Archive for the ‘Southern Min’ Category

Meet-up for people interested in the Taiwanese language

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
  • Where: The Artists’ Village, 7 Beiping East Road, Taipei (台北市北平東路7號)
  • When: Thursday 28th January, from 8pm

Anyone who is interesting in learning the Taiwanese language, or in swapping information and suggestions about it, will be welcome along.  I’ll be there, as will a couple of people who are currently taking classes, so they will be able to help out new learners with suggestions for schools and study materials.

A map of the venue:

View Larger Map

Taiwanese dictionaries – a (hopefully) comprehensive list

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Cover of the PumindianRecently I had cause to look for a bibliography of Taiwanese dictionaries, and was frustrated by the lack of consistent and comprehensive information available online. Having had a look in print too, it seemed that what I was looking for simply didn’t exist.  So, in a do-it-yourself spirit I’ve put together a list of 145 dictionaries, vocabularies and lexicons related to the Taiwanese language and its sister dialects in the Southern Min family, based initially on Henning Klöter’s general bibliography. I don’t claim this as a complete list, but it is more extensive than any other I have been able to find.

As will be evident from a cursory reading of the list, most of the entries were published after the end of the martial law period in Taiwan, beginning in the late 1980s.  There is a tremendous diversity of sources out there, and many have been put together by individuals rather than large editorial teams, published at their own cost as labours of love.

If you spot any errors or omissions, please feel free to contact me and I’ll update the list.  As usual with content from this site, it is available under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can reuse it as you see fit (though a hat-tip in this direction would be appreciated).

The Black-Bearded Bible Man

Monday, November 24th, 2008

A major production of an opera five years in the making is happening this week in Taipei.  The Black Bearded Bible Man is a bilingual English-Taiwanese production chronicling the life of the Reverend George Leslie Mackay (1844-1901), a Canadian missionary and one of the best-known foreigners in Taiwan’s history.

Mackay was responsible for founding Oxford College (now Aletheia University) in Tām-súi (Danshui), named after his home in Oxford County, modern-day Ontario.  The Mackay Memorial Hospital, reputedly one of the best in Taipei, is the successor institution to one started by Mackay, who started his ministry by pulling teeth and preaching in towns in the north of Taiwan.

The Canadian of Scottish extraction was a fiery character, dedicated to his cause and seemingly caring little for what others thought of him – something exemplified by his marriage to a local woman, Tuiⁿ Chhang-miâ (known as Minnie), which shocked both the Taiwanese community and the folks back home in Canada.

The part of Mackay is being played by Thomas Meglioranza, who is writing about the preparations (and experiences singing in a new language – Taiwanese) on his blog. The opera is running from 27th-30th November at the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center in Taipei.

Wa sai!: Penang Police Practice Profanities

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Ah, the joys of living in a multilingual country. Malaysian police in Penang (who are mostly ethnically Malay) are being trained in Hokkien swear words so they can recognise when the local Hokkien-lang are being less than courteous.

Story from

Reminds me of something I read about the arrival of Republic of China officials in the period immediately post-World War II. Various events had made the new arrivals unwelcome (carpet-bagging to feed the civil war in China and for personal gain, the February 28th massacre) and the longer-term residents were not shy about expressing their displeasure.

The standard term of abuse for the new arrivals (who generally could not understand Taiwanese) was ti-á (pig). However, the slandered Chinese soon caught on, forcing the locals to come up with new insults – eventually settling on kam-á (tangerine). Why? Because feast-day roast pigs in Taiwan had tangerines placed in their mouths.

MoE releases online Taiwanese dictionary (finally!)

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Unfortunately no time to look into this in depth at the moment, but the Taipei Times today detailed the announcement by the Ministry of Education in Taiwan of a new web-based dictionary for Taiwanese (referred to in the report as Hoklo):

After seven years of development, the Ministry of Education has completed the first official online dictionary for Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese).

The Online Taiwan Common Hoklo Dictionary test version contains 16,000 commonly used Hoklo terms and words in transliteration.

