Polyscriptal Taiwanese

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Having just returned to Hong Kong after a whirlwind trip to Taiwan, I find myself stunned by the multilingual, polyscriptal creativity of the people on that "renegade island" (formerly known as Ilha Formosa, Portuguese for "Beautiful Island").  One thing that could not escape my notice is the widespread use of English letters for English words as well as for Taiwanese morphemes and Mandarin words.  A fair amount of Japanese also gets thrown into the mix, but I shall not discuss that in the present post.

In the first category, DIY is very much in evidence, with the consistent meaning "Do it yourself."  PK, on the other hand, occurs in many different contexts, and might mean any of the following:  penalty kick (soccer), penalty kill (ice hockey), probability of kill (simulation), Disney's PK:  Out of the Shadows (video game), player killer (a person who kills other players in MMORPGs and MUDs), and player killing (player versus player conflict in MMORPGs and] MUDs).

In the second category is "e," a very common structural particle in Taiwanese (I have no idea how it would be written in HANZI).  E.g. (from Miao-Ling Hsieh, "Form and Meaning:  Negation and Question in Chinese", USC Ph.D. diss.,  2001, p. 154):

*I ai [e-hiau phah kiu be.] e lang?

she love can play ball unable E person

'Does she love who can play ball or who cannot play ball?'

In the third category is G, which means "chicken."  Here the intended language is Mandarin jī, since 雞 would be read as ke in Taiwanese.

Far more spectacular than any of these mere alphabetical bagatelles are the many instances when Chinese characters, Roman letters, Taiwanese language, Mandarin language, and English language are tightly intertwined in concise and powerful advertising slogans such as  酷碰A個GO! (kùpèng A ge GO!):

There is so much information packed into these five syllables kùpèng A ge GO!  that it will be necessary for me to spend some time unpacking them.

kùpèng is a transcription of English "coupon" that is composed of two syllables having interesting resonances of their own:

1. kù 酷 originally meant "cruel, ruthless, brutal," but has been borrowed to stand for English "cool"; the latter usage is now so omnipresent in Sinitic discourse that it has become the first thing people think of when they see the character 酷, not the negative denotations of the graph itself

2. pèng 碰 originally meant "touch, bump, run into," but here conveys the notion of taking your chances or trusting your luck:  pèng yī pèng jīhuì/yùnqì 碰一 碰機會/運氣

3. A — This is the only part of the pentasyllabic slogan that is purely Taiwanese, but it is by far the hardest part to explain.  Like so many morphemes in Taiwanese, it is difficult (if not impossible) to assign a "correct" Chinese character to "A" (we recently encountered the same problem with "Q").

Perhaps the best way to tackle "A" is to quote from Mark Swofford's post on its occurrence in a Burger King ad:

Here, the Roman letter “A” is used to represent a Taiwanese verb that means something like “get in an easy manner” or “make off with” — though the fine print says that customers just have a chance to get a prize, not that they necessarily will win one.

A is often used in A-qián (“A錢”: to A money), a mixed Taiwanese and Mandarin term that means embezzle/embezzlement.

Perhaps the Ministry of Education has issued an official Chinese character for this morpheme. But even if they had most people would have no idea how to read it, and it probably would be of spurious origin to boot — just like most of the other characters the ministry has issued. Where a Taiwanese morpheme sounds like the English name of a Roman letter, the romanized form is likely to prevail over the Chinese character.

If you use the Chinatrust ATMs  that are found in the ubiquitous 7-11s in Taiwan, the receipt that comes out will have attached to it some of these lucky kùpèng / coupons that you so crave.  In other words, as the bank ad says, not only will you avoid having to "run to the bank," on top of it kùpèng / coupons you weren't really expecting or didn't earn will fall into your hands.  Manna from Heaven.

4. gè 個 normally functions as a general measure word, but here it is being used as the structural marker of the verbal complement (of degree) that follows

5. GO! ostensibly this is the English imperative verb, a nuance that is indeed present, but simultaneously it sounds like and functions as the verbal complement gòu 夠 ("enough, sufficient, adequate")

The slogan defies direct translation into English because it operates on several different levels at the same time.  A very rough attempt to convey the information it embodies would be something like "Just go ahead and take your chances of getting quite a windfall of cool coupons."

[A tip of the hat to Mark Swofford.]


