So sorry: pronouncing phái*-sè

A couple of people have asked me about the name of this blog and how to pronounce it. I was looking around for a suitable site to explain the POJ romanisation for Taiwanese but (of course, silly me) there isn’t one. If I were to give a rough approximation of the pronunciation of phái*-sè, the nearest equivalent in English would be pie-say. For those of you who know some Mandarin, the closest pinyin would be pai-sei (I know ‘sei’ is not a legitimate sound in Mandarin, but you get the picture).

Gate to Tainan Confucian Temple

And what’s going on with the asterisk? This denotes nasalisation of the preceding sound and is more often written with a superscript ‘n’: pháiⁿ-sè. However, there seems to be a display problem with this character on the Mac (which I use at home) so until that’s resolved, I’ll stick with the asterisk. As for what impact this has on the sound, imagine pronouncing the vowels as if you had a cold and you’ll get close. It helps if you screw up your nose at the same time. The accent marks over the vowels represent tones, but Taiwanese tones are such a nastily complex subject that I think I’ll leave that for another time.

As for the reason I chose to call this blog phái*-sè, it has to be one of the most useful words I have learned here – in fact it was the first word I learned in any Chinese language. It means ‘sorry’ (the Mandarin would be 不好意思; bùhăo yìsī) and it seems that many confrontations can be resolved by one party bowing their head briefly and saying “phái*-sè, phái*-sè!” Very handy indeed.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Hoklo, Minnan, Taiwanese language

6 Comments on “So sorry: pronouncing phái*-sè”


  1. I’m all in favour of romanisation, but how is phái*-sè usually written in Chinese characters?

  2. Prince Roy Says:

    I can ask my Taiwanese teacher at Wednesday’s class if no one knows.

  3. Taffy Says:

    Well, a lot of Taiwanese phrases use approximations that are not really codified – in this case the characters 歹勢 are usually used (pronounced dǎi shì in Mandarin). 歹 has a Mandarin meaning of “wicked, evil” and 勢 means “conditions, influence”. I think (but don’t know for sure) that these are sounds loans, not meaning loans. PR – I’d be interested to hear your teacher’s theory on where these loan characters come from.

  4. Charlie Says:

    People often use 拍謝 to ‘write’ this word with chinese characters, I think it would be a kind of language loan.

    It’s really funny to use chinese character to write taiwanese, like 哇似瓦勾狼 Wa1si4 wa3gou1lang2 ( I’m foreigner), 哇似拍狼 Wa1si4 pai1lang2 (I’m a bad person), 但哇幾勒 Dan4 wa1 ji3 le4 ( Wait me for a moment), etc.

    Btw, thanks for the link 🙂

  5. Taffy Says:

    That’s interesting, Charlie, I’d not seen those characters used before for phái*-sè. I’d got the impression 謝 usually represented the same sound and concept in Taiwanese – ‘siā’ as in 多謝 (to-siā).

    The characters you use to write Taiwanese (哇似瓦勾狼) are a fun way to play around with the sounds, but of course people who write Taiwanese with characters (not too many of those around!) would use the standard characters with a Taiwanese reading: 我是外國人 – góa sī gōa-kok-lâng, only using non-standard characters where the is no obvious equivalent (phái*-sè being a good example). Your second example would probably be rendered 我是歹人 or 我是拍人 (góa sī phái*-lâng).

    This is a good reason why romanisation works better than characters – there is no standard and so different people use different characters. Of course, this comes about because there is very little current secular literature in Taiwanese, whether written all in characters, in character-romanisation mix or purely in romanisation. The sad fact is that there is no motivation for people in general to learn to write Taiwanese in any form – most feel they already have a perfectly good (!) means of communication in standard written Chinese – why would you go to the hassle of learning another written system (even one as easy as POJ)?

  6. Joe H Says:

    Very creative indeed, for someone who is born a Taiwanese and now also learning and maintaining Hoklo, I give all of you tremendous credit and love for a languange, which is consider to be my original dialect. Please do email me if you have other sites that teaches English PinYin methods for Taiwanese. Thanks a million.


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