Taiwanese language

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Southern Min dialect (Taiwan)
臺灣 話 Tâi-oân-oē - 鶴 佬 話 Hō-ló-oē

Spoken in

Republic of China (Taiwan)
speaker 15 million
Official status
Official language in Republic of China (Taiwan) ( national language )
Language codes
ISO 639 -1

zh (Chinese languages)

ISO 639 -2 ( B ) chi (Chinese languages) ( T ) zho (Chinese languages)
ISO 639-3

nan (Min Nan), zho (macro language, Chinese languages)

Taiwanese Minnan ( Chinese  臺灣 閩南 語 , Pe̍h-ōe-jī] Tâi-oân Bân-lâm-gú ), in short Taiwanese or Taiwanese ( Chinese  臺灣 話 , Pinyin Táiwānhuà , Pe̍h-ōe-jī] Tâi-oân-oē or 鶴 佬話 , Pe̍h-ōe-jī] Hō-ló-oē ; Chinese  臺 語 , Pinyin Táiyǔ ) is a variant of Hokkien , a Chinese language , and is the mother tongue of about 70% of the population of the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan . The native speakers of Taiwanese are known as Hoklo or Holo .

In RFC 3066 , Taiwanese has the designation "zh-min-nan-TW". The language does not have a standardization authority, but there are privately organized initiatives in this direction.


Use of Taiwanese as a colloquial language in households in Taiwan (2010 census)

Taiwanese is a variant of the southern Min dialect ( Min Nan ) spoken in Taiwan. Taiwanese is often seen as a dialect within the Chinese language . On the other hand, it can also be viewed as a separate language within the Sino-Tibetan language family . The distinction between whether Taiwanese is a dialect or a single language depends not least on political views. The classification can be presented independently as follows:

Sino-TibetanChineseMin (Fujian) ⊃ Min Nan (Southern Fujian) ⊃ Taiwanese

Taiwanese is similar to Min Nan , which is spoken in the southern part of Fujian Province because the ancestors of most of Taiwan's residents immigrated from Fujian Province in the 17th to 19th centuries . Like the Min-Nan dialect, the Taiwanese language has a slang version and a written language. The written language dates back to the 10th century and was also developed in Fujian Province. She came to Taiwan with the immigrants; it was previously used for official documents, but is now largely out of use.

There are modern linguists who relate the structure and basic vocabulary of the Taiwanese language to those of the Austronesian and Tai language families . However, these theories are controversial.


From a phonetic point of view, Taiwanese is a tonal language with extremely complex rules of tonandhi . Each syllable can have an initial , vowel, and final , each of which can be nasal .


The Taiwanese language has the following consonants:

  voiced voiceless /
voiceless /
fricative   s H  
palatoalveolar j ch chh  
bilabial b p ph m
dental l t th n
velar G k kh ng

There are no labiodental consonants.


There are the following vowels :

TLPA (臺灣 語言 音 標) a e i O oo u m ng
POJ (白話 字) a e i O u m ng
PSDB (普 實 臺 文) a e i oi O u m ng

When o is a closed O, o · is an open O. There are next to a series of diphthongs and triphthongs such. B. iau .

The vowels m and ng are nasal, all others are not nasal. But this can be made nasal by adding a ⁿ: a is non-nasal; aⁿ is the same vowel but nasalized.


Taiwanese has seven tones, numbered from 1 to 8 (not a mistake!). The second and sixth notes are the same. For example, the syllable a looks like this in the seven tones:

The seven tones of the Taiwanese language
  1. a high tone
  2. á falling tone
  3. à Low tone
  4. ah Low tone
  5. â Rising tone
  6. Like 2nd tone
  7. ā Medium tone
  8. a̍h high held tone

Often times, the tones are represented on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. The tones then look like this:

  1. 44 陰平
  2. 51 上聲
  3. 31 陰 去
  4. 3 陰 入
  5. 24 陽平
  6. like 2nd tone
  7. 33 陽 去
  8. 5 陽 入

A syllable in the 4th or 8th tone (i.e. the two held tones) can have p , t or k at the end. But then the syllable cannot be nasal. These three plosives are seen as counterparts to the nasal finals m , n and ng in other tones.

Nevertheless, syllables in the 4th or 8th tone can be nasal, namely when they end in h , e.g. B. siaⁿh .

There is also a zeroth tone , which has a grammatical function and is notated with two dashes (-) in front of the syllable.