  1. language hat said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    Fascinating! But I'm not clear on how to pronounce "A": is it /ey/, exactly like the name of the English letter?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    When I hear the letters of the alphabet pronounced in Taiwan, they are made to sound as they do in the English ABC.

    Additional notes on the verb "A" from my colleague, Melvin Chih-jen Lee:


    I did some research on the word A in A錢. I wasn't sure if A is Taiwanese as it's so commonly used by Mandarin speakers in Taiwan but rarely heard being used in a Taiwanese sentence. From what I have found, A錢 originally comes from 掖錢 (pronounced as yē qián in Mandarin), 掖 means "to hide under armpits and take away." The phrase A錢 nowadays is frequently heard especially on the news about politicians being corrupted and taking bribes or illegal money. However, many young people in Taiwan also use A as a verb to mean "taking advantage of something, such as coupons or freebies." For example, I often hear people say "那裡有免費的飲料, 趕快去A幾瓶來喝" (Nàlǐ yǒu miǎnfèi de yǐnliào, gǎnkuài qù A jǐ píng lái hē ["There are free drinks over there; let's hurry up and go grab a few!"])

    As for 酷碰, I actually never saw this phrase until now. I believe it is simply a sound translation of "coupon." 酷碰 is probably a slang expression that has been getting popular among the young generation just recently. The real Chinese phrase for coupon is 折價券 (zhéjiàquàn). I asked my parents, who are both native Taiwanese speakers and don't speak any English at all. They have never heard the phrase "酷碰" and thus weren't able to say it in Taiwanese. If they want to say "coupon" in Taiwanese, they will say "折價券" in Taiwanese instead.

    As for why the young generation in Taiwan picks 酷 and 碰 these two characters for the phrase 酷碰, I guess it's because it sounds (and looks) cute. 酷 has always been a popular character with young people, for the notion of "cool" it conveys. 碰 means to touch or hit something with a body part, mostly head or hip, and it creates comic images. That's why the phrase 酷碰 is much cuter and cooler than the phrase 折價券 and is more favorable to the young generation who mostly speak at a little English and maybe also know the word "coupon" in English.

    So the commercial line 酷碰A個GO (which in Chinese [VHM: Mandarin] should be 折價券拿個夠 [zhéjiàquàn ná gè gòu]) is really not Taiwanese. At least my parents weren't able to understand what that means. Instead, it appeals more to the young generations in Taiwan, who are mainly Mandarin speakers, but are used to a mixture of languages (such as 網路火星文 [wǎnglù huǒxīng wén; "Internet Martian writing"]) and meanwhile have a basic command of English as well.


    Grace Wu, the instructor of Taiwanese at Penn, considers "A" in the slogan as a Taiwanese morpheme (as do other Taiwanese speakers whom I consulted), but she adds:


    I checked with my dad [VHM: a famous teacher of Taiwanese in the previous generation], the A in Taiwanese is a new usage. Taiwanese people used "uai-ko" 歪哥 (verb) instead of A in my parents' generation. The definition of "A" in the Pinyin Info article is very accurate. It means " get in an easy manner". It is widely used among the young generation.


  3. gege said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 12:12 pm

    On top of all that, could it be an allusion to "Coupons à gogo"?

  4. Jesse Tseng said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    According to the Taiwanese dictionary I have handy (常用漢字臺語詞典 compiled by 許極燉, 1992), e is simply 會 and e-hiau is 會曉.

  5. Will Steed said,

    July 24, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    I've seen "e" written as the English 'e', Mandarin 的, the more Classical Chinese 之 and even as Japanese の. I've even seen it written in 注音字母 Zhuyin ㄝ or ㄟ.

  6. Steffan Fennander said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 1:07 am

    Fantastic post and the 711 story was great. Here's a video of me singing a song in Taiwanese, Hokklo, that I wrote a few years ago, or I should say, that wrote itself. For some unknown odd reason it has gotten over 13,000 hits worldwide on YouTube, and cannot be for any good reason!

    The song is titled Amah Koon Beiki, which means Grandma Can't Sleep


  7. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 1:20 am

    Will's right, Jesse. We're talking about an entirely different "e" than the one to which you refer. Nobody really knows how to write the "e" we're talking about with HANZI, so that's why there are all those possibilities he cites. Phonologically, of course, de 的, zhi 之, and no の could not possibly be the source of this very important structural particle in Taiwanese, but are being used simply because of their functional similarity.

