Hsiao Bi-khim promotes speaking aboriginal languages, Taiwanese

Hsiao Bi-khim speaks at a December 23, 2023, campaign rally in Banqiao.

Earlier this evening I went to a rally for Hsiao Bi-khim, the Democratic Progressive Party’s candidate for vice president of Taiwan.

Most of the speakers at the rally, including Hsiao, spoke in Taiwanese, or in fluent code switching between Taiwanese and Mandarin. Hsiao, who spoke mainly in Taiwanese with some Mandarin mixed in, is more of a policy wonk than a tub-thumper. Although she struck me as better at campaign rallies than Tsai Ing-wen was earlier in her career, her remarks did include coverage of some things, important though they are, that aren’t typically used to boost crowd enthusiasm, such as working toward a tax treaty with the United States. But I was happy to hear her mention the importance of learning not just English but also keeping Taiwanese (Hoklo) and the languages of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples alive.

Part of the rally was in support of this, with a children’s group organized to help promote the speaking of Taiwanese among young people performing a skit in Taiwanese and then a rousing version of “Jingle Bells” in that language.

Hsiao is also a native speaker of English. I heard her speak (in English) about ten years ago and was impressed with her intelligence and thoughtfulness.

Children performing a skit in the Taiwanese language (Hoklo) during a DPP campaign rally.

T-shirts with romanized Taiwanese

If you’re in Taiwan, make a trip to your local 50% Fifty Percent Píngjià Shíshàng (50% FIFTY PERCENT 平价时尚) (50 percent bargain-price fashion) and pick up one of their shirts of various Taiwanese foods, each of which is labeled in romanized Taiwanese. (Place name hashtags (e.g., #Yilan) are not included on the shirts.)

The only problem is that you may want to carry a magnifying glass with you, because the images and letters are tiny. (C’mon, people! When you want people to read something, size matters.)

This is the one I picked for myself: tshang-iû-piánn (in Mandarin: cōngyóubǐng / 蔥油餅 / 葱油饼). Those scallion pancakes are wonderful.

Advertising image of the graphic for a T-shirt that has a drawing of Taiwanese scallion pancake (congyoubing in Mandarin) and the text 'tshang-iu-piann' (partially obscured by a superimposed image of a T-shirt.

More images on the 50% Fifty Percent Facebook page.

OEC is D-licious

Recently, on my way to Wulai (just south of Taipei), I spotted an interesting sign. Normally, the combination of “interesting sign” and “Wulai” means something in a language of one of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples. But for today I have something different: Japanese, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. Plus another bonus sign in Japanese (I think) — but more on that later.

I wasn’t able to get a good photo of my own, so here’s one from Google Street View.

Sign labeled 'OEC', plus another store's sign reading '一豆'

The “OEC” on the sign on the left is meant to represent Japanese “oishī” (美味しい / おいしい), which means “delicious.” Knowledge of some Japanese words is very common in Taiwan, much as knowing a few words in Spanish is common in parts of the USA.

The whole top line is “OEC 手工麵線” (OEC shǒugōng miànxiàn) = “delicious handmade noodles.” The letters on the sign work like the hyphenated combinations in William Steig’s charming C D B.

The line below the sign’s headline is also linguistically interesting.

大腸, 蚵仔, 肉羹
(intestines, oysters, meat soup)

The second word, 蚵仔, would be pronounced kezi in Mandarin. But in Taiwan it’s standard for that to be read in Taiwanese as “ô-á.” Also notable is the use of handwriting — rather rare these days — instead of a computerized font.

The brunch shop next door also has what I strongly suspect is an interesting sign: 一豆, which in Mandarin is yi dou (lit. “one bean”). Someone who knows Japanese help me out with this one.

Malaysian state moves to boost Hokkien

Penang, Malaysia, is reportedly moving to adopt the Penang dialect of the Hokkien language as a thing of “nonmaterial cultural heritage” (fēi wùzhì wénhuà yíchǎn / 非物质文化遗产).

In Taiwan, Hokkien is also known as “Taiwanese” and “Hoklo.”

The chairman of the Penang Tourism and Creative Economy Affairs Committee said that to preserve Hokkien in Penang, the government there would support a “Speak Hokkien” campaign and allocate funds to NGOs and other groups for activities promoting Hokkien. He also hopes organizations will host competitions not only in Pinyin(!) but also in speaking topolects.

Topolects are an important part of the legacy of Chinese culture, he said.



Other Sinitic topolects (fangyan) could also be considered for nonmaterial cultural heritage status, he said.

Whether this really happens, and whether it will be enough to make a difference, remains to be seen. But at least it looks like someone influential in Penang is working hard to move things in the right direction.


Year of the Tiger puns, part 1

This is a cute ad for a bakery in Banqiao, Taiwan. The text in Chinese characters reads “虎年送吼禮” (Hǔnián sòng hǒu lǐ).

What’s odd about this is the character 吼, which is the character used to write the Mandarin word “hǒu” (howl, roar). So the text in English reads something like “[In the] Year of the Tiger, give roar gifts.”

