When people think about Taiwan, they often ask what language is spoken there. Those who know little about Taiwan will assume people in Taiwan speak “Taiwanese” (makes sense as people from Englvà speak English và people from Spain speak Spanish.) Those who know more about Taiwan will think people speak Mandarin/Chinese (makes sense as people from America speak English & people from Mexico speak Spanish.)

While people in Taiwan now predominantly speak Mandarin due khổng lồ government policies và education, there has been an increase in interest khổng lồ preserve & spread Taiwan’s mother tongues since the 2000s, including Taiwanese Hokkien:

Taiwan 2010 Census
Taiwan 2010 Census Data shows that the majority of the Taiwanese population still speak Taiwanese, in addition lớn Mandarin.

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So, what exactly is Taiwanese? What about Hokkien or Southern Min? Here is a clean và simple explanation from the awesome podcast, Bite-Size Taiwanese:

Taiwanese (Tâi-gí,臺語)refers lớn the language that is spoken by a large majority (roughly 70%) of the population on the isl& nation of Taiwan. While Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan, Taiwanese has recently gained national language status along with Hakka, followed by 16 aboriginal languages. This allows access for public services in these languages, provides funding for radio broadcasting, television shows, films, và truyền thông publications, and provides additional resources for elective courses in the primary & secondary education system.

In the English-language truyền thông media, Taiwanese often gets referred to asHokkienorSouthern Min. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they technically refer lớn different levels within a linguistic family tree.

Specifically, Taiwanese refers khổng lồ a group ofHokkien-variants that together with the history, society, and environment of the isl& have mixed and evolved over centuries including influences from Japanese. Other variants of Hokkien found in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, và Indonesia have sầu also developed independently according khổng lồ their histories và have absorbed vocabulary from neighboring languages.

Southern Minis a broader category that besides Hokkien includes Teochew và Hainanese. Southern Min, in turn, belongs lớn the broader grouping of Min, which is one of the big seven language groups of the Sinitic languages (the others being Mandarin, Yue, Hakka, Wu, Gan, Xiang). As a rough comparison, differences ahy vọng these seven groupings are greater than those for the Romance languages. In fact, even just within the Min language group, speakers from languages of different branches may have a hard time understanding each other.

**We will continue referring khổng lồ the Taiwanese language as “Taigi” for ease of use và clarity, but this is not to be mistaken that Taigi is by any means the “true Taiwanese language.”

Why bởi vì Taiwanese people speak Hokkien?

Prior to lớn the Japanese imperial rule over Taiwan in 1895, many people from southern Đài Loan Trung Quốc traveled và stayed in Taiwan. These people spoke the languages of their respective villages, which were mostly Hokkien và Hakka. This means most people of the Han ethniđô thị typically spoke these languages. However, due to lớn the lachồng of a formal government or organizations lớn promote them, the written khung of these languages are not standardized nor wide-spread.

Why vày very few people speak Taigi?

Click on “cc” to lớn get English subtitles

While languages lượt thích Hokkien and Hakka were prominent even during Japan’s rule of Taiwan, the languages were aggressively replaced after the Japanese government left Taiwan. Today, many kids, especially those in Taipei, have sầu lost the ability to speak the mother tongue that their parents and grandparents speak.

Why is this?


When the Chinese Nationadanh sách Party (KMT) came lớn Taiwan và took over the government from nhật bản, they wanted to lớn rid the Taiwanese people of Japanese culture, including the language. Taiwanese youth and many adults learned to lớn speak Japanese for school & khổng lồ conduct business. To counteract this, the KMT-run government, Republic of China (ROC), enforced Mandarin Chinese as the national language. This would mean all government officials, standardized tests, & legal documents were lớn be all written in Mandarin. The most prominent way to lớn spread Mandarin is through education.