  8. Sarah Cordlia said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:33 am

    Dr Mair,
    Did you notice this sign there?

    re: "I moved right through ROC Customs, where my answer to the question "where are you staying while in Taiwan?" was the extremely vague "w/ a friend." Multiple red and blue stamps later, I was crouched exhausted onto the floor next to the luggage conveyor belt, waiting for my suitcase to arrive. I didn't even have the heart to photograph the large comical sign welcoming visitors to Taiwan: four heavily made-up young men, of the boy-band variety, along with what Liang informs me is the current Taiwanese tourism slogan. ……

    "Taiwan. Touch Your Heart."

  9. Sarah Cordlia said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:34 am

    What is that supposed to mean:

    Taiwan, please touch your heart?
    Taiwan, please touch my heart?
    Taiwan, why can't you make English slogans that mean something?

  10. Sarah Cordlia said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 3:54 am

    and Dr Mair, if not troubling you sir, there is something else i cannot figure out about Taiwan, having arrived here a year ago….

    they use the roman letters VS, sometimes with a period VS. , capped or lowercased, in TV headlines and newspaper headlines and book titles to mean "AND" not versus. Why? Examples I have seen:

    a coffee shop sign – "Jazz vs Music"
    when i asked the owner why he used the vs there he said it means 'and" in Taiwan, so he was saying his shop plays jazz and other kinds of music……. when did vs come to mean "and"?

    a book cover – a famous teacher and his wife write a book together a kind of dialogue, the title is HIS NAME vs HER NAME….. when i aske the clerk if they were fighting, she said no it is a collaboration between husband AND wife and the VS means AND……

    I wrote a sweet letter to the editor of a major Chinese lanuage paper in Taipei and told him that VS means VERSUS, as in competition , in English, as in baseball game, Yankes vs Boston, etc and the editor wrote back and said NO I AM WRONG, VS means AND….. and he would not print my sweet letter….. does VS mean AND?

    he might mean in some court cases, legal cases, Jones v Boorstin, but even there the V means versus, no?

    The other thing i noticed here in Taiwan is the common use of the Japanese character for OF, の or possessive aposttrophe S,, said as NO in nihongo, such as Victor no Cafe would mean Victor's Cafe, the cafe of Victor, but they use it here often in signs for stores using HANZI then the NO …の…..character in nihogno script, and then back to final Hanzi. so it becomes HuANG の CAFE DIEN for example Huang's coffee shop

    私のカメラ。 watashi no kamera…. "my camera"

    is this の character used in every day Taiwan a leftover from the Japan days of 1895-1945?

  11. Daan said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 6:51 am

    There's also A走 A-zǒu 'steal, abscond with', as in:

    jīntiān běnlái yào K shū kěshi kèběn bèi A-zǒu le!
    'Today I originally intended to do some serious cramming, but someone stole my textbook!'

    As far as I know, A-zǒu is closer in meaning to the English 'abscond with', but that word's a bit too formal to use here. Note also the wonderful and slangy K shū 'to cram' which may or may not be related to the more standard 看書 kàn shū 'to study'.

    G is indeed often used to refer to 雞 'chicken', but there's also 超G車的!chāo jīchē de! 'extremely annoying', in which it appears to be referring to 機 'machine, engine', as in 機車 jīchē 'scooter [TW]'. I have no clue how the word jīchē came to mean 'annoying'. And finally, there's also K他一頓 K tā yí dùn 'give him a good beating' where K means 'to hit' rather than 'to cram'.

    Another interesting thing I noticed in Taiwan was that sometimes the characters 花現, normally pronounced as huāxiàn, appear to be used where you would expect 發現 fāxiàn 'to discover', and 花生 huāshēng where you'd expect fāshēng 'to happen'. I'm unsure whether this reflects an actual difference in Mandarin pronunciation. I took a couple of photographs…but I don't want to go off-topic any further here ;)

  12. Corey Sanderson said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    Daan…probably people here use 機車 to mean 'annoying' because, well, they are. I drive one, but I still can't stand the hundreds/thousands I encounter daily. They are VERY annoying…

  13. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:39 am

    @Sarah and Daan:

    Good questions / points all! Will reply to all of them tomorrow morning (it's late at night here in Hong Kong), unless someone else beats me to them first.

