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Taiwanese (Tâi-oân-oē or Hō-ló-oē; Chinese: 台語, 台灣話 or 福佬話; Hanyu Pinyin: Táiyǔ or Táiwānhuà) is a language spoken fluently by about 60% of the population of Taiwan. The subethnic group in Taiwan for which Taiwanese is considered a native language is known as Holo (Hō-ló) or Hoklo; the correspondence between language and ethnicity is not absolute, however, as some Holo speak Taiwanese poorly while some non-Holo speak Taiwanese fluently.
Taiwanese is the variant of Min-nan which is spoken in Taiwan. Taiwanese is often seen as a Chinese dialect within a larger Chinese language. On the other hand, it may also be seen as a language in the Sino-Tibetan family. As with most "language or dialect?" distinctions, how one describes Taiwanese depends largely on one's political views (see Chinese dialect: Manifestations of language differentiation). In any case, the classification may be represented hierarchically as:
Taiwanese is similar to the speech of the southern part of Fujian because most Taiwanese have ancestors who migrated from there in the 17th to 19th centuries. As a branch of Min-nan, there are both a colloquial version and a literary version of Taiwanese. The literary version, which was originally developed in the 10th century in Fujian and based on Middle Chinese, was brought to Taiwan by the migrants. Literary Taiwanese was used at one time for formal writing, but is now largely extinct.
Recent work by scholars such as Ekki Lu, Sakai Toru, 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 language with the Austronesian and Tai language families; however, such claims are not without controversy.
Phonetically, Taiwanese is a tonal language with extensive tone sandhi rules. Syllables consist maximally of an initial consonant, a vowel, a final consonant, and a tone; any or all of the consonants or vowels may be nasal.
There are the following consonants:
There are the following vowels
a e i o o· u m ng
The vowel o is akin to a schwa; in contrast, o· is more open. 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, and many other languages.
There are 7 tones. In the traditional analysis, the tones are numbered from 1 to 8; in Taiwanese, tones 2 and 6 are the same. For example, the syllable a in each of the 7 distinct tones are
- a; high level
- á; falling
- à; low level
- ah; low stopped
- â; rising
- tone number 2 is repeated; there is no tone number 6 per se
- ā; middle level
- a̍h; high stopped
Conventional linguistic analysis describes the tones on a five-point scale, with 1 being the lowest pitch and 5 the highest. Here, the tones are shown following the traditional tone class categorization above, and are correlated with the tones of Middle Chinese (shown in Han characters, last column below):
- 44; yin level (陰平)
- 51; rising (上聲)
- 31; yin departing (陰去)
- 3; yin entering (陰入)
- 24; yang level (陽平)
- (tone 2 repeated)
- 33; yang departing (陽去)
- 5; yang entering (陽入)
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.
A tone number 0, typically written with a double dash (--) before the syllable with this tone, is used to denote the extent of a verb action, the end of a noun phrase, etc.
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.
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; m, n, and ng (and some consider h) may appear at the end of a syllable. Therefore, it is possible to have syllables such as ngiau ("(to) itch") and thng ("soup"). Incidentally, both of these example syllables are nasal: the first has a nasal initial consonant; the second a nasal vowel.
Compare with Hangul.
Taiwanese has extremely extensive tone sandhi (tone-changing) rules: in an utterance, only the last syllable pronounced is not affected by the rules. What an 'utterance' is, in the context of this language, is an ongoing topic for linguistic research. For the purpose of this article, an utterance may be considered a word, a phrase, or a short sentence. 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 the last in an utterance):
- 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 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.
See the work by Tiuⁿ Jū-hông and Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung in the References, and the work by Robert L. Cheng (Tēⁿ Liông-úi) of the University of Hawaii, for modern linguistic approaches to tones and tone sandhi in Taiwanese.
Modern linguistic studies (by Robert L. Cheng and Chin-An Li, for example) estimate that except for a small but sizeable fraction (10 % to 25 %), most Taiwanese words have cognates in other Chinese languages. False friends do exist; for example, cháu means "to run" in Taiwanese, rather than the meaning of its cognate zǒu, meaning "to walk" in Mandarin. Moreover, cognates may have different lexical categories; for example, the morpheme phīⁿ means not only "nose" (a noun, as in Mandarin bí) 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 (person, concrete) vs. jîn (人, person, abstract); cha-bó· (woman) vs. lú-jîn (女人, woman, literary); chi-bai (vagina (vulgar)) vs. im-tō (陰道, vagina). Unlike the English Germanic/Latin contrast, however, the two groups of Taiwanese 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. Although a small percentage of the vocabulary, their usage tends to be high-frequency because of their relevance to modern society and popular culture. Examples are: o·-tó·-bái (from オートバイ ootobai "motorcycle") and pháng (from パン pan "bread," which is itself a loanword from Portuguese). Grammatical particles borrowed from Japanese, notably te̍k (from teki 的) and ka (from か), show up in the Taiwanese of older speakers.