The dialect of the north coast of Taiwan does not distinguish between the 4th and the 8th tone; both are pronounced as if it were a fourth tone.

Structure of the syllables

Every syllable needs a vowel, diphthong or triphthong in the middle. All consonants can be used as initial sounds at the beginning of the syllable. The consonants p , t , k ; m , n and ng (and also h , that has a special position) can come at the end of the syllable.

So you can build syllables like ngiau ( scratch ) and thng ( soup ). These two syllables are both nasal: the first has an initial nasal consonant, the other has a nasal vowel.


Taiwanese has extremely complex rules of tonsandhi . This means that the tones in a phrase (this can be a word, a thought or a sentence - what exactly this phrase is in this context is still being researched) influence each other.


Modern linguistics estimates that much of the words in the Taiwanese language have relatives in other Chinese dialects. This does not apply to about 10 to 25 percent of the words. But in addition, there are also many false friends , for example, the word Chau , which in Taiwanese race means while the word zǒu in standard Chinese go means.

Writing system

In most cases, the Taiwanese language with Chinese characters written, the Han characters are called. However, there are a number of special characters that are unique to the Taiwanese language and that are sometimes used in informal writing. Sometimes Taiwanese is written using a Latin alphabet , Pe̍h-oē-jī , which was developed by missionaries and promoted by the Presbyterian Church since the 19th century . Lately there have also been texts that use a mixture of Chinese characters and the western alphabet, but this type of text is (still) rare. There are also other writing systems based on the Latin alphabet, the most important of which are TLPA (Taiwanese Language Phonetic Alphabet) , Modern Literal Taiwanese and Tongyong Pinyin .


Within the Min-nan- speaking community of Southeast Asia, the pronunciation of Xiamen (Amoy dialect) is standard, the other variants are that of Choâⁿ-chiu (Chinchew; Quanzhou in Fujian Province ), Chiang-chiu (Changchew; Zhangzhou in Fujian) and Tio-Chiu ( Teochew ; from Chaozhou in the province of Guangdong ).

Within Taiwan, the standard language is that of Tâi-lâm ( Tainan , southern Taiwan). There are also

  • the northern accent. Typical is the lack of the 8th tone and that vowels shift ( i to 'u', e to oe ).
  • the central accent, especially near Taichung and the port city of Lo̍k-káng ( Lugang ). This accent has an extra vowel between i and u represented as 'ö'.
  • the north / north-east coastal accent, from Gî-lân ( Yilan ). You can recognize it by the fact that the vowel ng shifts to uiⁿ here .


Most people in Taiwan are proficient in both Mandarin Chinese and the Taiwanese language, although the level of proficiency can vary widely. Which language is chosen depends very much on the situation:

  • Standard Chinese is usually preferred in an official situation. In an informal situation, the Taiwanese language is more likely to be spoken.
  • Taiwanese is more common in the countryside, whereas Standard Chinese is more common in the cities, especially in the capital Taipei .
  • The older people tend to prefer the Taiwanese language, while the younger people tend to speak Mandarin Chinese.
  • In the media, the Taiwanese language is used in soap operas, dramas and variety shows, while documentaries and game shows tend to be produced in standard Chinese.

Special art forms

Chhit-jī-á is a typical Taiwan meter in which each rhyme of seven syllables.

There is a special form of stage performance, the Taiwan Opera, in which the plot usually revolves around an event in the story. There is also a Taiwanese puppet show that is unique to Taiwan and has evolved over the past twenty years to the point where there are great puppet shows on television today.


There was a lot of civil unrest and armed conflict in Taiwan in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of these conflicts have been resistance to the government (both Chinese and Japanese governments). However, there were also numerous conflicts between the individual groups of the population. These conflicts often revolved around language. There are records of conflicts between the Hakka and the Taiwanese-speaking population, between those who spoke one of the indigenous languages ​​and the Taiwanese-speaking population, and among the Taiwanese-speaking people who spoke different dialects.

In the 20th century, the distinction between dialects in Taiwan is even more sensitive than in other regions of China. The dialect spoken is what distinguishes people who came to Taiwan after 1949 , the year the People's Republic of China was founded and the end of the Chinese civil war , from those who have long since settled on the island. In the meantime, the differences in both political and linguistic terms have blurred, but the political issues surrounding the use of the Taiwanese language remain complex and controversial. The relationship to standard Chinese is particularly complex.