  14. Jesse Tseng said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    @Will & Victor

    Oops, sorry, I completely missed the point of that example. As far as I can tell, the second e is completely equivalent to the Mandarin postposition/relativizer/modifierizer 的 (and therefore not equivalent to 之 or Japanese の). In other words, if you're writing a sentence in Taiwanese, you can safely use 的. If for some reason you want to force the Taiwanese pronunciation e in the middle of a Mandarin sentence, then I guess "ㄝ" is the way to go, as long as they continue using zhuyin in Taiwan… (Correct me again if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that の isn't normally used to indicate Taiwanese pronunciation, but is just a handy/cutesy way of writing 的.)

  15. carat said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 11:12 am

    i think i've seen 酷鹏 ku4peng2 for "coupon" before in mandarin

  16. A-gu said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:11 pm

    (1) Although Professor Mair is right that Taiwanese structural particle ê is not derived from the same root as Mandarin de (的), Taiwan's government has opted to make 的 the official way of writing this word.


    In practice, however, little will change in common use.

    (2) I agree A-qián A錢 might well come from Mandarin yē qián 掖錢; at the same time, the verb "A" was probably then borrowed into Holo Taiwanese and remains productive. Several native speakers have told me it is alive and well in normal Holo sentences. This may be why people thinkt he phrase comes from Taiwanese.

    (3) Daan, those aren't typographical differences, they're sort of character puns intended to joke about the pronunciation of those Holo or Hakka speakers who substitute /h(u)/ for /f/, a typical substitution in "Taiwan Guoyu" 台灣國語.

  17. A-gu said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:20 pm

    Sarah, younger people I think use の just because Japanese is "cool," and the word is so easy and fast to write… the colonial history probably doesn't hurt but is certainly not a driving factor. This is not so much a continuation of use as a relatively recent trend.

    Also, it seems clear many people are using VS to mean "and!"

    @langauge hat, "A" is pronounced [e].

  18. A-gu said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 2:34 pm


    機車 jīchē is a substitution for the more vulgar "jīwāi 機歪" (also "annoying"), which in turn is the less vulgar version of Taiwanese "tsi-bai 膣毴" (cunt).

  19. A-gu said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    Quick note: part of the reason Taiwanese consistantly write Holo "ê" with Zhuyin like ㄟ or English "e" instead of character 的 is because it is the lack of a normal character tha gets people to code switch and read in Taiwanese.

    You will note newspapers and television in Taiwan consistently use "係金ㄟ!" (si tsin-e!) instead of "是真的," which would be the "correct" (standard) way of writing this phrase which means "for real."

    That's because people don't typically read in Holo Taiwanese; one of the only ways you can get them to read in Holo is to use a string of characters that's meaningless in Mandarin but which will sound enough like the Holo phrase to elicit understanding and a Holo reading.

  20. A-gu said,

    July 25, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    Another note: while Holo ê is pronounced the same as Zhuyin ㄝ (pinyin e as in "xie3" 寫), I think most people use Zhuyin ㄟ (pinyin ei) instead of ㄝ when writing Holo ê because (Mandarin-based) Zhuyin orthography rules prevent ㄝ from being a stand alone character — in Mandarin, ㄝ e must always follow medial ㄧ yi or ㄩ yu, like in 雪 xuě or 鞋 xié; meanwhile, Zhuyin ㄟ (pinyin ei) can be used in isolation (you can see dictionary entries for Mandarin ēi , éi , ěi & èi for confirmation).

  21. John Cowan said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 12:55 am

    In referring to common-law legal cases, the abbreviation v. for versus appears between the plaintiff's name and the defendant's. In the U.S. it is usually pronounced vee, as in "Roe vee Wade". But in countries that adhere to British tradition, it is pronounced and (perhaps only in civil cases, I'm not sure). In Dickens's Bleak House, the chancery case that drags from long before the novel begins to partway through the action is always written out as Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

    This seems like a plausible origin of the reinterpretation of vs. (which is also short for versus, but not used in legal cases) to mean 'and'. Is the VS 'and' form also found in Hong Kong?