This only makes proper sense when one knows that here “hǒu” is standing in for the Taiwanese word for “good” (in Mandarin: hǎo/好).

image with two cute cartoon tigers, one of which is baying. The speech bubble for that is the Chinese character 吼



Today I’d like to talk about a sign at a stand that sells guabao, a quintessential Taiwanese snack.

I took my own photo, but it didn’t make the guabao look particularly appetizing, so I’m using a public-domain image instead so you can see what one looks like if you don’t already know. But when I buy one I have them leave off the cilantro/xiāngcài. I hate that stuff.

Here’s the sign.

guabao sign, as described below



(NT$50 is about US$1.50.)

The sign uses some Taiwanese, specifically “a刈包.” If the whole thing were in romanized Taiwanese, it would be

Su-pâng ê

To̍k-ka kháu-bī
50 îⁿ

But parts of that are unidiomatic, as Taiwanese expert Michael Cannings informs me. (Alas, my Taiwanese sucks.) So this is a sign in both Taiwanese and Mandarin, which isn’t particularly surprising given that guabao is a Taiwanese food but most people in northern Taiwan use Mandarin most of the time. (I’m using the spelling “guabao” rather than “koah-pau” in most of this post because this is a Pinyin site.)

Something about this sign did surprise me a lot. Can you guess?

  • It’s not the use of a Roman letter — I should probably say “English letter” in this case, since here the letter is meant to be pronounced much like the “A” in “ABC” — though regular readers know that’s certainly more than enough to get me interested.
  • It’s not that the sign has “刈包” rather than “割包” for guabao. In searches restricted to .tw domains, Google returns 181,000 results for “刈包” and just 41,900 results for “割包”, even though Taiwan’s Ministry of Education prefers the latter form. Even on government Web pages “刈包” beats “割包” by a ratio of more than two to one.
  • It’s not the style in which “刈包” is written by hand, though I kinda like that.
  • And it’s not even that “a” was used instead of a different Roman letter: “ê”.

What seems to me most distinctive about this sign is that the Roman letter appears in lowercase rather than as “A”.

A single letter being used to represent a Sinitic morpheme in a text otherwise in Chinese characters is almost always written in upper case, e.g., A菜, 宮保G丁, K書. (Oh, that reminds me: I really need to answer that e-mail message about K. Sorry, Steven.)

In other words, if a sign is going to have the Roman letter “a” stand in for the Taiwanese possessive particle (the equivalent of Mandarin’s de/的), I would expect in this particular case for the sign to have “私房A” rather than “私房a”. I’m pleased by the use of lowercase; capital letters should be mainly for proper nouns and the beginnings of sentences.

It’s probably a one-off. But just in case I’ll be on the lookout to see if there’s a trend toward greater use of lowercase.

The text also presents a challenge: How should this be written in Pinyin? The last part (獨家口味 / 50元) is easy, because it’s just straight modern standard Mandarin:

dújiā kǒuwèi
50 yuán

But what to do with this?


Probably this:

Sīfáng ê

Languages, scripts, and signs: a walk around Taipei’s Shixin University

Recently I took some trails through the mountains in Taipei and ended up at Shih Hsin University (Shìxīn Dàxué / 世新大學). Near the school are some interesting signs. Rather than giving individual posts for each of these, I’m keeping the signs together in this one, as this is better testimony to the increasing and often playful diversity of languages and scripts in Taiwan.

Cǎo Chuàn

Here’s a restaurant whose name is given in Pinyin with tone marks! That’s quite a rarity here, though I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this in the future. The name in Chinese characters (草串) can be found, much smaller, on a separate sign below.



Right by Cao Chuan is Èrgē de Niúròumiàn (Second Brother’s Beef Noodle Soup). Note the use of the Japanese の rather than Mandarin’s 的; this is quite common in Taiwan.



This store has an ㄟ, which serves as a marker of the Taiwanese language. Here, ㄟ is the equivalent of 的 — and of の.

Bālè ei diàn

A’Woo Tea Bar


I couldn’t find a name in Chinese characters for this place. The name is probably onomatopoeia, as in “Werewolves of London — awoo!”

Taiwanese romanization used for Hanzi input method

Since I just posted about the new Hakka-based Chinese character input method I would be amiss not to note as well the release early this year of a different Chinese character input method based on Taiwanese romanization.

This one is available in Windows, Mac, and Linux flavors.

See the FAQ and documents below for more information (Mandarin only).

Táiwān Mǐnnányǔ Hànzì shūrùfǎ 2.0 bǎn xiàzài (臺灣閩南語漢字輸入法 2.0版下載) [Readers may wish to note the use of Minnan, which is generally preferred among unificationists and some advocates of Hakka and the languages of Taiwan’s tribes.]

source: Jiàoyùbù Táiwān Mǐnnányǔ Hànzì shūrùfǎ (教育部臺灣閩南語漢字輸入法); Ministry of Education, Taiwan; June 16, 2010(?) / February 14, 2011(?) [Perhaps the Windows and Linux versions came first, with the Mac version following in 2011.]