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Taiwanese language

Taiwanese (Tâi-oân-oē or Hō-ló-oē; 台語 Taiyü in Mandarin) is the variant of Hokkien which is spoken in Taiwan. It may also be seen as a language in the Sino-Tibetan family, or a dialect of the Chinese language. Recent work (by scholars such as Ekki Lu (http://ws.twl.ncku.edu.tw/hak-chia/l/lou-ek-ki/kongpah-oat.htm), Sakai Toru (, and Li Khin-hoan (http://ws.twl.ncku.edu.tw/hak-chia/l/li-khin-hoann/phok-su/phok-su.htm), based on former research by scholars such as Ong Iok-tek) has gone so far as to associate part of the deep structure (after Noam Chomsky) and basic vocabulary of this language with Austronesian and Tai language families; however, such claims are not without controversy.

This language is the home language for about 60 percent of the population of Taiwan, and native speakers of Taiwanese are known as Holo (Hō-ló) or Hoklo.

Table of contents

Description Taiwanese is similar to the speech of Fujian province from which most Taiwanese emigrated in the 17th to 19th century. As part of Hokkien, there is a colloquial version of Taiwanese and an academic version, which was originally developed in the 10th century. Academic Taiwanese was used at one time for formal writing, but is largely an extinct language.



Tone sandhi


Special pronouns for "we": "goán" and "lán"


Scripts and orthographies

In most cases, Taiwanese speakers write using Han characters as in Mandarin, although there are a number of special characters which are unique to Taiwanese and which are sometimes used in informal writing. In some situations, Taiwanese is written using a romanization system (Peh-oē-jī, "vernacular writing") developed by Presbyterian missionaries, who have been active in promoting the language. Recently there has been an increase in texts using a mixed orthography of Han characters and romanization, although these texts remain uncommon.

Special literary and art forms


Language code

The language is registered per RFC 3066 as zh-min-nan (http://www.iana.org/assignments/lang-tags/zh-min-nan) [1] (http://www.evertype.com/standards/iso639/iana-lang-assignments).

Unicode problems



Most people in Taiwan can speak both Mandarin and Taiwanese although the degree of fluency varies widely. Which variation used depends strongly on the context and in general people will use Mandarin in more formal situations and Taiwanese in more informal situations. Taiwanese tends to get used more in rural areas, while Mandarin is used more in urban settings particularly in Taipei.

Conceptualization and history

The conceptualization of Taiwanese is more controversial than most variations of Chinese because at one time it marked a clear division between the Mainlanders which arrived in 1949 and the pre-existing majority native Taiwanese. Although the divisions between the two groups, both political and linguistic, have blurred considerably the political issues surround it have been more controversial and sensitive than other variations of Chinese.

The history of Taiwanese and the interaction with Mandarin is complex and at times controversial. Even the name is somewhat controversial. Some dislike the name Taiwanese as they feel that it belittles other variations of speech such as Mandarin, Hakka, and the aboriginal languages which are spoken on Taiwan. Others prefer the name Min-nan or Hokkien as this views Taiwanese as a variant of the speech which is spoken on Fujian province in Mainland China. Others dislike the name Min-nan and Hokkien for precisely the same reason. One can get into similar controversial debates as to whether Taiwanese is a language or a dialect.


Until the 1980s, the use of Taiwanese was discouraged by the Kuomintang on Taiwan through measures such as banning its use in schools and limiting the amount of Taiwanese broadcasting on electronic media.

These measures were removed by the 1990s, and Taiwanese became an emblem of localization. Mandarin remains the predominant language of education, although there is a local language requirement in Taiwanese schools which can be satisfied with Taiwanese, Hakka, or aboriginal languages.

Although the use of Taiwanese over Mandarin is part of the Taiwan independence movement, the linkage between politics and language is not as strong as it once was. Politicians who are anti-Taiwan independence have also started to use it frequently in rallies even when they are not native speakers of the language and speak it badly, and conversely politicians who have traditionally been identified with Taiwan independence have used Mandarin on formal occasions.

In 2002, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a party with about 10% of the parliamentary seats at time, suggested making Taiwanese a second official language. 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 who objected to the proposal on logistic grounds and on the grounds that it would increase ethnic tensions.


  • Campbell, William. E-mng-im Sin Ji-tian (Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular). Tainan, Taiwan: Tai-oan Kau-hoe Kong-po-sia (Taiwan Church Press, Presbyterian Church in Taiwan). 1993-06 (First published 1913-07).
  • Iâu Chèng-to. Cheng-soán Peh-oē-jī (Concise Colloquial Writing). Tainan, Taiwan: Jin-kong (an imprint of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan). 1992.
  • Tân, K. T. A Chinese-English Dictionary: Taiwan Dialect. Taipei: Southern Materials Center. 1978.
  • Maryknoll Language Service Center. English-Amoy Dictionary. Taichung, Taiwan: Maryknoll Fathers. 1979.
  • Tiunn Ju-hong, Principles of Peh-oe-ji or the Taiwanese Orthography: an introduction to its sound-symbol correspondences and related issues. Taipei: Crane Publishing, 2001. ISBN 957-2053-07-8

External links

  • Ethnologue Report For Chinese Min-Nan (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=CFR). This report uses a classification which considers Taiwanese a variant of Min-Nan which is classified as a dialect of Chinese. This view of Taiwanese is controversial for the political reasons mentioned above.
  • Lomaji.com (http://lomaji.com/). Resources for Taiwanese language(s).
  • Open Directory (dmoz): World: Taiwanese (http://dmoz.org/World/Taiwanese/)
  • Travlang (language resources for travellers): Hō-ló-oē (http://travlang.com/languages/cgi-bin/langchoice.cgi?page=main&lang1=english&lang2=holooe)
  • TLH ( an organization promoting Peh-oē-jī and other latinized (romanized) orthographies for languages in Taiwan

In English, the phrase Taiwanese languages is also sometimes used refer to the Austronesian languages spoken by the aborigines of the island. Some use the phrase Formosan (aboriginal) languages for clarity.

The phrase Taiwanese language is also sometimes incorrectly used to refer to Mandarin which remains the sole official spoken language of the island and is spoken fluently by about 80% of Taiwanese. The precise reference to that language should be Taiwanese (dialect of) Mandarin (Chinese).

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