  22. michael farris said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 1:11 am

    FWIW I've seen some (British) albums that used vs in a way that made no sense to me at the time but which might reasonably be understood as 'and' ('Massive Attack vs Mad Professor' being the only one I can still remember).
    At the time I thought it was a popular culture affectation and am surprised that it might come from the British legal system.

  23. z said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 5:34 am

    "A fair amount of Japanese also gets thrown into the mix, but I shall not discuss that in the present post." <– Could you at some point, though, if it is possible? As a student of Japanese, I think I would find that fascinating.

  24. michael said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 6:25 am

    To other Chinese, we find it odd when the Taiwanese refer to that dialect as "Taiwanese". The only native Taiwanese languages are spoken by the minority hill tribes.

    what the Taiwanese speak is a dialect commonly known as minnan or hokkien. This dialect is common to the Chinese diaspora in South East Asia and of course in its place of origin in Southern mainland China. It is also spoken by the majority of Chinese in Singapore and Penang, they certainly find it strange that they were speaking "Taiwanese"!

  25. A-gu said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    Michael, there's no disputing that Holo Taiwanese is a sub-dialect of Southern Min (containing some unique vocabulary from the Japanese occupation and independent historical developments). But it should come as no surprise that the mother language of the majority of people in Taiwan should be called Taiwanese.

    But in Taiwan, as of late there is actually the opposite dispute with the phrase Taiwanese — increasingly, people think it's inaccurate/unfair to refer only only to Holo as Taiwanese when Hakka, aboriginal languages and even Mandarin are equally Taiwanese languages (this is an echo of earlier complaints that Mandarin should not be called the "national language" 國語 since the vast majority's native language is/was not Mandarin).

    Those on the leading front of favoring phrases like Holo or Taiwan Southern Min instead of just "Taiwanese" tend to be those who support more Taiwan-centric policies and greater emphasis on mother tongue education; they are interested in accommodating a wider understanding of "Taiwanese" languages and their preservation.

    For reference, you can check out Taiwan's National Language Development Law 《國家語言發展法草案》. In addition, you might find it interesting to research Southern Min education projects in S. Fujian (sample search result here, because Chinese efforts to boost Southern Min education have a political imperative after the partial revival of Southern Min's strength in Taiwan.

  26. Daan said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    Thank you for quite a few interesting comments, A-gu!

  27. Eric said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    阿牛 is a badass.

    "vs" to "and" seems like a short jump, to me… pretty typical of the way foreign terms get (mis)incorporated into other languages. I don't know how it's said in Chinese, but how do you usually separate it when two teams are playing one another? In Spanish, Italian, and German, it's contra, contro, and gegen, respectively, but even if it's like that in Chinese, if you're not aware of the exact meaning of the original phrase, when do you see vs. used? As a conjunction between two similar things. So if you're seeing a string of English, assuming "vs." means "and" isn't much of a stretch if you otherwise have no idea. Even with the teams example, you can say, "What game's on tonight? Oh, Giants and Dodgers."

    @michael farris
    "vs." is usually used on remix albums, such as Massive Attack's reworking by Mad Professor. IINM it has its origins in Jamaican soundclashes, where two DJs would compete head-to-head for audience favour – thus the "vs." This was then extended to remix culture, especially London DJ culture, which of course has a heavy Jamaican influence.

  28. Sarah Cordlia said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 8:45 am

    @ John Cowan said,…."In the U.S. it is usually pronounced vee, as in "Roe vee Wade". But in countries that adhere to British tradition, it is pronounced and (perhaps only in civil cases, I'm not sure). …
    This seems like a plausible origin of the reinterpretation of vs. (which is also short for versus, but not used in legal cases) to mean 'and'.

    Is the VS 'and' form also found in [newspapers and signage] [on] Hong Kong?"

    By Jeeves, I think you solved it!

  29. Sarah Cordlia said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 8:47 am

    @ michael said,"To other Chinese, we find it odd when the Taiwanese refer to that dialect as "Taiwanese". The only native Taiwanese languages are spoken by the minority hill tribes."

    In Taiwan, the Taipei Times newspaper calls it Hokklo, maybe that is the proper term in English for minnan-yu?

