The modern language that we call Taiwanese has been passed on for
several generations primarily through oral tradition without a
standardized writing system. It may be considered a variant of the Amoy
dialect of Chinese brought by Fujianese settlers from mainland China to
the island of Taiwan (Formosa). The Taiwanese language has captured the
history of the island in its borrowing of words from Aboriginal
Languages, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, and English.
Modern Taiwanese has extensive colloquial vocabulary from
Ancient Chinese (ca. start of common era) as well as literary
vocabulary from the eras of the Tang Dynasty (ca.
618-907) and South
Song Dynasty (1127-1279). However, it is
still not natural for many people to write modern Taiwanese with Han
characters. Until the late 19th century, educated Taiwanese speakers
wrote solely in literary Chinese. Where Han characters have been used
to record spoken Taiwanese, they are not always etymological or
genetic; the borrowing of similar-sounding or similar-meaning
characters is a common practice. The lack of a written standard and the
difficulty in learning the relatively complicated Han characters posed
a great barrier to written record of Taiwanese speech.
A system of writing Taiwanese using Latin characters called
POJ, meaning "vernacular writing", was developed in the 19th century.
The indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has been active in
promoting the language since the late 19th century. In 1945, Professor
Liim Keahioong, formerly of the Cheng-Kung University in Taiwan,
pioneered a system based on POJ called the Taiwanese Modern Spelling
System (TMSS). TMSS has evolved into Modern Taiwanese Language (MTL),
also known as Modern Literal Taiwanese (MLT). This page uses MTL to write
Review of Tones in MTL
af, ar, ax, aq, aa, (ar), a, ah
Lie hør! (Hello!)
Ciaqpar`bøe? (Hello. Literally, "have you eaten?")
Cyn tøsia! (Thank you very much!)
Biern khehkhix! (Don't be polite!)
Many Taiwan Place Names (about 70-80% of them) have origins in the Formosan Aboriginal Languages. However, the Modern Chinese names were often borrowed as graphic loans from Japanese Kanji, which were phonetic loans of the Taiwanese Harnji, which were phonetic loans of the original Aboriginal names.
The Spanish came in 1626, built Fort Santo
Domingo on the northwest coast of Taiwan near Keelung, which they
occupied until 1642 when they were driven out by a joint
Dutch-Aborigine invasion force.
Some Taiwan place names come from Spanish. The Modern Hanji may have been influenced by Japanese.
Sansia Township, southwestern
part of Taipei County
Cape of San Diego, eastern part
of Taipei County
Here are some Taiwanese terms that come from Spanish:
Here are some miscellaneous terms in Taiwanese that you may recognize in English.
tea (from Amoy)
kowtow (to kneel and touch
the forehead to the ground in token of homage, worship, or deep respect)
cumshaw (grateful thanks, from
sampan (a flat-bottomed skiff
used in eastern Asia and usually propelled by two short oars)
(sugar-apple), resembles top part of Gautama Buddha's (Sakyamuni) head
Literary vs. Colloquial: The Numbers
There are two sets of numbers in Taiwanese: the literary style (usually used
to recite numbers 0 through 9) and the colloquial style (usually used
to count objects). The colloquial readings come from Ancient Han
Chinese (ca. 0 BCE/CE), whereas the literary readings come from Han
Chinese during the
South Song Dynasty
ji, nng (a pair)
(L) Chviafmng larn hiaf si safm kiuo sux, gvor khoxng, liok pad? = Question, is this 3945068?
(L) Itkiuo Kiwpad Nii, Siegøeh Zhøezap= 1998, April 10th
(C) Zap zhuix, kao khazhngf. = 10 mouths, 9 bottoms.
in front of
back in location
on top of
Some Taiwanese Sayings
U Tngsvoaf Kofng, bQo Tngsvoaf Mar. (有唐山公、無唐山媽)
Literally, "Have Tangshan grandfathers, but not Tangshan grandmothers."
Meaning: "We have Chinese forefathers but no Chinese foremothers."
Svaf hun laang, chid hun zngf. (三分人，七分妝)
Three parts nature, seven parts makeup.