Real meaning behind Taigi's Tsa-poo and Tsa-bóo

Ever wonder why man and woman is referred to as tsa-poo and tsa-bóo in Taigi? For new learners of Taigi, these two words sounds so similar, it is difficult to understand which is which.

They are also frequently followed by 人 or 囝仔, making them tsa-poo-lâng, tsa-bóo-lâng, and tsa-poo-gín-á, tsa-bóo-gín-á. Then tonal sandhi rules make it that much more confusing.

Most Taiwanese would write tsa-poo as 查埔 and tsa-bóo as 查某. The Hanji tagged on to these words are totally devoid of meaning, and you wouldn’t have a clue what they mean if you know Mandarin but don’t know any Taigi.

So what do these words mean?

TL;DR version is that Tsa-poo-lâng means 諸父人 and tsa-bóo-lâng means 諸母人.

The 查埔 and 查某 characters are tagged on to the words much much later, when the connection between sounds and characters were lost for hundreds if not thousands of years. It’s been so long that people have reinvented how to write these two words over and over again. That’s why we also have 大夫, 多父, 乾晡, 焦晡, 唐補 in addition to 查埔 for tsa-poo, and 諸姆, 查娒, 查厶, 㜁嬤, 珠母 in addition to 查某 for tsa-bóo.

Originally 父 and 母 just meant man and woman in Old Chinese. They would also mean husband and wife. 諸父 is the equivalent of men, and 諸母 is the equivalent of woman.

諸 means many or every. While today 諸 is usually read as tsu or tsi in Taigi, it was originally meant to be pronounced the same as its phonetic component 者, which till this day is pronounced as tsiá.

The character of 父 was written as a hand holding an axe.

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It is supposed to be pronounced the same way as axe in Chinese, that’s why 斧 also has 父 as a phonetic component. At first, 父 simply referred to men of tool wielding age, an adult male. It was only later that it evolved to mean elder male family members, or even later, specifically father.

父 can be read in Taigi as pōo and póo and 斧 can be read in Taigi as póo as well.

The character of 母 was written as a kneeling person with pair of breasts.

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The only difference between 母 and 女 in oracle script is that 母 has the two extra dots notating breasts. It was used to mean adult woman or women. Despite also being read in Taigi to day as bú, bió, bó, the bóo pronunciation is well documented and still in use in some places.

Same historical examples of 諸父 and 諸母. These usages also shows 諸父 and 諸母 can be both plural (men, women) as well as singular (man, woman).

《史記•淮陰侯傳》:信釣於城下,諸母漂,有一母見信飢,飯信。

《史記•高祖紀》:“沛父兄、諸母、故人日樂飲。”

《詩•小雅•伐木》:“既有肥羜,以速諸父。”

《漢書•淮南王安傳》:“時武帝方好藝文,以安屬為‘諸父’,辯博善為文辭,甚尊重之。”

Of course, as 父 and 母 later evolved to mean father and mother specifically, it isn’t difficult to understand why later people restrained from using 父 and 母 to transcribe tsa-poo and tsa-bóo to avoid confusion.

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Fascinating.

They way my family members pronounce these, it sounds more like tza-bo and tza-bvo. Hard to tell apart if not for the flatter tone in “bo” and no fricative quality to the bilabial phoneme.

Actually I have no idea how to represent the sound that I conceive of as “v and b mushed together.” I don’t even know if I have that right. Maybe it’s more like an m?

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You mean /β/?

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That must be it!

I guess I wasn’t too far off thinking of it as a b and v mush.

It’s probably the start of the kind of sound change that transforms b into v. Google tells me it’s a phenomenon called Betacism.

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