Another multilingual, multiscriptal sign in Taiwan

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Mark Swofford sent in this photograph of a clever, curious sign at an automobile repair shop in Taiwan:

That particular 9 to 9 (耐途耐) store is near the border between Banqiao and Zhonghe, right here.  Mark snapped the photo as he was passing by on a bus. Proper credit, though, belongs to his wife, Hsin-chun, who noticed the sign first.

The three big characters say:

nài tú nài 耐途耐

The characters are being used primarily for phonetic transcriptional purposes, though they may also have some secondary punning functions:

nài 耐 ("resistant; [be able] to bear / withstand; to be durable")

tú 途 "road; route; way; path; journey; course; method")

Because 耐, in Mandarin, is pronounced simply as nài, whereas Taiwanese is replete with nasalization, I wondered whether the 耐 here might reflect a nasalized pronunciation, thus more closely matching the "nine" of the English.  If not, maybe the Taiwanese simply ignore, or do not hear, the final "n" in "nine".

I received some good answers from people I asked about this.

Chau Wu:

耐 is pronounced in Taiwanese (both literary and vernacular readings) as nāi.  It is in 去聲 (more specifically 陽去), so it is essentially the same as MSM nài. So, no, it does not have final nasalization.

Michael Cannings:

I can't say never (because of local varieties, etc.) but I've always heard it as just nāi, i.e., no nasalisation in the final. Checked a couple of dictionaries, which corroborate that view.

In "standard" Taiwanese *naiⁿ (in any tone) is not a licit phoneme. So the only option to recognise that final "n" and still honour the Taiwanese sounds would be to make it two syllables, like "nai-ni" or something, but the simple "nai" feels like the closest.


耐 has a vowel nasalization if the speaker pronounces it that way :)

Jokes aside, 耐 may be read LĀI or NĀI, whether used in a Kanbun word or a Taiwanese word. Many speakers have a tendency to either over- or under-nasalize, and this is one of those words with no clear “winner”. (In Taiwanese phonology, L- and N- represent the same onset, the only difference is in nasalization of the rhyme. E.g., NĀI could just as well be written LĀIⁿ. Some authors write that way, although it is not considered customary.)

As an illustrative example, CHAI (to know) is often over-nasalized to become CHAIⁿ as a result of frequently appearing before IÁⁿ (CHAI-IÁⁿ; to have knowledge of), although it is taken as a given that the “textbook” pronunciation should be without nasalization.

No matter exactly how people pronounce it, this is a fun sign.

Selected reading


  1. Aiong said,

    December 18, 2021 @ 7:56 pm

    I assume this is intended to be pronounced in Mandarin, since the Taiwanese tone patterns don't sound much like "9 to 9", and 途 is TÔ͘ [tɔ˩˧] which doesn't really fit. A Taiwanese speaker (who has an accent when speaking Mandarin) would possibly have a fairly nasal pronunciation of Mandarin 耐 (NÀI), but to me it seems unlikely that the name was chosen with Taiwanese in mind.

  2. John Swindle said,

    December 18, 2021 @ 8:25 pm

    Meanwhile times marches on. According to Google Translate 请勿收台 ("please don't clear table"), from your linked 2019 post "Do not accept Taiwan," now means "Don't close" in English and most other available languages. Some exceptions: in Hawaiian it seems to mean "Don't stop" and in Mongolian "Don't shut up."

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