Anyone learning Taiwanese? (Native speakers welcome, too)

That’s pretty neat. Interesting/sad that it’s a nonnative speaker going to all this effort… always glad to check out the many Taigi resources you have, hansioux.

Sorry if this should be its own thread, thinking maybe you can answer this… why do Taiwanese insist there’s ‘no way’ (their words) to write Taigi? My understanding is that Chinese characters don’t have a ‘set’ pronunciation, that 你 is pronounced differently depending on the language you use (ni3 in Mandarin, li2 in Taigi, nei5/lei5 in Cantonese - excuse me for not having a diacritic keyboard on this computer), so every language can use the same character set. There are of course differences in common characters - e.g. 是 used as ‘to be’ in Mandarin and 係 used in Cantonese, or Cantonese having 冇 to represent mou5 as a sandhi of 唔有. I guess my question is, why isn’t there a modern standardized character set for Taigi or Hokkien in general, along the same lines of Cantonese? (or is there already? Based off some of what I’ve seen, it seems like maybe it exists, but isn’t fully standardized/adapted to the modern era, or is too little-known)

The short answer is colonialism, especially at the hands of the KMT.

Ports in Fujian had been the international ports for China ever since the Song dynasty. The city of Tsuân-tsiu (泉州), Tsiang-tsiu (漳州) and later on Ē-mn̂g (廈門) especially were filled with merchants from all over the world. Languages spoken in these areas also are the ones that shaped Taigi early on. I’ll refer to these languages as the Holo languages in the following.

Fujian had by far the most developed coastal cities in all of China for a long time. However, writing throughout most of that period were confined to classical literary Chinese. So it is sometimes difficult to spot pronunciation, grammatical, or vocabulary differences used in Holo languages.

Written scripts from local opera, theater and other performance arts however left a time capsule of local speech. Most the written Holo developed out of these early written conventions. The issue with some of these conventions is that many of them chose similar sounding characters out of convenience and not correctness.

Another school of Holo writers were scholars from Southern Fujian. They were able to accurately identify how to correctly write Holo languages, but they rarely leave written records of the spoken language.

By the time coastal Chinese migrated to Taiwan en mass in late 18th to late 19th century, most of them were illiterate. The first written records of Taigi were by Christian missionary. They utilized Church Romanization to preach and translate the bible. They believe that romanziation can bring people out of illiteracy. First compilations of Romanzied Taigi bible took place as early as 1852.

At the same time people started writing as they speak, and the performance arts school and the scholar school of writting Taigi slowly found a middle group.

The earliest all Taigi Romanization news paper was Tâi-oân-hú-siâⁿ Kàu-hōe-pò (台灣府城教會報) published by Rev. Dr. Thomas Barclay on July 12, 1885. Rev Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell purchased a printing press in England. Rev. Barclay went back to England to learn how to assemble and operate it, and shipped it to Taiwan in 1881. That was the first printing press in Taiwan, and Rev. Barclay printed the first news paper in Taiwan with it.


Plenty of Taiwanese Christians writes regularly in Taigi Romanization. A famous example would be Tshuà Puê-hué (蔡培火)'s diaries. Tshuà is a iconic figure in fighting for local rights in the Japanese era.

The first Taigi news paper written in Hanji was probably the Hanbun edition of Taiwan Nichi Nichi Shin Po (台灣日日新報), first published in 1905.


I can’t say it’s exactly spoken Taigi. The language used in this news paper is somewhere between Classical Literary Chinese and spoken Holo. There were other popular Hanbun news papers at the time, founded by Taiwanese instead of Japanese owners.

So Taigi writing was blooming in pre-war Japanese era. That of course changed as the war went on, and the Japanese became increasingly nationalistic. Chinese papers were forced to cease publishing.

Taigi writing had a chance of revival post war, but it was subsequently crushed by the KMT, along with other forms of Taigi media, such as a then booming Taigi cinema industry, pòo-tē-hì (traditional hand puppet theater), kua-á-hì (Taigi opera) and many more. You can be fined for speaking Taigi in public. Promoting the writing of any indigenous languages is an offense that can land you in jail, even for foreign missionaries.

So Taigi could have developed a more standardized written form, if it was given time. Unfortunately it wasn’t something that the colonizers wish to tolerate.


Holy crap, thanks for the incredibly in-depth and informative reply. Wish I could like it more than once.
I assumed it was probably due to politics that there’s not much current written Taigi, but I didn’t know that there were newspapers fully in Hanbun. The KMT’s actions at that time in terms of how they handled languages and cultures make me sad :frowning:
3 main responses:

  1. Is it ‘Holo’ or ‘Hoklo’? (Is there a difference?)
  2. Interesting that using the romanization for Taigi is sufficient. I feel like it wouldn’t work as well for a language with fewer tones or more limited phonemes to differentiate words (i.e. Mandarin), but that’s really just conjecture.

I can’t say it’s exactly spoken Taigi. The language used in this news paper is somewhere between Classical Literary Chinese and spoken Holo.

Isn’t that par for the course for Chinese languages? All languages (AFAIK) have differences in written/spoken forms, and in my experience there’s a much larger gap in written vs. spoken Mandarin than there is in written vs. spoken English, maybe due to influence from Classical Chinese or simply from spoken homophones being ambiguous and written characters being much less so. (I hear from friends that written Mandarin is becoming more and more like spoken Mandarin, so even books from 50 years ago would be much more ‘literary’ sounding.)

