Romanized Bible (Pe̍h-ōe-jī:Sin-kū-iok ê Sèng-keng) (on Hokkien Wikipedia) . 2000 copies of the Amoy Romanized Bible were confiscated by the Taiwan Garrison from the Bible Society of Taiwan in 1975. This edition was later transliterated into Han characters and published as 聖經台語漢字本; Sèng-keng Tâi-gí Hàn-jī Pún (on Hokkien Wikipedia) in 1996. [54]

A page from the Red-Cover Bible. Ang-phoe Seng-keng te-571-bin.jpg
A page from the Red-Cover Bible.

The Ko-Tân (Kerygma) Colloquial Taiwanese Version of the New Testament (Sin-iok) in pe̍h-ōe-jī, also known as the Red Cover Bible  [ zh-min-nan ] (Âng-phoê Sèng-keng), was published in 1973 as an ecumenical effort between the Protestant Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and the Roman Catholic mission Maryknoll. This translation used a more modern vocabulary (somewhat influenced by Mandarin), and reflected the central Taiwan dialect, as the Maryknoll mission was based near Tâi-tiong. It was soon confiscated by the Kuomintang government (which objected to the use of Latin orthography) in 1975. The copies of the ecumenical NT are now available on the online stores.

A translation using the principle of functional equivalence, "Today's Taiwanese Romanized Version" (Hiān-tāi Tâi-gú Sin-iok Sèng-keng) (on Hokkien Wikipedia) , containing only the New Testament, again in pe̍h-ōe-jī, was published in 2008 [55] as a collaboration between the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and the Bible Society in Taiwan. A translation of the Old Testament, following the same principle, is being prepared. [56] [ needs update? ]

Another translation using the principle of functional equivalence, "Common Taiwanese Bible" (Choân-bîn Tâi-gí Sèng-keng), with versions of pe̍h-ōe-jī, Han characters and Ruby version (both Han characters and pe̍h-ōe-jī) was published in 2015, available in printed and online.


A decree (1955) banning the use of Peh-oe-ji, a Latin orthography for Taiwanese Hokkien, in church. Banning of POJ.gif
A decree (1955) banning the use of Pe̍h-ōe-jī, a Latin orthography for Taiwanese Hokkien, in church.

Until the 1980s, the use of Taiwanese Hokkien, along with all varieties other than Mandarin, was discouraged by the Kuomintang through measures such as banning its use in schools and limiting the amount of Taiwanese Hokkien broadcast on electronic media. These measures were removed by the 1990s, and Taiwanese Hokkien became an emblem of localization. Mandarin remains the predominant language of education, although there is a "mother tongue" language requirement in Taiwanese schools which can be satisfied with student's choice of mother tongue: Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, or aboriginal languages.

Although the use of Taiwanese Hokkien over Mandarin was historically part of the Taiwan independence movement, the linkage between politics and language is not as strong as it once was. Some fluency in Taiwanese Hokkien is desirable for political office in Taiwan for both independence and unificationist politicians. At the same time even some supporters of Taiwan independence have played down its connection with Taiwanese Hokkien in order to gain the support of the Mainlanders and Hakka people.

James Soong restricted the use of Taiwanese Hokkien and other local tongues in broadcasting while serving as Director of the Government Information Office earlier in his career, but later became one of the first politicians of Mainlander origin to use Taiwanese Hokkien in semi-formal occasions.[ improper synthesis? ] Since then, politicians opposed to Taiwanese independence have used it frequently in rallies, even when they are not native speakers. Conversely, politicians who have traditionally been identified with Taiwan independence have used Mandarin on formal occasions and semi-formal occasions such as press conferences. An example of the latter is former President Chen Shui-bian who uses Mandarin in all official state speeches, but uses mainly Taiwanese Hokkien in political rallies and some informal state occasions such as New Year greetings. The current President of Taiwan and of the (DPP), Tsai Ing-wen has been criticized by her supporters for not using Taiwanese Hokkien in speeches. [57] Former President Ma Ying-jeou spoke in Taiwanese Hokkien during his 2008 Double Ten Day speech when he was talking about the state of the economy in Taiwan.