But there is still no agreement on the naming. Many prefer the Taiwanese language name for the Taiwanese variant of the southern Min dialect because it puts the language on a par with Standard Chinese, Hakka, and the native languages. Others prefer the name Min-nan (southern Min dialect) or Hokkien because it expresses that Taiwanese is a variant of the Min-nan language spoken in Fujian Province in what is now the People's Republic of China . Many reject this name for precisely this reason. One can have long debates with Taiwanese as to whether Taiwanese is a language or a dialect. In linguistics, the distinction between language and dialect is never a linguistic criterion; a language and a dialect are completely the same in terms of formal criteria. The difference is made by the number of speakers, the volume of available literature and, above all, the political status.

Taiwanese in politics

The Kuomintang tried until the 1980s, the Taiwanese language in favor of the standard Chinese, in Taiwan as a "national language" ( Chinese  國語 , Pinyin Guóyǔ  - "Language of the Nation") referred to displace. The use of Taiwanese in school was forbidden. In the electronic media, the amount of broadcast in Taiwanese was limited. These measures were lifted in the 1990s. In the education sector, standard Chinese is still the dominant language; however, it is possible to learn Taiwanese, Hakka, or a native language at school.

The use of the Taiwanese language instead of standard Chinese is part of the movement for Taiwanese independence. The connection between politics and language is no longer as strong as it used to be. To gain political office in Taiwan, you must be fluent in both Taiwanese and Mandarin Chinese. This applies both to those politicians who advocate independence for Taiwan and to those who stand for union with China.

Politician James Soong was responsible early in his career for restricting Taiwanese and other local languages ​​in the media. Later he was one of the first politicians to stand for unification with China, but sometimes used the Taiwanese language in informal situations. Since then, many politicians who oppose Taiwan's independence also speak the Taiwanese language during the election campaign, even if they do not speak this language as their mother tongue and have poor command of it. Conversely, politicians who advocate independence also use standard Chinese in formal situations. An example of this is former President Chen Shui-bian , who spoke standard Chinese in all official speeches, during election campaigns or on less official occasions such as B. when delivering New Year's greetings, he spoke Taiwanese.

Despite all these similarities, there are still differences in attitudes towards Standard Chinese and the Taiwanese language. In general, those in favor of unification with China think that while all languages ​​spoken in Taiwan must be respected, they want a preferential status for Standard Chinese as the working language between the various groups of the population. Proponents of independence think that the Taiwanese language or no language should have a preference. In 2002 a party proposed making the Taiwanese language the second official language of the Republic of China (Taiwan) . This proposal was rejected not only by supporters of the association, but also by Hakka and indigenous people, fearing that their mother tongue would be marginalized. Others refused for practical reasons or they wanted to avoid ethnic tensions in the country.

A discussion broke out in 2003 when a judge exam included Chinese characters that are only used in the Taiwanese language. In the end, these questions were not taken into account when calculating the result. As with the discussion about the official language, the objections here came not only from those in favor of unification with China, but also from Hakka and representatives of the indigenous people.

Other possible meanings

Languages ​​of the indigenous people of Taiwan

In the west, the term Taiwanese languages ​​is sometimes used to refer to the languages ​​of the native people of the island of Taiwan. In order to avoid misunderstandings, the term languages ​​of the indigenous people of Taiwan should be used in this case .

Taiwanese dialect of standard Chinese

The term Taiwanese language is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to Standard Chinese, which is the official language of the Republic of China (Taiwan) . This standard Chinese, spoken by around 80 percent of the population of Taiwan, differs to a certain extent in terms of vocabulary, grammar and especially the pronunciation from standard Chinese in the People's Republic of China; however, the differences are far smaller than those between Standard Chinese and Taiwanese. The differences are comparable to those between standard German in Germany and Austrian German . In modern linguistics, the Taiwanese variant of standard Chinese is referred to as the Taiwanese dialect of standard Chinese .

Taiwanese languages

As a gesture of equality, it was proposed that all languages ​​spoken in Taiwan be designated Taiwanese languages . This would include all of the possible meanings mentioned in this article, including Hakka as well as the local dialects of Japanese-speaking and English-speaking minorities.


  • Henning Klöter: Written Taiwanese . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-447-05093-4
  • Katharina Sommer, Shu-Kai Xie: Taiwanese word for word . Kauderwelsch Volume 170, 2004, ISBN 3-89416-348-8

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