Ministry officials said the dictionary was very user-friendly and that non-Hoklo speakers could look up Hoklo phrases by keying in their Mandarin equivalent.


Users of the Hoklo dictionary can look up words by keying in headwords (“catchwords”), transliteration of the words and the words’ Mandarin equivalents through “fuzzy searches” or “focus searches,” Chen said.


Phonological differences and regional variations, including the two major variants — Chuanchou (泉州) and Changchou (漳州) — are also recognized by the dictionary, she said.

Yao Rongsong (姚榮松), chief editor of the ministry’s editing committee and a professor of Taiwanese literature at National Taiwan Normal University, said creating the dictionary was very time consuming because editors had to switch from the Taiwan Language Phonetic Alphabet they had initially used to Taiwanese romanization.

Hmm, I can’t believe that the switch from TLPA to Tai-lo was responsible for the project taking a long time. It would only take a day for a competent programmer to write a conversion program for their existing data.

Still, it’s great that this has finally seen the light of day. I’ll be interested to see whether it’s better than the 台文/華文線上辭典 – I’ll report back once I have had time to give it a thorough look-through.

Report taken from the Taipei Times: MOE launches first Hoklo-language online dictionary

Ministry of Education to create standardised Taiwanese exams

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

Last month the Taiwanese Ministry of Education (MoE) announced plans to create a system of standardised testing for Taiwanese.  The examinations, which will be outsourced to “competent organisations” are intended to be open to all, and will be divided into six grades: beginner, advanced beginner, intermediate, advanced intermediate, advanced, and professional.

Successful examinees will be awarded a certificate to proudly display their Taiwanese chops. No word on the form the written exam will take; President Ma Ying-jeou has previously expressed a preference for character-based study of Taiwanese, but it would be good if the candidates had a choice of writing in romanisation only (probably using the MoE-approved Tai-lo system).

Information is scant at the moment, with the MoE’s press release (Mandarin characters, Microsoft Word file) being more a statement of intent rather than a detailed run-down of how it’s going to work. Thanks to Mark of for the heads-up.

NCKU hosts Taiwanese Literature Study Program

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Taiwan’s second-highest ranked university, the National Cheng Kung University in Tâi-lâm (Tainan), is currently accepting applications for their 2008 Taiwanese Creative Literature Program. Two parallel classes will be run in Tâi-lâm and Ko-hiông (Kaohsiung) to offer applicants a choice of study locations.

The one requirement is a minimum of 36 hours or two credits worth of documented study in the field of Taiwanese language or literature – other than this restriction, the course is open to anyone, be they academics, writers or interested amateurs. The number of places is limited to 100 and the application deadline is January 20th.

The program will run from 21st-25th January in Tâi-lâm and 28th January to 1st February in Ko-hiông, covering topics including the Taiwanese novel, popular music and modern poetry. Anyone interested in taking part should see the course page on the NCKU website for more details.

E-mng (Xiamen) moves to protect Southern Min

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

xiamen-uni.jpgIn Ho̍k-kiàn (Fujian Province), the ancestral home of Southern Min (of which Taiwanese is one form), the local language is under pressure from the growth of Mandarin. In the past few decades the People’s Republic of China has pursued an aggressive campaign of Mandarinization, resulting in many areas which were formerly bastions of other Chinese languages (Min, Wu, Gan, Cantonese and more) becoming progressively stronger in Putonghua (Mandarin) and weaker in the local language.

A recent China News article raises some points which will seem very familiar to those who follow the demographics and trends of the Southern Min-speaking population in Taiwan.


In Xiamen City in the past few days a committee named the “Southern Min Language and Literature Academic Discussion Forum” has been convened by the Xiamen City Language Committee; the experts suggest a “tiered exam” system to help preserve Southern Min.