In the early 21st century, there are few differences in language usage between the pro-reuinification leaning Pan-Blue Coalition and the independence leaning Pan-Green Coalition. Both tend to use Taiwanese Hokkien at political rallies and sometimes in informal interviews, and both tend to use Mandarin at formal press conferences and official state functions. Both also tend to use more Mandarin in Northern Taiwan and more Taiwanese Hokkien in Southern Taiwan. However, at official party gatherings (as opposed to both Mandarin-leaning state functions and Taiwanese-leaning party rallies), the DPP tends to use Taiwanese Hokkien while KMT and PFP tend to use Mandarin. The Taiwan Solidarity Union, which advocates a strong line on Taiwan independence, tends to use Taiwanese Hokkien even in formal press conferences. In speaking, politicians will frequently code switch. In writing, almost everyone uses vernacular Mandarin which is further from Taiwanese, and the use of semi-alphabetic writing or even colloquial Taiwanese characters is rare. [58] [59]

Despite these commonalities, there are still different attitudes toward the relationship between Taiwanese and Mandarin. In general, while supporters of Chinese reunification believe that all languages used on Taiwan should be respected, they tend to believe that Mandarin should have a preferred status as the common working language between different groups. Supporters of Taiwanese independence tend to believe that either Taiwanese Hokkien should be preferred or that no language should be preferred.[ citation needed ]

In 2002, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a party with about 10% of the Legislative Yuan seats at the time, suggested making Taiwanese Hokkien a second official language. [60] This proposal encountered strong opposition not only from Mainlander groups but also from Hakka and aboriginal groups who felt that it would slight their home languages, as well as others including Hoklo who objected to the proposal on logistical grounds and on the grounds that it would increase ethnic tensions. Because of these objections, support for this measure is lukewarm among moderate Taiwan independence supporters, and the proposal did not pass.

In 2003, there was a controversy when parts of the civil service examination for judges were written in characters used only in Taiwanese Hokkien. [61] After strong objections, these questions were not used in scoring. As with the official-language controversy, objections to the use of Taiwanese Hokkien came not only from Mainlander groups, but also Hoklo, Hakka and aborigines. The Control Yuan later created a rule that only allowed Standard Mandarin characters on civil service exams. According to public opinion surveys in 2008, more people supported making English a second official language than Taiwanese Hokkien. [62]

In 2017, aboriginal languages were given official status in Taiwan, [63] as was the Hakka language. [64] As of 2018, English is planned to become an official language in Taiwan, [65] although this has not happened as of mid-2020. Taiwanese Hokkien is required for some activities but not others. For further information, see Languages of Taiwan.

Mother tongue movement

Taiwanization developed in the 1990s into a ‘mother tongue revival movement' aiming to save, preserve, and develop the local ethnic culture and language of Holo (Taiwanese Hokkien), Hakka, and aborigines. The effort to save declining languages has since allowed them to revive and flourish. In 1993, Taiwan became the first country in the world to implement the teaching of Taiwanese Hokkien in schools. By 2001, Taiwanese languages such as Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and aboriginal languages were taught in all Taiwanese schools. [66] [ failed verification ][ dubious ] Since the 2000s, elementary school students are required to take a class in either Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka or aboriginal languages. [67] [ failed verification ][ dubious ] In junior high this is usually an available elective. [68] Taiwan also has its own literary circle whereby Hokkien poets and writers compose poetry and literature in Taiwanese Hokkien on a regular basis.

As a result of the mother tongue movement, Taiwan has emerged as a significant cultural hub for Hokkien in the world in the 21st century. It also plans to be the major export center for Hokkien culture worldwide in the 21st century. [69]


Gong Shi Zhong Zhou Xin Wen (Tai Luo :Tiong-tau sin-bun) Gong Shi Tai Wan Min Nan Yu (Tai Wan Hua )Xin Wen De Xin Wen Biao Zhi .jpg
公視中晝新聞(台羅:Tiong-tàu sin-bûn)
Gong Shi An Shi Xin Wen (Tai Luo :Am-si sin-bun) Gong Shi Tai Wan Min Nan Yu (Tai Wan Hua )Xin Wen De Xin Wen logo.jpg
公視暗時新聞(台羅:Àm-sî sin-bûn)


Klöter's Written Taiwanese (cited below) has been described as "the most comprehensive English-language study of written Taiwanese". [70]

See also


  1. National language in Taiwan; [2] [3] [4] also statutory status in Taiwan as one of the languages for public transport announcements [5] and for the naturalization test. [6]
  2. They are the most common pronunciations while there is another one cited from OxfordDictionaries.com, /hˈkn/ , which is almost never used actually.

Words in native languages

  1. 1 2

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Taiwanese Mandarin Variety of Standard Chinese spoken in Taiwan

Taiwanese Mandarin, or Guoyu, is a variety of Mandarin Chinese and a national language of Taiwan. The core of its standard form is described in the dictionary Guoyu Cidian (國語辭典) maintained by the Ministry of Education of Taiwan. It is based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect together with the grammar of vernacular Chinese.

Pha̍k-fa-sṳ is an orthography similar to Pe̍h-ōe-jī and used to write Hakka, a variety of Chinese. Hakka is a whole branch of Chinese, and Hakka dialects are not necessarily mutually intelligible with each other, considering the large geographical region. This article discusses a specific variety of Hakka. The orthography was invented by the Presbyterian church in the 19th century. The Hakka New Testament published in 1924 is written in this system.