  30. Sarah Cordlia said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 9:48 am

    So, Dr Mair, you said you'd respond to the Taiwan Touch Your Heart advertising slogan in Taiwan and in Time magazine. Does it make any sense to you? RE: above

    "I didn't even have the heart to photograph the large comical sign welcoming visitors at the airport to Taiwan: four heavily made-up young men, of the boy-band variety, along with what Ms Liang informs me is the current Taiwanese tourism slogan. ……

    "Taiwan. Touch Your Heart."

    Sarah Cordlia said,
    July 25, 2010 @ 3:34 am

    What is that supposed to mean:

    Taiwan, please touch your heart?
    Taiwan, please touch my heart?
    Taiwan, why can't you make English slogans that mean something?

  31. dhd said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 11:32 am

    Thanks everyone for finally solving the mystery of ㄟ for me! I keep seeing it in my Taiwanese friends' status messages and wondering what exactly it's for… Is 耶 used the same way?

  32. A-gu said,

    July 27, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    ye 耶 is a sentence final particle typically, and seems to me to indicate some sort of reluctance or surprise/disgust from the speaker.

  33. Michael Turton said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 1:22 am

    DIY is slang for "masturbate." So it does consistently mean "do it yourself."

    Excellent post & comments!

  34. Victor Mair said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 1:41 am


    "Taiwan, [it] touches your heart."


    "Taiwan touches your heart."

  35. Victor Mair said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 1:35 am

    On the lack of a distinction between f- and h- in Taiwan Guoyu / Mandarin:

    Once, long ago, as I was hiking in the Alishan (Mount Ali) area, I came upon a small market. One of the stall-keepers was selling fur hats. I asked her what kind of fur the hats were made from, and she said that it was HUISHU fur.

    I asked her, "Oh, do you mean they're made from the pelts of gray squirrels (I said that in Mandarin: huīsè de lǎoshǔ 灰色的老鼠)?"

    [VHM update 3/7/16: huīshǔ 灰鼠 could mean "gray squirrel", "gray mouse / rat", "chinchilla", etc.]

    "No!," she retorted, rather annoyed. How could I dare imply that she was selling something so disgusting as fur hats made from rat pelts?! "The hats I'm selling are made from the pelts of HUI4 會 HUI1 DE SHU3," and she made a motion with her arms like the flapping of the wings of a bird. When I saw her make that flapping motion, I knew immediately that what she was trying to say HUI4 會 FEI1 DE SHU3, i.e., a fēishǔ 飛鼠 ("flying squirrel"), not a huīshǔ 灰鼠 ("gray squirrel").

    [VHM update 3/7/16: Here are some of the different ways to say "flying squirrel" in Mandarin:

    wúshǔ 鼯鼠

    fēishǔ 飛鼠 (lit., "flying rat / mouse")

    fēihǔ 飛虎 (lit., "flying tiger")

    lěi 鸓 (note the bird semantophore)]

  36. Victor Mair said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 5:14 am

    Miscellaneous notes on some points in the thread that may not have been fully covered yet:

    Q: What is Taiwanese language?

    A: Taiwanese is that variety of the Minnan Branch of Sinitic languages that is spoken primarily by people who refer to themselves as Taiwanese, both on the island of Taiwan and in their diaspora throughout the world.

    Q: Is there really such a thing as Taiwanese language?

    A: Since speakers of this language commonly refer to it as Tâi-oân-oē 臺灣話 or Tâi-gí 台語, it would seem that we would not be in error to call it "Taiwanese" in English.

    Q: Are there other names for this language?

    A: Taiwanese constitutes a subset of Hokkien, i.e., Hok-kiàn-oē 福建話, Bân-lâm-gí 閩南語, or Hok-ló-oē 福佬話, the latter named after a familiar term for the speakers of the more comprehensive grouping, the Hoklo or Holo (Hō-ló) 福佬.

    Q: Are the boundaries of "Taiwanese" fixed and unchanging?

    A: No, they shift depending upon the willingness of individuals to identify themselves linguistically, culturally, socially, and / or politically by that designation. Moreover, although Taiwanese was formerly quite similar to Amoy, with the passage of time it has evolved into an increasingly distinct entity (e.g., more aboriginal, Dutch, Japanese, English, and other borrowings, while over half a century of German-Russian Communism has had a noticeable impact on the vocabulary, rhetoric, and style of Amoy Hokkien). Another factor influencing the nature and identifiability of Taiwanese as a language worthy of respect and emulation is its tremendously vital and popular entertainment industry.