Since Mandarin was lớn be used as the national language, this had to be taught in schools. With the ROC government, all teachers were from Trung Quốc & their Mandarin became the new standard. While the teaching material was in Mandarin, there was also a màn chơi of promotion that came with speaking Mandarin and squashing of Taiwan’s mother tongues, such as Taigi & Hakka. If caught speaking Taigi or Hakka in school, students would be forced to wear a sign around their necks that said, “I love speaking Mandarin,” & would have sầu khổng lồ catch the next guilty student to pass it onto. This created major ostracization between kids and the aversion lớn speaking/learning Taigi.

A dramatized scenario of speaking Taiwanese in the 90’s elementary school


In the 1970s, the first airing of hvà puppets (布袋戲) was televised. This was extremely popular and families would enjoy watching the performances together. The dialogue was mainly spoken in Hokkien. The government wanted to utilize its widespread popularity lớn propagate their ideas, so they added a new character named, “Đài Loan Trung Quốc Svào (中國強),” who would enter scenes while singing his theme song in Mandarin. Despite adding this character, the popularity of the show was not to lớn be ignored. Therefore, in 1974 the government shut down the show to lớn further restrict access khổng lồ Hokkien truyền thông media. They even implemented certain policies to lớn prohibit Taiwanese to be on air. For example, only one hour out of the daily 24 was allowed for Taigi programs and no more than two Taigi songs could be played.

As the 90s rolled around, many live-action shows and movies starred Mandarin-speaking characters. The good-looking and important characters spoke in Mandarin, while the ugly, evil, dirty and/or older characters would speak in Taigi. Professions such as doctors, lawyers và business people would speak Mandarin while farmers, gangsters, và the homeless would speak Taigi. This kind of truyền thông media portrayal and unfair representation further contributed khổng lồ the youth of Taiwan not wanting lớn speak Taigi.


A common stereotype is that people who grew up in Taipei bởi not know how lớn speak Taigi. As Taiwan entered its economic golden ages in the 80s & 90s, the importance of business & having a proper education grew. This meant that parents had lớn become more fluent in Mandarin, và make certain that their kids were even more proficient in order to be successful.

Many parents & grandparents used their linguistic advantage to speak about “adult” topics in Taigi. This became their secret language so they never taught it lớn their children.

“You can’t write in Taiwanese”

Taigi is often referred to lớn as a dialect because of its lack of a standardized written system. However, it is khổng lồ be noted that any language that started out spoken can be followed by a written system. Although various writing standards have been offered by local organizations and scholars for more than 150 years, no government authority in Taiwan has accepted these as an educational standard for teaching Taigi. Now, with a resurgence of wanting to lớn preserve Taiwanese, new systems are being phối out.

There are dozens of ways to write in Taigi–using one or more of Latin, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean symbols. Each of these scripts come with their respective sầu writing systems. The most common scripts used today are Chinese và Latin characters.

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Mandarin Characters

While writing Taigi using Mandarin characters is possible, it can sometimes be tricky to lớn read or understand by people not familiar with Taiwanese. This is because the characters used lớn write a Taigi word are not always the same characters used in the Mandarin equivalent. For instance, the characters for “right hand” are as follows:

右手 (yòu shǒu)

in Mandarin Chinese

正手 (chiàⁿ-chhiú)

in Taigi

The Taigi version uses the character 正 which also means “right,” but with the definition of “correct” rather than the directional “right.” The cultural and semantic nuances which Taiwanese people wish khổng lồ convey about certain topics can be inferred through the selection of Chinese characters as seen above.

Latin Characters

There are two major camps of romanization for Taigi: Phōeis (POJ) và Tâi-lô (TL).

TL was derived from POJ so their systems are very similar. See the corresponding letters used:


POJ was designed as a native sầu orthography, and is meant lớn be written & read on its own without Chinese.

TL is a modified version of POJ, intended for use as a PinYin system, with its usage mainly limited to lớn dictionaries and words that vì not have corresponding Chinese characters.

Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ)

POJ was first created by Spanish missionaries who wanted khổng lồ spread Christianity lớn people in the Southern Min region. POJ was used as religious text, literature and/or both:

First issue of Taiwan Church News in July 12, 1885Taiwan Church News was founded by Thomas Barclay

Since the People’s Republic of Trung Quốc (PRC) was pushing for Mandarin as China’s official language & the ROC was also enforcing Mandarin in Taiwan, POJ publications were banned.

