What's the etymology of Hokkien, Hoklo and Hohlo?

Just wondering - what’s the etymology of the words Hoklo and Hohlo and Hokkien? I know that Minnan Hua is the Mandarin word for the language, and I know that “Daigi” is the Taiwanese word for the language called (erroneously or not) “Taiwanese”. But what language is the word Hoklo? What, then, is Hohlo? Are there characters? Do they follow a set romanization system? If these words only exist in romanization and/or “English”, who coined them? :eh:

Ho kien is fu-jian in taiwanese (i think)

I thought it was ‘Taiwanese’ for, Fujian, but now that you mention it, I think I was probably wrong. I think there’s an answer on a website called daiwanway.com or something similar.


Here’s the site you mentioned:


I’m about 99% sure Hokkien is the Minnanhua pronunciation of Fujian (it’s similar enough to the Cantonese pronunciation, fuk-gin, for me to be all but convinced of that).

In Mandarin, Hoklo is fu-lao, 福佬. Meaning appears to be something like a slangy name for people from Fujian. The romanisation of Hoklo looks consistent with the romanisation used for “Hokkien” (being that they share the same “hok” character). “Hohlo” I’m not sure of, but it could just be a misrendering of Hoklo.

URL: hoklo.org/

It seems to me that we should be calling the ‘Taiwanese’ portion of Taiwan’s population Hokkien(s) rather than Hoklo(s).

There’s an interesting table here:


From what I can figure out, Hoklo refers to all the dialects/people listed as Min, in this table.

Minnan is also too wide a term to be used for the ‘Taiwanese’. The vast majority of (non-Hakka) benshengren came from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, so the Teochew should be excluded (I read recently that there was a smaller number of Teochow, Hokchiu and Hokchia immigrants, but they were assimilated).


[quote=“Bu Lai En”]It seems to me that we should be calling the ‘Taiwanese’ portion of Taiwan’s population Hokkien(s) rather than Hoklo(s).

It would seem accurate, however Hoklo is a name the local minnanese in fact use to refer to themselves. I have never heard hokkien in this context–though it is so used by related peoples in South-east asia.

I have a book covering this somewhere, I remember the conclusion was that thye really had no idea where it came from. You would have to believe the hok has got something to do with hokkien though.

i have only heard this said as hoh-lo. the “k” in hok softens when this is said, or may even be erroneous?

I think Minnanhua follows the same sort of pattern as Cantonese with some of it’s finals. The ‘k’ final in the ‘hok’ syllable would be unaspirated, making it less obvious. It would be more obvious when doubled with an initial ‘k’, as in ‘hokkien’ (hok-kien). So in ‘hoklo’ there’s a chance it could sound like it’s been lost in the mix.

Hokkien 福建 (Fujian) = A province in southeast China, or a person or language originating therefrom.
Hoklo 福佬 (Fulao) = Someone originating from Fujian
Holo (=Hohlo?) 河洛 (Heluo) = Someone, or a language, originating from Luoyang in Henen Province (from where the southern Fujianese believe their ancestors came).
…The Hokkien/Minnan/“Taiwanese” pronunciation of the latter two being almost identical, thus leading to confusion.

Well, that is what my teacher at Pioneer Language Institute/ATCSL told me the other day when I asked her the same question. Any other offers? (The teacher is a Taiwanese Hakka, by the way.)

Holo (=Hohlo?) 河洛 (Heluo) = Someone, or a language, originating from Luoyang in Henen Province (from where the southern Fujianese believe their ancestors came).[/quote]
Of course! I remember now, I’ve been told the same thing before. The story I heard went that the Holo people were the original inhabitants of the area that is now Luoyang (the Luo River plain). At some indeterminate time way back when, since their homeland was one of the more fertile areas around there, they were the victims of constant attacks and attempted invasions by their northern neighbours (the guy who told me this said the invaders were Han chinese). Eventually the invaders managed to force the Holo out, and they migrated over decades/centuries down toward Fujian.

Interesting Juba, as it is different from the claim, ont he website Tetsuo linked to, that Hoklo is just a variant spelling of Holo (with a silent k - not an unaspirated one). Frankly, I guess that their could be a lot of assumption going on here, based on popular myths. In my experience, Chinese professors are pretty good at spreading these myths.

Whatever the origin, it seems that current usage for Hoklo/Holo includes people in the larger Min group such as Teocheow and Hainanese, and is thus a wider term than those who immigrated to Taiwan (not including Hakka of course) from Jiangzhou and Quanzhou, speaking Hokkien dialects.


Reading through that site’s FAQ, there’s a couple of things that would make me cautious about backing their theory that “hoklo”=“holo”. For a start they claim that Hoklo entered English vocab via the Cantonese pronunciation of “fulao”, which is wrong. Cantonese pronunication for “fulao” would be “fuklo” not “hoklo”. The fact there are established and different Chinese terms for the two kind of sways me away from their idea too.

I hope you didn’t think that I was saying that “this website says different so Juba must be wrong”. I was trying to say that both that source and Juba’s prof could be basing their conclusions on old assumptions and misconceptions.


Just an idea - is it possible the Cantonese pronunciation referred to on the site relates to the third of Juba’s examples, which looks like it would have a pronunication something like ‘hohlo’ or ‘hoklo’? Or I may have missed the point entirely, which wouldn’t surprise me :slight_smile:

Nah, I didn’t think you were saying that first thing. I was just noting my reservations about the veracity of that site.