    For some of the more popular Japanese loanwords in Taiwanese Mandarin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiwanese_Mandarin#From_Japanese


    The Taiwanese pronunciation of 掖 is [e], the same as "A". The Mandarin pronunciation of 掖 is yē.

    The Taiwanese pronunciation of 掖錢 e Chîⁿ(in POJ [Peh Oe Ji / Pe̍h-oē-jī], i.e., Church Romanization). The Mandarin pronunciation of 掖錢 is yē qián.

    掖錢 or even A錢 is normally not pronounced as in Taiwanese. Generally when people say "A錢," the Chinese character is pronounced in Mandarin, while the "A" portion is pronounced according to its sound in the English alphabet. The "A" under discussion in this thread, whether Taiwanese or Mandarin (or both), would appear to be a new usage. Traditionally, the equivalent meaning in Taiwanese was expressed by the verb uai-ko 歪哥.


    Some additional observations by Melvin Lee:

    (1) I don’t think “vs.” means “and” in current Taiwanese. Most Taiwanese who have a better command of English would know that “vs.” means “versus.” However, for those who think “vs.” means “and,” it may be a mistake that they don’t even realize. It may be due to commercials or ads of products that are frequently seen. Since you are in Hong Kong right now, I would use the drink 鴛鴦奶茶 for example. I remember when this drink came to Taiwan many years ago, the ad would put something like 咖啡 vs. 奶茶, with a commercial line like “當咖啡遇上奶茶” to introduce this drink. For people who don’t know English well enough, it’s very possible that they would think “vs.” is the same as “and.” After all, “and” is much more frequently used than “versus.”

    (2) I have also been wondering for years why 機車 means "annoying" in Mandarin, or Taiwanese (though it’s pronounced as jī chē, which is Mandarin pronunciation). It may be true as “A-gu” mentioned in his comments, since 機車 is a colloquial and informal expression that is mostly used by the young generation. (The older generation may simply use the vulgar Taiwanese word that means the female organ.) However, I would say that 機車 is not the equivalent of “annoying” in English. I would say 討厭 is the word for "annoying," while 機車 is something more like “bitchy” in English. If we say somebody 很機車, it is definitely more than 討厭 or "annoying."

    (3) K書 probably comes from the English expression “hit the books,” since K has long been used to mean “to hit” (e.g., 他很機車, 我真想K他一頓) The phrase “K書” became extremely popular about 20 years ago when many young students would go to “K書中心” after school to study for exams. In “K書中心” each student has his own small unit where he can store his books and personal items. Many students would rent these units for months before taking the college or high school entrance exams (聯考). However, with the emergence of more public libraries and spaces to study, “K書中心” has eventually become the common memory of the last generation. Yet, “K書” is still a common phrase used by many people.

    (4) Exactly, in Taiwanese there is no “f-” sound and thus it’s very difficult for native Taiwanese speakers to pronounce “發” or “飯” in Mandarin. For example, my dad would always pronounce the two characters as “花” and “換.” However, many young people, even if they speak standard Mandarin, once in a while like to speak Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent, either to make fun of somebody, or simply to sound silly.


    Sarah (and others), is there anything that we have not covered yet?

  37. Cantonese Protests in China « The JC said,

    August 4, 2010 @ 1:18 am

    […] that many phrases such as 歹勢 (Taiwanese for "phai-seh") are unique to Taiwan. This blog post has an especially interesting discussion of this phenomenon (be sure to read the comments as […]

  38. Ellen Marker said,

    August 11, 2010 @ 7:29 am

    @ Some additional observations by Melvin Lee:

    (1) I don’t think “vs.” means “and” in current Taiwanese. Most Taiwanese who have a better command of English would know that “vs.” means “versus.” However, for those who think “vs.” means “and,” it may be a mistake that they don’t even realize.

    Melvin Lee, it is used in Taiwan even today, daily, on TV and in newspaper headline, to mean "and". It is a mistake, and even top newspaper editors don't think it's wrong. So there. I don't know if you still live in Taiwan, but it's the truth. Even Dr Tseng of Academia Sinica, former minister in govt, his book has the VS in the title and it means "and"…….even highly top educated people still believ it is okay to use VS for "and". it won't stop until……. someone sets them straight and it won't be me….

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