Whereas Mandarin attaches a syllabic suffix to the singular pronoun to make a collective form, Taiwanese 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 sub-syllabic morpheme . Like all other Chinese languages, Taiwanese does not have true plurals.
Unlike English, there are two types of pronouns for "we" or "us" in Taiwanese. This distinction is called inclusive, which includes the listener, and exclusive, which excludes the listener. For example, goán is "us [excluding you]", and lán is "us [including you]." 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?", meaning "where do you live?'.
The grammar of Taiwanese is similar to southern Chinese dialects and akin to Hakka and Cantonese. The sequence 'subject verb object' is typical as in (say) 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"), lí ("you").
- Subject verb object (typical sequence): The sentence in the typical sequence would be: Goá phō lí. ("I hold you.")
- Subject kā object verb: Another sentence of roughly equivalent meaning is Goá kā lí phō, with the slight connotation of "I take you and hold" or "I get to you and hold."
- Object hō· subject verb (the passive voice): Then, Lí hō· goá phō means the same thing but in the passive voice, with the connotation of "You allow yourself to be held by me" or "You make yourself available for my holding."
With this, more complicated sentences can be constructed: Goá kā chúi hō· 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 grammar, for flavour. Linguistic work on the syntax of Taiwanese is still a (quite nascent) scholarly topic being explored.
Scripts and orthographies
In most cases, Taiwanese speakers write using the script called 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. 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. Mandarin-Taiwanese bilingual speakers sometimes attempt to represent the sounds by adopting similar-sounding Mandarin Han characters. For example, the Han characters of the (crude) phrase 看三小 (khoàⁿ sáⁿ siâu) has very little meaning in Mandarin and may not be readily understood by a Taiwanese monolingual, as knowledge of Mandarin character readings is required to fully decipher it. In some situations, Taiwanese is written using a romanized orthography with the Latin alphabet (Pe̍h-oē-jī, "vernacular writing") 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. Other Latin-based orthographies exist, the more significant being TLPA (Taiwanese Language Phonetic Alphabet), Modern Literal Taiwanese, and Tongyong Pinyin.
In Pe̍h-oē-jī, the traditional list of letters is
- a b ch chh e g h i j k kh l m n ng o o· 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 ⁿ (superscript n; the capital form is seldom used), and the tonal diacritics.
When writing Taiwanese 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 nï¿½m, 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 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 N2713). Font support is expected to follow.
Within the wider Min-nan (Hō-ló-oē) speaking community in Southeast Asia, Amoy (Xiamen) is historically the variant of prestige (close to a 'standard language'), with other major variants from Choâⁿ-chiu (Chinchew or Quanzhou in Fujian), Chiang-chiu (Changchew or Zhangzhou in Fujian), and Tiô-chiu (Teochew or Chaozhou in Guangdong).
In Taiwan, however, the Tâi-lâm (Tainan, southern Taiwan) speech is the variant of prestige, and the other major variants are the northern speech, the central speech (near Taichung and the port town of Lo̍k-káng in Changhua County), and the northern (northeastern) coastal speech (dominant in Gî-lân). 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 between 'i' and 'u', which may be represented as 'ö'.
Most people in Taiwan can speak both Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese although the degree of fluency varies widely. There are however significant numbers of people in Taiwan (roughly 20 to 30 percent of the population of Taiwan), mainly but not exclusively Hakka and Mainlanders, who cannot speak Taiwanese at all, as well as large numbers of people (roughly 10 to 20 percent of the population), mainly people born before the 1950's, who cannot speak Mandarin at all. Urban, working-class Hakkas as well as younger, southern-Taiwan Mainlanders tend to have better, even native-like fluency.
Which variant is 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. Older people tend to use Taiwanese, while younger people tend to use Mandarin. In the broadcast media, soap opera/dramas and variety shows tend to use Taiwanese, while game shows and documentaries tend to use Mandarin.
Special literary and art forms
There is a special form of musical/dramatic performance koa-á-hì ("Taiwanese opera"); the subject matter is usually a historical event. A similar form of puppetry, pò·-tē-hì ("Taiwanese 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.
Conceptualization and history
In the 18th and 19th centuries, civil unrest and armed conflicts were frequent in Taiwan. In addition to resistance against the government (both Chinese and Japanese), battles between ethnic groups were also significant: the belligerent usually grouped around the language they use. History recorded battles between the Hakka and the Taiwanese-language speakers; between these and the aborigines; and between those who spoke the Choâⁿ-chiu variant of what became the Taiwanese language and those who spoke the Chiang-chiu variant.
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 variants 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 variants 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 through measures such as banning its use in schools and limiting the amount of Taiwanese broadcast 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 was historically part of the Taiwan independence movement, the linkage between politics and language is not as strong as it once was. Fluency in Taiwanese has become a de facto requirement 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 language in order to gain the support of the Mainlanders and Hakka.
James Soong restricted the use of Taiwanese 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 Mainlander politicians to use Taiwanese in semi-formal occasions. Since then, politicians opposed to Taiwan independence have used it frequently in rallies even when they are not native speakers of the language and speak it badly. 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 President Chen Shui-bian who uses Mandarin in all official state speeches, but uses Taiwanese in political rallies and some informal state occasions such as New Year greetings, although in the latter case he never uses Taiwanese exclusively.
