Speak Hakka, our Mother Tongue

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From the Hakka Affairs Council in Taiwan:


According to Khin-huann Li 李勤岸, retired professor from National Taiwan Normal University who is a Hakka speaker, the phrases in the center of the poster say:

Ngai kong Hak
A-me fa
Sin-kan-tau tsue tsing ke soo-tsai

I speak Hakka
Mother Tongue
the most beautiful site in the deep mind

Individuals of Hakka ethnicity comprise about 15-20% (roughly 4 million) of the total population of Taiwan, which is about 23.7 million.

From Mark Swofford, a citizen of Taiwan:

The Hakka get a lot of attention, relatively speaking, because they're a sought-after portion of the electorate. For example, in the run-up to her campaign, Tsai Ing-wen made an effort to learn the language, which is a step up from the usual level of lip service. My impression, however, is that the language is largely atrophying in Taiwan.

Unfortunately, the attrition of Hakka speakers in Taiwan is proceeding at an alarming rate:

According to academic studies carried out in 1994, the number of true Hakka speakers in Taiwan was being lost at a rate of 5% per year. According to a survey conducted by the Council for Hakka Affairs, only 11.6% of Taiwanese Hakka under the age of thirteen can fluently speak some dialect of Hakka. (Dec 29, 2010)

For some typically ill-informed remarks by Ma Ying-jeou (Tsai's predecessor as President) on using romanization for Hakka, see "Mayor Ma on learning Hakka and Taiwanese".

A light-hearted post on the Hakka word for "laboratory".

For more examples of Hakka language, some with Romanization, see this site.


[H.t. AntC; thanks to Grace Wu]


  1. Gene Anderson said,

    January 11, 2019 @ 10:42 pm

    I hope that all the languages of China will survive. Death to dull monolingualism.

  2. Chas Belov said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 1:33 am

    This might be a good time to mention the music of the Labor Exchange Band of Taiwan, who sing in Hakka.

  3. AntC said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 1:34 am

    Thank you Prof Mair. Advocating for 'Mother Tongue' had particular resonance with Bob Bauer's article on language teaching in HK, in the recent post.

    Announcements for trains/planes/buses in Taiwan are usually in Putonghua, Hokkien, Hakka, English (in that order), so most Taiwanese can at least recognise the sound of Hakka.

    Whatever the support for Hakka nowadays, I suspect there's a generation who've gone through the education system entirely in Putonghua; and the older generation is dying out. So in terms of Mother Tongue acquisition it's more grandmother tongue if at all.

  4. John Huston said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 7:45 pm

    More than once I have put my toes in the water, thinking it might be cool to learn Hakka. Only to find the water not so comfortable. Why? All you have to do is ask any Hakka friend how to say blah blah blah in Hakka. He or she will happily tell you "something," followed immediately by: "That's Hailu, MY Hakka. But there's also Lufeng, the other kind, and same thing in that is blah blah blah." Mostly it's just a difference in intonation pattern, but sometimes it goes deeper. This makes it effectively impossible to learn Hakka, because you will invariably learn one thing from one person and another thing from another person; one will be Hailu and the other will be Lufeng. So you turn out to be speaking a mishmash, the so-called 南腔北调。But that's not the end of it. There's also Jiaoling, and more. I have a Hailu friend who went to the Hailu Hakka areas in China, and he reported back that in some places he could barely communicate.

  5. Yastreblyansky said,

    January 12, 2019 @ 10:46 pm

    That "lip service" is kind of funny, as if suggesting that President Tsai's contribution is to speak Hakka using all the points of articulation and not just the labials.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

    Not Hakka, in this case, but Hoklo (Taiwanese).

    "Tainan stores begin Hoklo learning drive

    STREET SPEAK: Hoklo singer Hsieh Ming-yu said that the movement came about because it is easier to perfect a language when hearing it in an everyday setting"

    By Tsai Wen-chu and Jake Chung

    Taipei Times 1/12/19

  7. John Swindle said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 4:40 am

    Some years ago a co-worker in Hawaii, a local-born RN, asked why I was learning Mandarin. Mandarin's too hard. You should learn Toisan, she said; in Toisan-wa you just say it the way it sounds.

  8. leo jo said,

    January 17, 2019 @ 9:51 am

    Not Hakka, in this case, but Hoklo (Taiwanese).lumen sports

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