Writing Taiwanese with Romanization

« previous post | next post »

Persuasive 14:09 YouTube video of Aiong Taigi explaining why he doesn't use Chinese characters (Hàn-jī 漢字) on his channel, but instead sticks to Romanization (Lomaji) as much as possible:  A'ióng, lí sī án-chóaⁿ bô teh ēng Hàn-jī? 【阿勇,汝是安盞無塊用漢字?】:

Aiong has five main points.

The reasons are pretty simple, but you should still watch the video to get the complete picture:

1. Language is based in sound, not writing

2. Just about every other modern language in the world uses sound-based writing

3. There are (literally) fewer Taigi [VHM:  Taiwanese] speakers by the day, and Hanji don't benefit those who can't already speak it, while Lomaji train you on the sounds directly

4. It takes 2 weeks to learn Lomaji, vs. the many years it would take for people to learn Hanji, or even just to learn all the new/different Hanji used for Taigi

5. Hanji are overly politicized, there's no common agreement about which ones to use, and it's impossible to use "the right" Hanji without getting criticism from all sides

With these points in mind, while I do really like Hanji, I'm giving them up for now while Taigi is still in such a precarious position. Hanji aren't going anywhere, but Taigi might disappear for good if nobody knows how to speak it in the next generation or two. Lomaji, especially when written by Lomaji-literate native speakers, is the best tool we can use to preserve and promote Taigi.

Just imagine how quickly people could improve their Taigi if all that time spent researching or debating which Hanji is "chiàⁿ" were instead used to teach & practice Lomaji!

I enthusiastically concur with all of Aiong's points and his reasoning.  Aiong stresses spoken language over written symbols, and states that the latter is derived from the former.  Human beings have had speech for tens of thousands of years, but they have only had writing for about five thousand years, and advanced writing systems capable of representing all aspects of speech have only been around for about two to three thousand years

Many of the commenters also make cogent points, e.g.:

Yu Lim-Lim

Yes, the very language of Taiwanese is way more important than Hanji. Aiong's underlying thinking is Taiwan-centered rather than China-centered, and we should greatly appreciate this. We the Taiwanese should also think more for ourselves in terms of preserving our own language, rather than worrying all the time about the false orthodoxy concerning Hanji.

The Hanji firsters may be too well accustomed to the old China-centered thinking (which has been indoctrinated deeply in our minds through the old brainwash education), thus missing the real focus on the Taiwanese language itself. The Hanji firsters want us to believe that Taiwanese will not be Taiwanese without Hanji. However, they should understand that Taiwanese is not equal to Hanji, it is not representable only by Hanji, and it will certainly not die without Hanji.


A'ióng, thank you so much for this video !! The english subtitles are also so helpful for folks like me (heritage partial-speaker) who are trying to get our Tâi-gí back. I really appreciate all your points here, especially your dedication and your heart for Tâi-gí. My grandfather recently passed but only a little while before I was telling him about the way I was trying to learn Tâi-gí via lô-má-jī. I have never seen him so delighted. This man had spent his life learning languages– Japanese, and then Mandarin, and then English, but never was he taught how to record his own thoughts in his own native language and the concept touched him so intensely. Thank you so much for fighting the good fight for tâi-gí and giving hope to those of us trying to learn. Your thought that it should only take 1-2 months for someone without a good foundation in tâi-gí to learn how to use it is very encouraging. to-siā!

Here's the official romanization for Taiwanese endorsed by the Taiwan Ministry of Education:

Tâi-uân Lô-má-jī Phing-im Hong-àn

The official romanization system for Taiwanese Hokkien in Taiwan is locally referred to as Tâi-uân Lô-má-jī Phing-im Hong-àn or Taiwan Minnanyu Luomazi Pinyin Fang'an, often shortened to as Tâi-lô. It is derived from Pe̍h-ōe-jī and since 2006 has been one of the phonetic notation systems officially promoted by Taiwan's Ministry of Education. The system is used in the MoE's Dictionary of Frequently-Used Taiwan Minnan. It is nearly identical to Pe̍h-ōe-jī, apart from: using ts tsh instead of ch chh, using u instead of o in vowel combinations such as oa and oe, using i instead of e in eng and ek, using oo instead of , and using nn instead of .


It is derived from:


Pe̍h-ōe-jī (Taiwanese Hokkien: [peʔ˩ u̯e˩ d͡ʑi˨] (About this soundlisten), abbreviated POJ, literally vernacular writing, also known as Church Romanization) is an orthography used to write variants of Southern Min Chinese, particularly Taiwanese Hokkien and Amoy Hokkien. Developed by Western missionaries working among the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia in the 19th century and refined by missionaries working in Xiamen and Tainan, it uses a modified Latin alphabet and some diacritics to represent the spoken language. After initial success in Fujian, POJ became most widespread in Taiwan and, in the mid-20th century, there were over 100,000 people literate in POJ. A large amount of printed material, religious and secular, has been produced in the script, including Taiwan's first newspaper, the Taiwan Church News.



Selected reading

[Thanks to Chau Wu, who called Aiong Taigi's video to my attention and commented:  "After seeing it, my reaction was 'bǎigǎn jiāojí 百感交集' ('mixed emotions').  Here's an American trying to save the Taiwanese language".]


  1. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 2:59 pm

    Will we see soon the ABC Taiwanese-English Comprehensive Dictionary?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    October 7, 2020 @ 3:35 pm

    @Antonio L. Banderas

    That's a great suggestion!

    I will go looking for someone to compile such a dictionary, perhaps even Aiong Taigi himself.

  3. Neil Kubler said,

    October 8, 2020 @ 8:42 am

    Am impressed by A'iong's Taiwanese and his enthusiasm, and generally agree with the points he makes (with the minor quibble that spoken language is best learned from other speakers, not from the written word, even if in romanization). Re dictionaries, there are already 2 large, usable, relatively recent ones: Bernard Embree's 1973 A DICTIONARY OF SOUTHERN MIN (=Taiwanese Hokkien), and the 1976 Maryknoll AMOY-ENGLISH DICTIONARY (again=Taiwanese Hokkien). I wrote reviews of both in Journal of Chin. Ling. Vol. 7.1 (1979). Maryknoll later also put out an English-Taiwanese dictionary, again large with lots of examples. All are in Peh-oe-ji (Church Romanization) plus English plus characters (the characters are usually MANDARIN equivalents, not necessarily etymologically correct for Taiwanese or even what is customarily written). The big challenges for Hokkien in Taiwan are that (1) the KMT's Mandarin promotion was so successful that — with some exceptions — the younger, urban generation(s) typically have Mandarin as primary language and can understand a good bit and speak a little Hokkien; and (2) since over 30% of the population are of mainlander, Hakka, or indigenous origin and usually much prefer Mandarin over Taiwanese, Mandarin ends up being everyone's "compromise" language. So the number of speakers with full proficiency in Taiwanese Hokkien across all or most domains of daily life continues to decline…

  4. jin defang said,

    October 8, 2020 @ 10:22 am

    a long time ago, I read that Presbyterian missionaries had even translated the bible—source must've meant parts of it— into not only Taiwanese but indigenous languages. Presumably some of these survived but, if so, where?

RSS feed for comments on this post