Languages of Taiwan

The languages of Taiwan consist of several varieties of languages under families of Austronesian languages and Sino-Tibetan languages spoken in Taiwan. The Formosan languages, a branch of Austronesian languages, have been spoken by the Taiwanese aborigines in Taiwan for thousands of years. Researches on historical linguistics recognize Taiwan as the Urheimat (homeland) of the whole Austronesian languages family owing to the highest internal variety of the Formosan languages. In the last 400 years, several waves of Chinese emigrations brought several different Sino-Tibetan languages into Taiwan. These languages include Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and Mandarin, which became the major languages of today's Taiwan and make Taiwan an important center of Hokkien pop and Mandopop.

Taiwanese kana

Taiwanese kana is a katakana-based writing system that was used to write Taiwanese Hokkien when the island of Taiwan was under Japanese rule. It functioned as a phonetic guide to hanzi, much like furigana in Japanese or Zhuyin fuhao in Chinese. There were similar systems for other languages in Taiwan as well, including Hakka and Formosan languages.

Amoy dialect

The Amoy dialect or Xiamen dialect, also known as Amoynese, Amoy Hokkien, Xiamenese or Xiamen Hokkien, is a dialect of Hokkien spoken in the city of Xiamen and its surrounding metropolitan area, in the southern part of Fujian province. Currently, it is one of the most widely researched and studied varieties of Southern Min. It has historically come to be one of the more standardized varieties. Most present-day publications in Southern Min are mostly based on this dialect.

Singaporean Hokkien is a local variant of the Hokkien language spoken in Singapore. In Chinese academic circles, this dialect is known as Singaporean Ban-lam Gu. It is closely related to the Southern Malaysian Hokkien (南馬福建話) spoken in Southern Malaysia, as well as to Riau Hokkien (廖內福建話) spoken in the Indonesian province of Riau. It also closely resembles Amoy spoken in Amoy, People's Republic of China, and Taiwanese Hokkien which is spoken in Taiwan, Republic of China.

Hokkien Language spoken in East Asia

Hokkien or Minnan (閩南語/闽南语), known as Quanzhang or Tsuan-Tsiang (泉漳) in linguistics, is a Southern Min language originating from the Minnan region in the south-eastern part of Fujian Province in Southeastern China and spoken widely there. It is also spoken widely in Taiwan, where it is usually known as Taiwanese or Holo, and by the Chinese diaspora in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia and by other overseas Chinese all over the world.

Quanzhou dialect

The Quanzhou dialect, also known as the Chin-chew dialect, is a dialect of Hokkien that is spoken in southern Fujian, in the area centered on the city of Quanzhou. Due to migration, variations of the Quanzhou dialect are spoken outside of Quanzhou, notably in Taiwan and many Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Zhangzhou dialect

The Zhangzhou dialect, also known as Changchew dialect or Changchow dialect, is a dialect of Hokkien spoken in southern Fujian province, centered on the city of Zhangzhou. It is the source of some former place names in English, including Amoy and Quemoy.

Bbánlám pìngyīm

Bbánlám Hōng'ggián Pìngyīm Hōng'àn, Bbánlám pìngyīm, Minnan pinyin or simply pingyim, is a romanization system for Hokkien Southern Min, in particular the Amoy (Xiamen) version of this language.

Written Hokkien Written form of the Hokkien language

Hokkien, a Min Nan variety of Chinese spoken in Southeastern China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, does not have a unitary standardized writing system, in comparison with the well-developed written forms of Cantonese and Vernacular Chinese (Mandarin). In Taiwan, a standard for Written Hokkien has been developed by the Republic of China Ministry of Education including its Dictionary of Frequently-Used Taiwan Minnan, but there are a wide variety of different methods of writing in Vernacular Hokkien. Nevertheless, vernacular works written in the Hokkien are still commonly seen in literature, film, performing arts and music.

Southern Peninsular Malaysian Hokkien

Southern Malaysian Hokkien is a local variant of the Min Nan Chinese variety spoken in Central and Southern Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Riau and Riau Islands

Taiwanese Phonetic Symbols is a system of phonetic notation for the transcription of Taiwanese languages, especially Taiwanese Hokkien. The system is designed by Professor Chu Chao-hsiang, a member of National Languages Committee in Taiwan, in 1946. The system is derived from Mandarin Phonetic Symbols by creating additional symbols for the sounds that do not appear in Mandarin phonology. It has been one of the officially promoted phonetic notation system by Taiwan's Ministry of Education.



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Cited sources

Further reading

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(As English language material on Taiwanese learning is limited, Japanese and German books are also listed here.)

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