  1. In spoken Taigi today, it sounds more like Hô-ló, and the preferred Hanji in Taigi is 河洛. You can see the Bam-lan-gu wikipedia’s entry for Ethnic Holo for that.

I suspect that wasn’t the case traditionally. It might started out as Hoklo, then weakened to Hohlo, and finally losing the stop for the first syllable all together.

Some have said that the Hoklo was a name used by others, especially the Hakka, to refer to the Holo speaking people, and wasn’t a name that the Holo speaking people came up with. That is very likely, as none the Holo diaspora outside of China seems to have referred to themselves as Holo.

In that case, Hoklo might have started out as a derogatory term, such as 甌雒, 甌駱, or later 鶴老, 福老, that the Holo speaking people then reclaimed and repurposed.

  1. I have to admit, for a long time I thought it was impossible as well. I started studying Taigi on my own 20 years ago, and for much of that time my preferred way to read was Hanlo (half Hanji, half Lomaji). Recently, I noticed that I am beginning to be able to read an entire paragraph in Tailo or POJ, without having to stop and look up any word. It is still a bit slower than my proficiency with Hanlo, but now I’m convinced if you have enough exposure, you can read full romanization without a problem.

For example, A-iong’s posts on facebook are all in Lomaji, I have no issue reading any of it.

  1. Yeah, even in English we might not write exactly the way to talk. Those Japanese era Hanbun new papers are truly gems when it comes to bringing back Taigi.
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For those interested in learning Taigi, you’ve probably used ChhoeTaigi online Taigi dictionary, or PhahTaigi Android or iOS input app.

The developer of these Taigi platforms just opened a crowdfunding page

He is hoping to raise enough money to support continuing mid to long term Taigi related software development, which include building an opensource Taigi database and expanding its sources to other hard to obtain Taigi dictionaries.


Taigi children’s song book on native plants and animals.

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Found a bunch of Japanese era Taigi resources from the National Central Library. Some of them requires an IP from academia to view.

Taiwan Linguistics Magazine? This one was publish in 1902

Japanese era Taigi phrase book for the camphor industry

This one includes a dictionary complete with Lomaji, as well as camphor related dialogues with Hanji, Japanese and Lomaji.

Japanese-Taigi conversations

Japanese to Taigi translation guide

Lomaji Taigi dictionary

New Taigi-Japanese dictionary

Collection of Japanese-Tagi saying

New Taigi
Not Japanese era, but published in 1949. Still written in Japanese though.

This one reads like an introduction to Taiwanese customs during the Japanese era. There are also some propaganda in there that didn’t get published in time…

Considering the glory days of Taiwan’s camphor business is long gone, this is definitely a treasure.

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I heard this service normally charges fees but offers Taiwanese for free for language preservation.


I just really wish they would fix it. Unless they’ve rewritten and re-recorded it since ~2015, I can’t recommend it. I mean it’s free so I guess I can’t “complain”, but it has definitely taken more than a few people down the wrong path.

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There are a lot of Taiwanese along the tech corridor in Maryland.

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You’re referring to Glossika as a bad way to learn Taiyu? I was considering it as a way to start learning, but your comment gives me pause. How “wrong” is it?

If it makes any difference, I have family who will correct me if I speak poorly or mispronounce. But I don’t have time for real classes, just looking for an online or recorded resource to listen and pick up phrases.

Better to just record your family speaking throughout the day, or better yet ask them to teach you. (Or look for the plenty of other available resources on YouTube and elsewhere.)

What’s wrong with it? Just curious.

That’s what I’m doing now. I’m using Anki to make flash cards using translations from itaigi which is very good, and voice recordings from my wife. I’m using Tailo romanization which I know you don’t recommend anymore, but it is most convenient for me as I can use my niece’s elementary school books to practice. I showed my wife your videos and she said your Taiwanese is better than hers, which is impressive since Taiwanese was the only language she could speak till she was about five, when she moved back to Taipei.

How long ago did you start learning Hokkien?

A very large percentage of the words and sentence structures are kind of “Mandarin light”, not really authentic Taioanese*. (This is a common problem to many Taioanese “learning materials”, not just this one.)

* Again, assuming it hasn’t been fixed since I last saw it a few years ago.

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No no no please don’t do this.

iTaigi is meant for native speakers to be a kind of “urban dictionary” to collect and popularize new words. It’s only partially useful, even for native speakers. A huge amount of content on there is stuff someone just “made up”. Check my resource lists for recommended materials, I have them posted around wherever. Reddit, chiahpabe, etc.

I think the way I’m using it is probably fine. Mainly I have been asking my wife how to say something, then using itaigi to find the Tailo romanisation for my flashcards. I will take a look at your resource list for the more advanced stuff. Thanks for the heads up!

好 猶未 ?
按怎 ?
幾點 矣 ?
伊 完成 。
你 好 無 ?

Had a look at the first 5 sentences, I’d agree with you for 1 out of 5, which is not a great rate I guess, though a native speaker might disagree, not sure. I guess it still might be better than nothing, but I’d have to listen some more and it wanted me to repeat those first 5 a bunch of times :slight_smile:

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If you just want the romanization, go for and look for the spellings in TJ’s dictionary or the 台日 dictionary. Those are most reliable.

Might be interesting to see like the first 50 instead of the first 5. I think some native speakers would take issue with up to 3 of those 5, however. (Not that they aren’t correct, but that there are more common / authentic ways to say them.)

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