17th Century Holo dictionary discovered at the Philippines' University of Santo Tomas


Academia Sinica recently released their findings of the 17th century Spanish dictionary of the Holo language, specifically Tsiang-tsiu-uē.

The dictionary is called Vocabulario de la Lengua Chio Chiu, and it was written between 1626 to 1642, which coincided with the Spanish occupation of Northern Taiwan.

There are several Taiwan locale names that can be found in the dictionary, such as Pag Cang (北港, Beigang, Pak-káng, Yunlin county), Quey Lang (雞籠, or 基隆 today, Jilong, Ke-lang), Tam Chuy (淡水, Danshui, Tām-tsuí).

There is also an entry for firefly, recorded as Hue Quion Che, which is most likely the phonetic transcription of 火光星 Hué-kn̂g-tshinn. Common ways to refer to a firefly in Taigi these days are Hué-kim-tshinn (火金星) or Hué-kim-koo (火金蛄).


Very cool. At first I thought it was a lexicon of the Holo used among Chinese Filipinos. But according to the article above, the lexicon was compiled based on the Holo used in Taiwan from the Spanish colonial rule period/area. I imagine that the Taiwan place names were another anvil is hint.


The dictionary is a remarkable piece of linguistic history. It’s amazing how little Holo have changed for the past 400 hundred years. I would imagine it was more difficult for the Spanish scholars to decipher the Early Modern Spanish used in the dictionary. It’s probably like reading Shakespeare for today’s English speakers.

It’s still intelligible, but you are well aware that it’s different.

At the same time, just the title of the dictionary indicates somethings have changed. Chio Chiu in Vocabulario de la Lengua Chio Chiu stands for 漳州, but today that’s pronounced as Tsiang-tsiu.

Another thing that’s changed is the 3 character curse word we all know and love Kàn-lí-niâ, which is recorded as 姦你母 (Can-lin-bo)


While I don’t know terribly much about Taiwan’s history in this era, I had thought (possibly erroneously) that there weren’t many Chinese residents at the time (this would have been 1620-40s era or a little earlier?), and that the population was mostly Aboriginal. The existence of this dictionary seems to suggest that there was a more substantial Chinese population than I had thought (large enough to have come up with place names and for the Spanish to find it meaningful or useful to come up with a dictionary).

Makes me wonder if the Spanish also prepared dictionaries of aboriginal languages.


The majority of the population were Aboriginal, but they were extremely reluctant to do labor outside of fulfilling the need of their villages.

Therefore both the Dutch and the Spanish at some point paid coastal Han Chinese to move to Taiwan. They especially needed Han laborers to provide food, hunt for deer skin, and mine for gold.

Aside from priests who wanted to spread Christianity to the aboriginals, most of the colonials spent more time dealing with the Han laborers.

The Dutch and the Spanish actually did this first in South East Asia, and only replicated the model here in Taiwan. The 1603 Chinese laborer revolt (Sangley Rebellion) in Manila predated both the Dutch and Spanish occupation of Taiwan. Most of the 20,000 killed during the massacre were Holo speaking Chinese. So the Spanish had a lot of dealings with Holo speaking Chinese laborers before coming to Taiwan.

At the height of Dutch Formosa, census showed that at least 70% of the population were Aboriginals, with less than 30 thousand Han Chinese and about 2000 Dutch.

Prepared, no. Wrote some dictionaries once they got here, yes.

There are several Basay dictionaries written by Spanish fathers, Vocabularino de la lengua de los Indios Tanchui en la Isla Hermosa, Doctrina cristiana en la lengua de los Indios Tanchui en la Isla Hermosa, Arte de la lengua de Formosa, and Vocabulario en la misma lengua.

They are however lost for some reason… If they ever find these books it would be pretty awesome.


Thanks, Hansioux. It would be quite interesting if those Spanish-era books on the aboriginal languages are ever recovered.

It’d also be interesting to know how close or distant the Holo in Taiwan and the Philippines was in those times. While my Taiyu is admittedly not that good, and clearly languages evolve, but I generally have great difficulties understanding Philippine Holo. The words are there, but everything sounds off to my ears. Kinda like listening to local dialects in North China; you can tell it is a form of Mandarin but it feels like someone randomly decided to change all the tones of the words.