Hakka now an official language of Taiwan

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In China and in the Sinophone diaspora, although Hakka may be relatively few in number, they are disproportionately influential in practically every realm of society, politics, and culture:  government, the military, literature, film, cuisine, business, academia, and so on and so forth.

"Hakka made an official language" (Taipei Times, 12/30/17)

Hakka is to be made the primary language in townships where half the people are Hakka, while some civil servants will be required to take a Hakka language test.

Hakka thus joins Taiwanese / Hokkien / Hoklo and Mandarin as an official language of Taiwan.  There are, of course, many other Sinitic and non-Sinitic languages spoken in Taiwan, including the aboriginal languages (mostly Autronesian, but some Malayo-Polynesian).  All school children in Taiwan (as in China) learn English from a young age, and Japanese is also influential, both from its having been the language of government and education during the colonial period and from its powerful contemporary cultural and commercial attraction.

For an introduction to the Hakka people and their language, see:

"Hakka: 'Guest families'" (10/12/15)

There are around 4.6 million Hakka in Taiwan today, comprising 15-20% of the total population.

There are about 40 million Hakka in the PRC, amounting to less than 4% of the total population.

The Hakka are the most diasporic of Chinese ethnic groups, which accounts for their having a worldwide population of around 80 million.

[h.t. Anne Henochowicz]


  1. Scott said,

    January 3, 2018 @ 8:11 pm

    Am I correct in assuming there is an etymological relationship between the names of those langauges? It seems like an ancestor language may have been called something like "haklan" and various sound changes either assimilated or palatalized the "kl" to "ki" or "kk".

  2. R. Fenwick said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 1:46 am

    @Victor Mair:
    including the aboriginal languages (mostly Autronesian, but some Malayo-Polynesian)

    Tangential to the point at hand, but Malayo-Polynesian *is* Austronesian. By most accounts it's simply the one branch of the Austronesian family that expanded outside of Taiwan. Malcolm Ross's work on Austronesian verb morphology also suggests that diachronically MP is not even a particularly divergent branch within Austronesian, forming part of a subsidiary grouping that also includes five other branches of Formosan languages as well as Bunun and Paiwan (though not Puyuma, Rukai, or Tsou).

    Ross's 2009 paper on PA verb morphology

  3. Guy_H said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 7:57 am

    For added context, it's worth noting that the number of Hakka speakers in Taiwan is around 6-7% of the population (https://www.dgbas.gov.tw/public/Attachment/341715421871.pdf). In other words, the number of Taiwanese Hakka speakers is less than half of the population with Hakka ancestry. A good example is President Tsai Ing-Wen, who is not proficient in the language (although it is somewhat unusual for someone of her generation to not speak it fluently) and based on interviews, seems to speak English more fluently than she does Hakka.

  4. B.Ma said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 9:13 am

    My maternal grandfather was Hakka but for whatever reason spoke English with my Teochew grandmother, as was the case with several other Hakka marrying into my family. So plenty of my cousins are part-Hakka but none of us know a word of the language. There doesn't seem to be any easy way to learn or use the language.

    In Taiwan I end up speaking English when my Mandarin isn't good enough, as there aren't very many Cantonese speakers.

  5. Sameer said,

    January 4, 2018 @ 3:22 pm

    @Scott: no, the two names are not related.

    “Hakka” (客家: Hak-kâ in Hakka, Kheh-ka in Hoklo) is etymologically “guest-family”, a reference to the group’s southerly migrations.

    “Hoklo” (福佬: Hok-ló in Hoklo, rendered phonetically as 學老: Ho̍k-ló in Hakka) is etymologically “Fu(jian)/Hok(kien) people”, a reference to their region of origin, although there are also some competing etymologies for that name.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    January 5, 2018 @ 4:31 am

    An interesting discussion on the etymology of Hakka and Hoklo starts here.

  7. Jonathan Smith said,

    January 5, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

    Extrapolating from discussion at the above link and elsewhere, it seems to me that the key gap in explaining the designation Hakka 客家 lies between autonyms of She (like [hɔ22 ne42]) and of closely affiliated Hmong languages including Kiong Nai (like [kjaŋ31 nɛ31]) which mean "mountain people" (in that order), and between autonyms of She Hakka (like [saŋ44 xaʔ5]) which interpreted as Sinitic mean "mountain guest / guest from the mountains". Solutions to close the gap would still be speculative (e.g., "guest from mountains" was applied to culturally Sinicized Ho Ne "mountain people" by themselves or by others?), but arguably speculation of a relatively constrained sort…

    Less constrained: maybe She1 畬 ultimately reflects some HM 'person'? Or (departing from the above) ke4 客 ultimately reflects some HM 'mountain'?

    I learned from the posts below, whose author suspects that xaʔ5 and equivalent may be non-Sinitic:
    番 comment 1
    番 comment 2

    IPA above from
    Wiki 畲语 talk
    Wiki Kong Nai

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