Tâi-lô (TL)

TL was developed by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education in 2006 và promoted as the official phonetic system. There is a closer correlation between TL and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), such as using “ch” for the more IPA-common sound written as “ts”.

Rules for changing POJ khổng lồ TL (reverse for the other way around):

o͘ → oo (the POJ is an o và separate raised dot)ch → tschh → tshoe → ueoa → uaek → ikeng → ingⁿ → nn (the POJ is a raised n. Like “khổng lồ the power of n”)

There are many debates about which system lớn use, but their small differences make the two relatively interchangeable. Youtuber 阿勇台語 Aiong Taigi makes videos arguing for POJ in Taiwanese, but we pasted the English explanation below.

Fully in Taiwanese. Read English underneath.

1. ch vs. ts

Some people clalặng that “ts” is more accurate, since it is the same symbol used in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet.) However, that is not entirely true, as both “ch” and “ts” are used khổng lồ represent four distinct sounds in POJ and Tailo, respectively. Only one sound is the same as the IPA symbol.

(Another is similar, but not exactly the same: “tsh” vs. /tsʰ/)

However, it is irrelevant whether a sound matches the IPA or not. In fact, the IPA is based on natural languages, not the other way around.

Furthermore, there is a larger issue: “ts/tsh” represents four sounds, và “t/th” represent another two. This means that a total of six sounds start with “t” in Tailo, which adds up to lớn approximately 1/3 of all words that start with a consonant. Since the first & last letters of a word are the most important for pattern recognition & readability, it is clear that having 1/3 of all consonant-initial words starting with the same consonant degrades readability.

2. ek eng vs. ik eng

The letter “i” in Tailo represents three distinct sounds, while “e” represents only one. POJ balances these to lớn two sounds each. Since the only other combination with “e” is “eh,” POJ has a good balance between distinct sounds & distinct letters: e/eh, ek/eng, i/in, ip/it. Tailo does not: e/eh, i/in, ip/it, ik/eng.

The letter “i” is also the most frequent vowel in either system, and Tailo exacerbates the problem by again bringing it cđại bại to lớn 1/3 of all vowel occurrences.

3. oa oe vs. ua ue

These two sounds are “o”, not “u”. Tailo appears lớn use “u” in order to lớn match the Mandarin Zhuyin character,「ㄨ」, which makes little sense for the orthography of a different language.

4. ⁿ vs. nn

The nasal symbol changes the chất lượng of a vowel. It is not a separate sound in & of itself. Many languages with nasal vowels use a diacritic, lượt thích a tilde (~), to lớn denote the nasal sound. Some variants of POJ use this as well. A superscript “n” is similar khổng lồ a diacritic, và makes sense in this context as well. The contrast between a single “n” (a consonant “n” sound) with a double “nn” (a nasal vowel sound) is relatively low và makes it difficult lớn distinguish at a glance, again decreasing readability.

Tailo’s “nn” also significantly increases the frequency of n’s khổng lồ over 40% of consonant-final letters, far và away the single most-used final consonant.

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5. o͘ vs. oo

Many languages that use the Latin script utilize diacritics lớn help distinguish between similar vowel sounds. Some languages, lượt thích German, have actually actively transitioned away from multi-vowel spellings in favor of diacritics. Standard German now prefers diacritics whenever possible (in some cases where only ASCII characters are permissible, multi-vowel spellings may be used instead).

One final note: the balance between “straight” & “round” shapes in an orthography also seems khổng lồ be somewhat important. POJ here again strikes a much better balance than Tailo, with the “c” và “e” being rounder than the “t” and “i” (ch, ek vs. ts, ik). In my experience, this also contributes to lớn the feeling that POJ is clearer and has better readability than Tailo.

How can I learn Taigi?

Cheông chồng out the awesome podcast, Bite-Size Taiwanese (They use TL):