Using CSS to display Peh-oe-ji correctly

December 6th, 2009

Times were that I was asking everyone who visited this site to download fonts in order to view the content properly. However, growing support for web fonts (in CSS3) means that many visitors with up-to-date web browsers are able to see the fonts I choose, even if those fonts are not installed on their computers. This is great for displaying Pe̍h-ōe-jī (the Taiwanese romanization used throughout the site) and Taiwanese Phonetic Symbols (Bopomofo for Taiwanese).

The following browsers are supported:

  • Firefox 3.5 and above
  • Opera 10 and above
  • Safari 3.1 and above

Support is also available in Google’s Chrome browser, but is disabled in the current version due to a security review. The developers are aiming to to reinstate support in time for version 4.0.  To check how your browser works with Taiwanese text, visit the fonts page.

Together users of the browsers listed above made up 47% of visitors in the August to October period, so hopefully this update should make life a little bit easier for many visitors here. I would encourage users who don’t have one of the above browsers to either upgrade, or install one or more of the fonts listed on the fonts page.

For those of you interested in the technical details, this is how it works. Read the rest of this entry »

Site redesigned and back online

December 5th, 2009

After a while without adding any new content, I’ve decided to update the design and add some features to the site.  In addition to the updated look of the site, there are a couple of additions worth pointing out.  The first is a sitemap to allow visitors to locate the information they are looking for.  Shortly I’ll be bringing a site search online too. There’s a new image gallery with photos relevant to the language, which at the moment contains only a few images, but which will grow as time goes on.

The other notable addition will not be immediately obvious to many visitors, as it’s more of a “behind the scenes” change.  Previously I asked visitors to install a special font in order to view the romanised Taiwanese used throughout the website, but advances in browser capabilities mean that users of the latest versions of Firefox, Opera, and Safari will not need to do this, as their browser will automatically download and display the correct font. I’ll be writing a full blog post on this aspect of the redesign in the near future, including the technical details.

Tailingua is now also on Twitter, which will be used for quick updates that don’t require a full blog post. At some point I’ll be integrating the Twitter feed into the sidebar on this site.

Hope you like the changes and I’ll be glad to hear any opinions you have on the redesign.

Taiwanese Audio Phrasebook for the iPhone

November 14th, 2009

An enterprising programmer has developed an app for the iPhone to help English speakers with Taiwanese. The software, created by Gene Ko and called simply “Taiwanese“, includes a vocabulary training section and a self-test facility. It’s listed on my (British) iTunes at £3.99, but I don’t have exact prices in Taiwan or US dollars (£4 is just over NT$200 or about $6.60 American). Another thing I don’t have, unfortunately, is an iPhone, so I can’t offer a report on this application.  If anyone out there has tried it, please feel free to leave a comment.

The Year without a Post

November 14th, 2009

Almost whole year has passed by since I last posted anything here… oops. I’ve been busy getting my business off the ground, writing unpublishable books and various other frippery. Anyhow, this inexcusable situation cannot be allowed to continue – new stuff coming up, including a redevelopment of the website itself and new content.

That is… if there’s anyone still reading.

The Black-Bearded Bible Man

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

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!)

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

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.

Penang Hokkien in Decline?

July 16th, 2008

With recent depressing stories concerning the trouble that Southern Min is in, both in Taiwan and China, it’s no surprise to discover an article documenting the same issue in Malaysia.

Malaysian newspaper The Star published a story today entitled Penang Hokkien in Peril:

Penang Hokkien may become extinct if no effort is made to preserve and encourage the young to speak the dialect. This is the observation of author Tan Choon Hoe who has written two books Learn to Speak PHD-Penang Hokkien Dialect and Penang Hokkien Dialect (PHD) for Penangites and Tourists to promote the dialect.

Tan, 47, who teaches English and Hokkien here, described the dialect as the essence of George Town and a part of its heritage.

He lamented the fact that Chinese children here spoke very little Hokkien nowadays.

“Parents would usually speak to their children in English or Mandarin and the only chance for the kids to learn Hokkien is from their grandparents, if they are still around,” Tan added.

With the apathy of both the people and the governments in all areas where Southern Min is spoken, the future is looking less than rosy for the language.  Indeed Singapore actively discourages the use of “dialects” with its Speak Mandarin campaign, leading to a decline there in the usage of not only Hokkien, but also Cantonese and Teochew (潮州話; Tiô-chiu-oÄ“) – a dialect which is usually classed as part of the Southern Min language but is in fact almost completely unintelligible to speakers of Amoy Hokkien or Taiwanese.

Doctor! Quick, give me some Number Four!

May 21st, 2008

An enterprising NTU medical student has decided that his medical Taiwanese was so lacking that he has put together a book to help himself and others like him talk to patients in the language.

A Formosa Television piece on Chu Chú-hông highlights the difference between medical vocabulary in Mandarin and Taiwanese:


The examples given include “oxygen”, which many Taiwanese know as sng-sò͘ (which is a loan word from Japanese) rather than ióng-khì, which is a direct transliteration of the Mandarin yÇŽng-qì (氧氣). The article also mentions “heroin”, which in Mandarin is a sound-loan from English (hÇŽiluòyÄ«n), and states that the Taiwanese is sì-hō-á, literally Number Four Stuff. However, my dictionary has sì-hō-á as “amphetamine”, not “heroin” (which it gives as either hái-lo̍k-eng or hái-lo̍k-in, loaned from English, as the Mandarin is). I’ve no idea who is correct, but I’m inclined to trust the dictionary first.

The article also mentions Chu’s handbook as “the first in Taiwan”, whereas in fact medical manuals in Taiwanese romanization can be found dating back to the Japanese era.