Polyscriptal, multilingual packaging for thousand-year eggs

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From Julie Wei:

This is a photograph of packaging for pídàn 皮蛋 ("pidan; peedan; century egg; preserved egg; hundred-year egg; thousand-year egg; thousand-year-old egg; millennium egg; skin egg; black egg; pine-patterned egg").

The ㄟ in the center of the big characters at the top of the package stands for the possessive particle in Hoklo Taiwanese.  It is pronounced "ê [e]" and often also written with the Roman letter "e", but is also sometimes written with the Japanese possessive particle "no の", and even with Mandarin "de 的" or Classical Chinese "zhī 之", both of which are possessive particles, but always pronounced "ê [e]".  As for ㄟ itself, that is the zhùyīn 注音 ("phonetic annotation") for the sound [ei] in Mandarin.  Another zhùyīn 注音 ("phonetic annotation") symbol that is occasionally used to stand in for the Hoklo Taiwanese possessive particle is ㄝ [ɛ].

By now you have probably surmised that there is no Sinograph (Chinese character) for the most frequent morpheme in Hoklo Taiwanese.  While this may seem shocking to many readers, a similar situation obtains for all Sinitic topolects, a reality that I have often pointed out on Language Log and elsewhere.  To put it bluntly, the Sinographs are not well suited for the vernacular languages of China.

The use of the ㄟ in the center of the big characters at the top of the package signals that we should read it as Hoklo Taiwanese, not Mandarin.

Tâi-oân ê phî-tàn 台灣ㄟ皮蛋 ("Taiwan pidan / preserved eggs")

The pītan ピータン sandwiched between the English in the bottom left is the Japanese transcription of pídàn 皮蛋 ("pidan; preserved egg").

So we have four different writing systems and three separate languages (four, if some people will read the Sinographic parts more as Mandarin than as Hoklo Taiwanese) on the front of this package.


"Our Taiwan" (11/19/13)

"Polyscriptal Taiwanese" (7/24/10)

"Multilingual tea packaging" (4/7/18)


  1. Keith said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 2:37 am

    I saw a very similar package in a supermarket in the US a few years ago. Not being able to read Chinese, any presence of zhùyīn fúhào would have gone unnoticed, but I was struck by "lead free" being very prominently marked.

    I took a photo og the package, and showed it to a Chinese-born colleague; she explained that in the past, these eggs were sometimes preserved using mineral salts containing dangerous amount of lead.

    I'll see if I can dig out that photo…

  2. maidhc said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 2:51 am

    At one time, when I was considering a cartooning career, I thought of a customer in a Chinese restaurant saying "Waiter! When will my thousand-year-old eggs be ready?"

    Despite a short run in my college newspaper, I came to realize that I didn't have what it would take to succeed as a cartoonist.

  3. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 4:08 am

    If usages like this are common, doesn't that effectively make ㄟ a sinograph?

  4. Mango said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 4:33 am

    There are also a few ways to write "ê" in characters. Outside of NTU in Taipei, there is a 臺灣〈入下〉店, and I have also seen 吔 used for "ê".

  5. Tony Guilfoyle said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 6:44 am

    Shouldn't that expiry date be 3019.05.23?

  6. krogerfoot said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 8:11 am

    The 健康無鉛・真空保鮮 on the package seemed so perfectly readable in Japanese that, along with the ピータン, I at first assumed this was for sale in Japan, with the Taiwanese incorporated to give the design some exotic flavor. However, looking up 無鉛 muen "no lead" brings up unleaded gasoline, and 保鮮 doesn't appear to exist in Japanese, though it's easily understood as "keeping fresh."

  7. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 8:59 am

    The idea of keeping "thousand-year eggs" fresh is intriguing.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

    From Mark Swofford:

    For an example of GR (Gwoyeu Romatzyh ["National Romanization" tonal spelling]) with pidan (pyidann), see:


  9. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 10:22 am

    @Tony Guilfoyle:
    Perhaps they were packaged in 1019 :D

  10. Coby Lubliner said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 10:42 am

    I once posted about a biscriptal, quadrilingual label on a package of cookies.

  11. Coby Lubliner said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 10:45 am

    Sorry, the link didn't work. (What happened with the preview?) Let me try again:

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