Holo (=Hohlo?) 河洛 (Heluo) = Someone, or a language, originating from Luoyang in Henen Province (from where the southern Fujianese believe their ancestors came).[/quote][/quote]

yeah me too! if i remember right it is more theory than fact, they haven’t been able to establish a direct connection between these terms. but it’s a good theory. explains the missing “k” for one thing.

Apparently our @hansioux has participated in this super-complicated thread.

My thoughts:

  1. They couldn’t determine whether the exonym was given by the Cantonese or the Hakkas. Much was made of the fact that k dropped from hoklo into holo. Nothing was mentioned about the way it is pronounced in Hakka. Whether I heard the language referred to by relatives, it’s called holokfa. The k comes at the end of the second syllable, not the first. So I have no idea where the 學佬 transliteration comes from. I bet they still have no clue who gave the Holoes the exonym.
  2. Yes, Hakkas do not like calling holokfa “Taiwanese,” because Taiwan has many languages.
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That spelling indicates your relatives speak Hakka, and as suggested in the discussion, Holok is an exonym given to Holo speaking peoples by Hakka peoples and perhaps Cantonese speaking peoples.

There are many proposed etymologies for Hoklo and some indicates the original stop sound is at the end, such as 甌貉.

Like Hoklo or Holok, “Taiwanese”, Tâi-uân-uē, and Tâi-gí are all also exonyms. It was first used by Qing officials and later popularized by the Japanese. It’s ridiculous saying that Tâi-gí isn’t an appropriate name because there are other languages in Taiwan. As ridiculous as saying Hakka is inappropriately named because there are other migrant languages in Taiwan.

Kind of stands to reason they wouldn’t like it though, no?

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This whole mess stems from misunderstandings (and sometimes malevolence) dating back to Qing times.

In indigenous languages like Pangcah, for example, the word Tayouan (sounds like “Taioan”) has only ever referred to “Taioanese” (Tâi-oân-ōe). It’s been that way since the migrants arrived in Tayouan (= An-pêng, a.k.a. Zeelandia). And Taioanese speakers adopted it and are happy with it.

The Qing - who knew and cared very little about Formosa until just a few years before signing it over to the Japanese - very unfortunately used Táiwān (in Mandarin) to refer to the entire island and people.

So in Mandarin (and English), Táiwān is basically equivalent to “Formosa”, but in Taioanese and many indigenous languages, “Tâioânōe” and “Tâioânlâng” (or indigenous language equivalent) refer to a specific group & language, not the whole island.

The various authorities on Formosa used “divide and conquer” strategies to pit Hakka and Taioanese (and indigenous) against each other. One of the lasting results of this is that Hakka are upset that they might be “excluded” from the idea of “Táiwān”. But this only happens if we equate Táiwān with Tâioân.

On the other side - from the Tâioânlâng perspective - their identity has been “encroached” by non-Taioanese, and now we see such things as “Hakka and Mandarin are also Taiwanese languages”, which is nonsensical from their POV. And, from their POV, why should non-Taioanese people have a say in who is or is not Taioanese?

Of course, we all feel the same way when it comes to “Taiwan the country” - only the people here should decide its future (not China, for example), but why don’t we accept that for “Taioanese people”?

And Taioanese people don’t have an alternative identity to fall back on. Hakka seem to be fine with their identity label of “Hak”, but Taioanese don’t accept Holo/Hoklo/Holok, nor do they accept Hokkien, nor do they accept Min/Bin/Ban. Nor should they be forced to, IMO. But the result seems to be that they aren’t allowed to define their own identity.

Importantly, notice that most of the “why should Tâioânōe be called Taiwanese?” criticisms are from Hakka, Chinese, or foreigners (in modern times). Indigenous people don’t seem to bring this up as much, perhaps because they never thought of themselves as “Taioanese”.

There’s a simple solution to this mess, IMO. Let’s let Taioanese have their identity. And let’s figure out a better way to be inclusive, without precluding Taioanese from having their own identity. More than anything, this is a semantic issue. A naming problem. There’s at least one solution to this “naming problem” that’s been staring us right in the face for 400 years: Formosa.

And if we go that route, then indeed Formosans are a diverse group: Taioanese, Hakka, various indigenous groups, Chinese, new immigrants, and so on. And Taioanese would be allowed to have and define their own identity - the same one they’ve had for 400 years, while Hakka and other groups do not need to feel excluded from the national identity (= Formosan).

Of course, nowadays some people complain that the name Formosa is an “even worse colonial legacy”. I disagree, I think it’s a great name, but fine. Let’s find another name then.

How about an old indigenous name: Deer Island (Lo̍k-á-tó, maybe Lokato in English)?

Here’s another idea: some Taioanese have proposed that Hakka could take up the name Toivanese, if they want. Taioanese and Toivanese. Taioanese speak Taioanoe, and Toivanese speak Toivanfa. Easy peasy. They can even find different Hanji (Taioan used to be written 大員), or they could share 台灣. Not many Hakka are interested in this idea, it seems. They are happy with their identity, they’re just not happy to let Taioanese folks have theirs.

There are plenty of options, and plenty of room for discussion. But people have to be willing to discuss them and to make some changes to the way they think about things.