taiwanchurch.org -- Phonetic Script for Taiwanese (Hokkien/Minnan) Language

NOTE: In addition to the most widespread romanization, that of the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, I have developed a new script that more accurately captures the relation between different phonetic sounds. It is based on one created by the Oxford philologist and writer, J.R.R.Tolkien, though I've modified some things, particularly vowel sounds.

My philosophy on Romanizations: They are good for rendering names into English but I think it is really bad as far as regular usage. The Pinyin of China for Mandarin does not match up with the common English phonetic representation of letters and so Chinese-speakers trying to learn English who were first taught Pinyin get confused, and English-speakers learning Mandarin get confused. It slows the whole process down. As you peruse the Taiwanese Romanization table below, I think you will see what I mean. Things are not always as they seem.

In contrast, in Taiwan for Mandarin they teach a distinct phonetic script called "BoPoMoFo" (from the first four letters), also called "ChuYinFuHow" from the Mandarin name of the system. It takes a little to learn, but then once you know it, you can completely accurately represent the sounds with no cross-language confusion. Taiwanese does not have such a system, so I have developed one. I did not use a modified "BoPoMoFo" for the same reason, but chose a script which is unique, and also very well represents relations between different phonetic sounds.

- Joel Linton, Jan. 1, 2004

For an example of how the script looks, here is a calligraphy page using the Script with Chinese character glosses. It is from the Taiwanese Bible: Colossians 1:13-14. [the image uses 400K of memory]



Romanization: "h" added to the consonant means aspiration.

Sound: When two consonants together, the capitalized one is stronger sound.

In addition to the consonant/vowels below, above the vowel is words is written one of eight tones. See the next table for that.

PCT RomanizationSoundNew Script
p"soft b/p"
k"soft g/k"
s"s" or "sh"
ch + (a/e/o/u)"dz"
chh + (a/e/o/u)"ts"
j"soft z"
ilong e = "ee"
o"soft o" almost a shwa
o + ."guttural o"
u"u" = "oo"
^n or ^*"nasalize vowel"
ai"long i"
and so on

TONES There are a total of eight tones in Taiwanese.. if you count the neutral tone. Tone number 2 and number 6 are so similar that usually Tone Number 6 is left out. So the standard numbering is like this:

Tone NumberDescriptionPCT Romanization SymbolNew Script
1high level pitchno symbol (default)no symbol
2high to middle falling/
3mid to low falling\
4glottal stop - descendingno symbol, words ending in (h/k/p/t) -///
5mid fall then up ^
7mid level pitch-
8glottal stop - ascending' + h/k/p/t ending
zero toneextremely short sound ^o^o

One more rule about Tones:
When words are combined in a sentence, the last word of a phrase (or wherever you pause) is pronounced with the original tone. The tones of the words before are changed in a consistent manner.

1 changes to 7
2 changes to 1
3 changes to 2
4 w/ -h ending becomes 2
4 w/ -p,k,t endings becomes 8
5 flattens to 7
7 goes to 3
8 goes to 3

Typing Rules

For typing emails without a speciallized font, use the PCT romanization. Type the vowels and consonants first. Then add any vowel markings... Add a period immediatly after the o vowel "o." to show a glottal "o"
Add an asterisk "*" after the syllable to indicate nasalized vowels.
Then you finally indicate tone markings listed after their tone number below. I think putting the actual tone markings instead of the tone number makes it easier to read on emails. Connect words with a tilda "~"
1 (no marking)
2 /
3 \
4 ending in h,k,t,p
5 ^
7 -
8 ending in h', k', t', p'
Now you can email your friends using Taiwanese.

Here is an example from the Taiwanese Bible. Can you read it?

So./ sim/~phoa*\ e^, chiu-~si- kng jip' se\~kan,
iah' lang^ ai\ am\ khah ke\~thau^ ti- kng,
in~ui- i so./ kia*^ siu- chek~pi-.
Tok'~tok' kia*^ chin~li/ e^ lang^ chiu-~kun- kng,
lai^ hian/~beng^ i e^ so./ kia*^ si- ti- Siong-~te\ lai^ kia*^.

Iok~han- 3:19-21

Check out other Taiwanese quotes: twverse1.html

More information on Taiwanese:
  • Another new Taiwanese script has been invented at www.taioanji.com. It is extremely fascinating, has great theoretical foundations, and would be a great cipher for you to use for code. However because of the similarity of the different letters, I think it would not be very writable or very readable. You'll just have to try it out and see if it works.
  • Romanization

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last updated 5/28/2004