Archive for November, 2007

Typing Taiwanese – OpenVanilla 0.8 smoothes the way

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

ovlogo128.pngBeing a both a Mac user and someone who is learning Taiwanese I find OpenVanilla indispensable as an Input Method for entering the Peh-oe-ji (POJ) romanization. Version 0.7, which I was using before, had a number of small issues which made everyday use a little frustrating. Most serious of these was the failure of certain accented characters to display correctly in some applications, such as TextEdit and Address Book.

Happily these problems have been addressed with the next-generation version of OpenVanilla (0.8). I have been using the new version for a couple of weeks and am very happy to see that the POJ functions work smoothly and resulting characters display correctly. I realise that by only using OpenVanilla for Taiwanese input I’m probably missing a trick, as it offers a broad range of input options for Chinese characters, Japanese, Tibetan and Unicode characters. However, my choice for entering Chinese characters (not POJ) is still the wonderful Quickcore Input Method (US$20) – it has a very large lead over OpenVanilla and this is something which is not likely to change soon.

For Taiwanese POJ input OpenVanilla offers an excellent solution – and best of all, it’s available for absolutely nothing under the new BSD license (although I know donations are greatly appreciated!). OpenVanilla runs on OS X, Windows XP/Vista and Linux distributions, although I haven’t had time yet to test it out with the latter. It’s now the best input method available on any operating system for Peh-oe-ji.

Prize-winning foreign students of Taiwanese

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

The Taipei Times has an article today on a competition organised by a Taiwanese chapter of the Rotary Club:

For Tokuya Kumagai, learning Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) is the best way for him to show his passion for the country.

“I want to learn Hoklo because I love Taiwan,” he said yesterday in faultless Hoklo after only studying for three months.

Kumagai was one of the 45 contestants from 14 countries, including Slovenia, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Macedonia, the UK, Vietnam and the US, to compete yesterday in the 12th annual Mandarin and Taiwanese Speech Contest for Foreign Students held by Rotary Club district 3250.

“I believe speaking Hoklo is the most direct way for me to really understand the country and its people,” he said, adding he would also recommend that his friends in Japan come to Taiwan to learn Mandarin.

Faultless Taiwanese after three months? I need to find out who his teacher is…

The full article is available via the Taipei Times Web site.

What the f*** is the Republic of China?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

tu-kuo.jpgAs any intrepid Taiwanese reporter knows, on a slow news day it’s worth sticking a microphone in the face of the Minister for Education, Tu Cheng-sheng, to see what he might blurt out. The plainspoken Tu has gained a reputation for his gaffes, such as getting CNN and the NCC (National Communications Council) mixed up and losing his temper over press questions about his son, while he has also made the headlines for wanting to turn the map of Taiwan sideways in official textbooks and assaulting a cameraman. He also gets more than his fair share of abuse from the opposing parties, for whom he is the person in government they most love to hate (after the president, of course).

This time, however, he hasn’t said anything daft or hit anyone. The reason he is in the news currently is a rebuke he gave to Kuo Su-chun, a female legislator from the opposition KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) in the Legislative Yuan. The exchange went as follows:




Tu: Today you are representing…

Kuo: What the oan2-ko1 are you talking about?

Tu: You shouldn’t say oan2-ko1 – it’s unpleasant. You don’t know Taiwanese – I’m telling you, ladies shouldn’t say that – for a woman to use this word sounds very unpleasant.

Now, ignoring for a moment both the fact that chauvinism is alive and well in Taiwan (certain words aren’t “ladylike”) and that interrupting speeches is par for the course here – this characterisation of oan2-ko1 as vulgar caused some controversy. The standard meaning of the word is a kind of small steamed rice cake, but local station TVBS wheeled out a Taiwanese writer, Iun Chhen-chhak, who attested that the word is indeed coarse – he explained the secondary meaning as “semen”. TVBS however took this question to the streets, comparing oan2-ko1 with another (reasonably mild) Taiwanese obscenity, khau3 iau1 (“crying over your empty belly”), to see which the general public found more offensive – khau3 iau1 won hands down.

Not only did most people not think oan2-ko1 was all that bad according to TVBS, but the network (no friend of the ruling DPP) also dug out a recording of President Chen Shui-bian using the same phrase in a speech about the status of the Republic of China:

Tiong1-hoa5 Bin5-kok4 si7 sahn1-mih4 oan2-ko1?

Taking the side of the writer mentioned above, who deems the phrase most offensive, this would be translated as “What the fuck is the Republic of China?”, but the view of the average Taiwanese speaker (including a quick straw poll of my colleagues) seems to be that it is in fact rather mild, if a bit low-class – something akin to “What the heck is the Republic of China?” In as much as a language is defined by its users, the opinion of the people beats out the opinion of the experts here, to my mind. Although perhaps it just shows that Minister Tu is more educated than the rest of us after all.

In English too, a term with rather offensive origins can end up as an imprecation mild enough that it’s no longer considered vulgar – a good example being “poppycock”, which is apparently derived from a 19th century Dutch dialect term meaning “soft shit”.

Conversations from a Different Era

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Cover of While browsing in the Southern Materials Center bookshop near the National Taiwan University campus the other day, I found an interesting textbook that has probably been sat on the same shelf for a good few years. The first thing that caught my eye was the Chinese title “中國 閩南語對話”; word-for-word “China Southern Min Dialogues”. The English title hammers home the same message; “Chinese Dialogues in the Amoy Vernacular”; despite the big image of Taiwan, the implication is clear that we are talking about Chinese (linguistically and politically).

In the front of the book is the ROC national anthem in Chinese characters, Peh-oe-ji romanized Taiwanese and Mandarin romanized according to the Yale system. Also at the beginning of the book are short biographies of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, who at the time of printing was the president (which, along with photos throughout the book, helps place the release date in the late 60s or early 70s). The biographies were required material for the book to pass official muster at the time, and naturally present a very uncritical aspect of the then president:

Tiong-hôa Bîn-kok Chóng-thóng, Chiúⁿ-tiong-chèng, jÄ« Kài-se̍k (1887, 10, 31 – ) sÄ« chòe úi-tāi ê hóan-kiōng léng-siÅ« ê chi̍t ê. Kok-hÅ« kòe-sin liáu-āu, léng-tō kek-bÄ“ng, cho͘-chit Kok-bîn Chèng-hú, thóng-it chôan-kok, chhui-hêng Sam-bîn-chú-gÄ«, iōng Ki-tok ê cheng-sîn ài-hō͘ kok-bîn, Só͘-í kok-bîn lóng chheng-ho͘ i “Lāu-tōa-lâng”.

Republic of China President Chiang Chung-cheng, courtesy name Kai-shek (1887.10.31 – ) is the greatest of anti-communist leaders. After the death of the Father of the Nation [Sun Yat-sen] he has led the revolution, organised the Republican government, united the country [China], upheld the Three Principles of the People [Sun’s political philosophy] and used the spirit of Jesus to love his people, so the people all call him “venerable grandfather”.

The dialogues were produced by a group of western churches for use in educating their missionaries in Taiwan, so prominent mention is made of the Christian faith of both Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen. Many of the dialogues too are oriented towards mission work, with discussions of the nature of faith and the path to salvation, as well as the more mundane tasks of posting a letter and buying a train ticket. Illustrated with a fair number of black and white photographs, the book provides a fascinating insight in to life in Taiwan in the late 60s.