Archive for the ‘Taiwan’ category

Tailingua: New Website about the Taiwanese Language

October 20, 2007

Unfortunately this blog never really got off the ground as I got busy with other stuff (getting married, getting on with my job etc.) and it fell by the wayside.

However, things have now settled down a bit and I’ve opened a new website called Tailingua, which includes information about the language and a “News” section which is the successor to this blog. Hope to see you over there soon!


Computers and romanised Taiwanese

September 21, 2006

In the comments section of this blog, Prince Roy asked a question about fonts for Taiwanese romanisation – a fleshed out answer is the subject of this post.

One of the problems with POJ being a fairly obscure system for writing a neglected language is that of entering the romanisation on a computer. Hanyu Pinyin for Mandarin Chinese is pretty well established on the internet – all the necessary accented characters exist in standard unicode set. The same cannot be said of POJ (also called Church Romanisation) which is probably the most used system for the Southern Min dialect group, which includes Taiwanese. There are many different ways to produce POJ, some of which are outlined below.

The first thing to consider is whether you want to write your POJ for general consumption. If not, the answer is pretty easy – there are POJ-specific fonts you can download which replace seldom-used characters in the palette with appropriately accented characters. Trouble with this approach is that as soon as you change your writing into another font or transfer it to a computer without the font, it becomes gibberish.

A better approach for producing POJ that is readable on (nearly) all systems without the need to download new programs is to use an IME (Input Method Editor) which converts keyed input into POJ viewable by anyone (this is the approach I use). For the Mac OpenVanilla does the job like a charm and is very easy to use. I’m not aware of a similar IME for the PC, but if anyone is, please let me know.

The third option if the two above are unsuitable is to combine diacritics with regular roman letters to result in the characters required. The tricky accents in POJ are the 8th tone mark (a straight vertical line over the relevant letter: e.g. “a̍”) and a variety of tones over consonants. This is fiddly, time-consuming and so not ideal. Alternatively cutting and pasting the correct characters is an option for short texts.

The difficulties with typing POJ led me to use my own system when I first started learning Taiwanese – one much closer to Hanyu Pinyin (easing the transition). Taiwanese suffers from not having a standardised romanisation system – POJ, TLPA and other be-acronym’d scripts all compete for attention, to the detriment of the language as a whole. Ideally someone (Taiwan’s Guóyǔ Tuīxíng Wěiyuánhuì [國語推行委員會], perhaps?) would regulate, choose one (I don’t really care which one, at this point) and get on with the business of teaching and promoting it.

Having said all this, the best way for the average PC user to input POJ is to install a unicode font, but this does involve reprogramming your shortcuts in Word (or whatever) to output the correct characters. This should however be viewable by other users who don’t have the font installed.

If enough people are interested I could work on a web-based converter (not now, though – fearsome busy at the moment) to move between the major varieties of Taiwanese romanisation. I also plan to post about my adapted Hanyu Pinyin that is (I feel) more intuitive for those who already know the system for Mandarin Chinese.

Taiwanease Magazine – out today!

September 1, 2006

Some of you will know that I have been involved with the start-up of a new magazine here in Taiwan – today finally sees the publication of our first issue. It’s called Taiwanease (ease, get it? what wit…) and is available in over a hundred locations around the island.

front cover

Throughout the process of putting the magazine together, I have been very lucky to have met some great people who have made this all possible. Writers for the first issue include

  • Steven D. Quinn – his early experience as a Mormon missionary
  • Daniel Wallace (formerly of ‘Suitcasing’) – Taipei transport and the lessons it can teach
  • Linda Gail Arrigo – 1960’s Taipei from an American perspective (including an interesting photo of her father, Major Joseph Arrigo, shaking hands with Madame Chiang)
  • Nana Chen – interview with digital/photographic artist Kuo Hui-Chan
  • Christina MacFarquhar – industrial Yunlin’s unlikely mammalian neighbours
  • TC Lin (Poagao) – a tongue-in-cheek piece examining plans to fine people for staring at foreigners

Add to this mix an events and movie guide plus extensive classified ads (sell your car, find a job, adopt a pet) and you have the essential features of issue 1. We’re still looking for writers for later issues, so if you think you have something to contribute, please drop me a line.

Also, if you can’t get hold of Taiwanease in your town and would like to suggest a distribution point, let me know and I’ll be happy to add more locations for issue 2.

Online resources for Taiwanese learning

August 18, 2006

At the beginning of this year I started taking Taiwanese classes at Maryknoll in Taipei. Taiwanese is a language from the same family as Mandarin Chinese (which I already have a conversational ability in) and the difference between the two is said to be akin to that between two Romance languages, say French and Spanish. Not too hard then, right? Ha!

One of the problems facing the Taiwanese learner is the severe lack of resources available for the language. Over the years it has been suppressed (by both the Japanese and the KMT) and only has a worldwide speaking population of around 30 50 million (including near cousin dialects), so it’s not the most popular choice for foreign language study. Add to this the fact that there is no universally agreed-upon system to write it down and that it’s just plain difficult to learn; perhaps it’s no surprise that few choose to do so.

So, what help is out there for English-speaking would-be learners? Well, aside from the materials produced by Maryknoll (including textbooks, dictionaries and tapes) and one other textbook which is pretty poor, there is a small range of stuff available on the net – here’s a brief survey:


Probably the best place to start. The article on Taiwanese is pretty comprehensive and balanced, with some good links.

Minnan Wikipedia

Simply the largest collection of romanised Taiwanese articles on the web. Uses the Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) romanisation system – the one I learned and use on this blog.


Written predominantly in mixed Han and POJ orthography, I lack the necessary literacy with characters to properly evaluate this site.


Site to learn Taiwanese that starts off quite promisingly, but there are only ten lessons available to view – the rest can be purchased as audio files. Bah.


Has not been updated in some years, but still carries a useful amount of information about the language. Also has a Taiwanese > Mandarin dictionary, but the romanisation system is odd.

Sadly, that’s about it for the moment. As I said, resources are sparse and it requires a lot of motivation to study – the best way to improve is to speak with the people all the time.

Above: Puppet shows are usually all in Taiwanese.

Better late than never…

August 18, 2006

Well, I know everyone else has been doing this for years, but I’ve finally succumbed to the pressure from my legion of fans (!) to start posting the minutiae of my life in spirit-crushing detail. Actually, I’m going to use this to talk about things I think are interesting about life and language here in Taiwan and as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family elsewhere in the globe. I’ll try to lighten the boredom with the occasional pretty picture and maybe a video or two if you’re really lucky.

The pictures here were taken in the 8-23 Memorial Park (八二三紀念公園) in Zhōnghé (中和), Taipei County, about five minutes from where I live. The downtown bits of Zhōnghé are built-up, crowded and dirty (hmm, sounds like the whole west coast of Taiwan…) and so these little islands of green in amongst the urban chaos are worth treasuring. In case you’re wondering, the 8-23 that this park is in memory of is the 23rd August 1958, when Chairman Mao’s boys started shelling the little island of Jīnmén (金門), a couple of miles off the coast of China but controlled then as now by the Republic of China (that’s Taiwan to you). Anyway, the “Free Chinese” managed to resist the assault for 44 days before the commies got bored and gave up. Hurrah! A stunning victory for the ROC!