据香港大公报报 道,闽南话历史悠久,文化底蕴深厚,是东南部最早的汉语方言之一,被称为“古汉语活化石”,广泛的分布在闽南、台湾、潮汕、海南等地区。

According to Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao newspaper Southern Min has a long established history, bringing together a profound culture and South-Eastern China’s oldest Chinese topolect, which has been dubbed a “living fossil of Ancient Chinese” and is spoken in Southern Fujian, Taiwan, Chaoshan and Hainan, amongst other places.

随着普通话的推广 普及,越来越多的家庭关注新一代青少年的普通话教育,作为本土语言的闽南话逐渐被普通话所替代。

As a consequence of the proliferation of Putonghua more and more families are emphasising Putonghua education for youngsters, meaning that the language is gradually replacing Southern Min in the Min heartlands.

(My English translation is rough and ready, as always)

China’s record in protecting minority Chinese languages is just as poor as Taiwan’s and it remains to be seen whether this initiative will bear any fruit (and what exactly is a tiered system of testing supposed to do anyway?). It is both heartening that the problem is being recognised and worrying that Southern Min is under threat on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Photo: Xiamen University at night, by Miaobz.

¿Habla taiwanés? No problem for this costaricana…

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

costa-rican.jpgMost Taiwanese are surprised when a non-local speaks in decent Mandarin, so the shock when a foreigner opens their mouth and Taiwanese comes out is palpable. The United Daily News yesterday featured an article about a Costa Rican woman who married a Taiwanese man from Lâm-tâu (Nantou) and learned to speak the language.


Ten years ago Melissa came from Costa Rica with her husband to Lo̍k-kok [a town in Lâm-tâu County]. Now she has not only integrated in to local life, but also sells tea in fluent Taiwanese, confounding visitors who often remark, “How come this foreigner speaks better Taiwanese than me?”

The article also mentions that she has “little opportunity” to practice Mandarin, but that her ability in that language is improving too. In many small towns and villages in the countryside Taiwanese remains the language of preference, with most inhabitants being able to speak Mandarin to some degree as a result of formal education, but preferring to speak their native tongue.

Actually Taiwanese-speaking foreigners are not all that unusual, but the majority are South-East Asian spouses (particularly from Vietnam) who live outside the major cities and are therefore less visible both by virtue of their ethnicity and their location. In general they are expected to integrate, whereas “Westerners” are not. Most of the Westerners I have met who have a command of the language are current or former missionaries – an occupation in which speaking to people in the “language of their heart” is very important.

Incidentally Costa Rica was until this year one of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies, a fact which helped citizens of that country with regards to visas and immigration in to Taiwan.

Classic Taiwanese Film Festivals

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

taiwanese-film.jpgWork commitments mean I’m a bit behind on the news – one example being the recent Classic Taiwanese Film Festivals held in Tâi-pak (Taipei), Tâi-lâm (Tainan), Sin-tek (Xinzhu) and Phêⁿ-ô͘ (Penghu). The history of Taiwanese-language film is one marked by a long hiatus during the latter half of the martial law period (1945-1987) when the authorities decided to crack down on native language media (in favour of the National Language of the Republic of China, i.e. Mandarin).

When people talk of “classic” Taiwanese films, generally what is meant is the early part of Chinese Nationalist (KMT) rule in Taiwan, before the restrictive measures came in to place. Films produced towards the end of military rule are generally regarded as “modern”, possibly starting with Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s 1989 masterpiece “City of Sadness“, which was also the first major film to challenge the KMT’s version of history and openly discuss the events surrounding the 2-28 Incident.

Films on display at the recent festivals included 王哥柳哥遊台灣 (Wang and Liu Wander Taiwan), 舊情綿綿 (Neverending Memory) and 再見台北 (Goodbye Taipei), all from the late fifties or early sixties. Southern residents can still pick up DVDs of some of these classics at the National Taiwan Literature Museum (台文館) in Môa-tāu (Madou), Tâi-lâm (Tainan) County.

For those interested in finding out more about the impact of literature and moving pictures on Taiwan’s post-war cultural and political experience, June Yip’s Envisioning Taiwan: Fiction, Cinema, and the Nation in the Cultural Imaginary is highly recommended.

Sources: United Daily News and ETToday.