In the early 21st century, there are few differences in language usage between the anti-independence leaning Pan-Blue Coalition and the independence leaning Pan-Green Coalition. Both tend to use Taiwanese 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 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 while KMT and PFP tend to use Mandarin. The Taiwan Solidarity Union, which advocates a strong line on Taiwan independence, tends to use Taiwanese even in formal press conferences. In speaking, politicians will frequently code switch. In writing, almost everyone uses vernacular Mandarin which is farther from Taiwanese, and the use of semi-alphabetic writing or even colloquial Taiwanese characters is rare.
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 Taiwan independence tend to believe that either Taiwanese should be preferred or that no language should be preferred.
In 2002, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, a party with about 10 % of the Legislative Yuan seats at the 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 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 it appears very unlikely to pass.
In 2003, there was a controversy when parts of the civil service examination for judges were written in characters used only in Taiwanese. After strong objections, these questions were not used in scoring. As with the official-language controversy, objections to the use of Taiwanese came not only from Mainlander groups, but also Hakka and aborigines.
(As not too much English literature is available on learning Taiwanese, also Japanese and German books are listed here.)
- Bodman, Nicholas C.: Spoken Taiwanese with Cassette(s), 1980/2001, ISBN 0879504617 or ISBN 0879504609 or ISBN 0879504625
- Campbell, William: Ē-mn̂g-im Sin Jī-tián (Dictionary of the Amoy Vernacular). Tainan, Taiwan: Tâi-oân Kàu-hoē Kong-pò-siā (Taiwan Church Press, Presbyterian Church in Taiwan). 1993-06 (First published 1913-07).
- Iâu Chèng-to: Cheng-soán Pe̍h-oē-jī (Concise Colloquial Writing). Tainan, Taiwan: Jîn-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.
- Tiuⁿ Jū-hông: Principles of Pe̍h-oē-jī or the Taiwanese Orthography: an introduction to its sound-symbol correspondences and related issues. Taipei: Crane Publishing, 2001. ISBN 957-2053-07-8
- Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung: Tone Change in Taiwanese: Age and Geographic Factors.
- 樋口 靖: 台湾語会話, 2000, ISBN 4497200043 (Good and yet concise introduction to the Taiwanese language in Japanese; CD: ISBN 449720006X)
- 趙 怡華: はじめての台湾, 2003, ISBN 4756906656 (In Japanese: Introduction to Taiwanese and Chinese)
- Katharina Sommer, Xie Shu-Kai, Xie Shu-Kai: Taiwanisch Wort für Wort, 2004, ISBN 389416348 (Taiwanese for travellers, in German. CD: ISBN 3831760942)
- Taiwanese learning resources (a good bibliography in English) (Google cache as a web page)
- Taiwanese Minnan Hua (Nursery rhymes and songs in Han characters and romanization w/ recordings in MP3)
- Hoklo.orgexplores the Austro-Tai roots of Taiwanese.
- Learn Taiwanese by James Campbell. The orthography used appears to be slightly modified Pe̍h-oē-jī.
- Ethnologue Report For Chinese Min-Nan. This report uses a classification which considers Taiwanese a dialect of Min-Nan, which is classified as a separate language from Mandarin. This view of Taiwanese is controversial for the political reasons mentioned above.
- Lomaji.com. Resources for Taiwanese language(s).
- Open Directory (dmoz): World: Taiwanese
- Travlang (language resources for travellers): Hō-ló-oē
- TLH: an organization promoting Pe̍h-oē-jī and other latinized (romanized) orthographies for languages in Taiwan
- Daiwanway: Tutorial, dictionary, and stories in Taiwanese. Uses a unique romanization system, different from Pe̍h-oē-jī. Includes sound files.
- Taiwanese language culture promotion
- Summary of pronunciation of Church Romanization according to International Phonetic Alphabet
Formosan (aboriginal) languages
In English, the phrase Taiwanese languages is also sometimes used to refer to the Austronesian languages spoken by the aborigines of the island. Some use the phrase Formosan (aboriginal) languages for clarity. See the article Formosan languages for details.
Taiwanese (dialect of) Mandarin (Chinese)
The phrase Taiwanese language is also sometimes incorrectly used to refer to Mandarin, which remains the de facto official spoken language of the Republic of China and is spoken fluently by about 80 % of Taiwanese. Mandarin Chinese as spoken informally in Taiwan has some differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation with the formal standard for Mandarin. The differences are on the order of the difference between American English and British English. Many modern linguists refer to this variation of Mandarin as the Taiwanese (dialect of) Mandarin (Chinese) (台灣華語) in their scholarly papers.
As a gesture of equality, some propose that all languages prevalent in or special to Taiwan should be collectively referred to as Taiwanese languages; this would include all alternative meanings referred to in this article, plus Hakka and perhaps Japanese and English.
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