|Native to||China, Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Philippines, United States, and other areas of Hoklo settlement|
|Region||southern Fujian province and other southeatern coastal areas of Mainland China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia|
|Ethnicity||Hoklo (Subgroup of Han-Chinese)|
|(no estimate available)|
Official language in
|None (one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements in the Republic of China)|
Distribution of Min Nan dialects. Hokkien is dark green.
|Alternative Chinese name|
Hokkien // or // (traditional Chinese: 福建話; simplified Chinese: 福建话; pinyin: Fújiànhuà; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hok-kiàn oē) or Quanzhang (Quanzhou–Zhangzhou / Chinchew–Changchew; BP: Zuánziū–Ziāngziū) is a group of mutually intelligible Min Nan Chinese dialects spoken throughout Southeast Asia and by many overseas Chinese. Hokkien originated from a dialect in southern Fujian. It is closely related to the Teochew, though mutual comprehension is difficult, and is somewhat more distantly related to Hainanese. Besides Hokkien, there are also other dialects in Fujian province.
- 1 Names
- 2 Geographic distribution
- 3 Classification
- 4 History
- 5 Phonology
- 6 Comparison
- 7 Grammar
- 8 Vocabulary
- 9 Standard Hokkien
- 10 Writing systems
- 11 Cultural and political role
- 12 See also
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
The term Hokkien (福建; Min Nan pronunciation: [hɔk˥˥kɪɛn˨˩] ( listen)) is itself a term not used in Chinese to refer to the dialect, as it simply means Fujian province. In Chinese linguistics, these dialects are known by their classification under the Quanzhang Division (Chinese: 泉漳片; pinyin: Quánzhāng piàn) of Min Nan, which comes from the first characters of the two main Hokkien urban centers Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. The variety is also known by other terms such as the more general Min Nan (traditional Chinese: 閩南語, 閩南話; simplified Chinese: 闽南语, 闽南话; pinyin: Mǐnnányǔ, Mǐnnánhuà; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bân-lâm-gí,Bân-lâm-oē) or Southern Min, and Fulaohua (traditional Chinese: 福佬話; simplified Chinese: 福佬话; pinyin: Fúlǎohuà; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hō-ló-oē). The term Hokkien (Chinese: 福建話; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: hok-kiàn oē;Tâi-lô:Hok-kiàn-uē), on the other hand, is used commonly in South East Asia to refer to Min-nan dialects.
Hokkien originated in the southern region of Fujian province, an important centre for trade and migration, and has since become one of the most common Chinese varieties overseas. The major pole of Hokkien varieties outside of Fujian is Taiwan, where, during the 200 years of Qing dynasty rule, thousands of immigrants from Fujian arrived yearly. The Taiwanese variants, now collectively called Taiwanese Hokkien, have origins in Xiamen, Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou.
There are many Hokkien speakers among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia as well as in the United States. Many ethnic Chinese emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies) and present day Malaysia and Singapore (formerly Malaya and the British Straits Settlements). Many of the Hokkien dialects of this region are highly similar to Taiwanese and Amoy. Hokkien is reportedly the native language of up to 98.5% of the Chinese Filipino in the Philippines, among which is known locally as Lan-nang or Lán-lâng-oē ("Our people’s language"). Hokkien speakers form the largest group of Chinese in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Southern Fujian is home to three principal Hokkien dialects. They are known by the geographic locations to which they correspond (listed north to south):
As Amoy/Xiamen is the principal city of southern Fujian, the Amoy dialect is considered the most important, or even the prestige dialect, of Hokkien. It is a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. It has played an influential role in history, especially in the relations of Western nations with China, and was one of the most frequently learned of all Chinese varieties by Westerners during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.
The varieties of Hokkien spoken in Taiwan are similar to the three varieties of Fujian, and are collectively known as Taiwanese. Taiwanese is used by a majority of the population and bears much importance from a socio-political perspective, forming the second (and perhaps today most significant) major pole of the language due to the popularity of Taiwanese Hokkien media.
The varieties of Hokkien in Southeast Asia originate from these dialects.
Among ethnic Chinese inhabitants of Penang, Malaysia and Medan, Indonesia, a distinct form of Zhangzhou Hokkien has developed. In Penang, it is called Penang Hokkien while across the Malacca Strait in Medan, an almost identical variant is known as Medan Hokkien.
The Philippines variant is mostly from the Quanzhou area as most of their forefathers are from the aforementioned area.
Variants of Hokkien dialects can be traced to two sources of origin: Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Both Amoy and Taiwanese are based on a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects, while the rest of the Hokkien dialects spoken in South East Asia are either derived from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, or based on a mixture of both dialects.
During the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, there was constant warfare occurring in the Central Plain of China. Northerners began to enter into Fujian region, causing the region to incorporate parts of northern Chinese dialects. However, the massive migration of northern Han Chinese into Fujian region mainly occurred after the Disaster of Yongjia. The Jìn court fled from the north to the south, causing large numbers of northern Han Chinese to move into Fujian region. They brought the old Chinese — spoken in Central Plain of China from prehistoric era to 3rd century — into Fujian. This then gradually evolved into the Quanzhou dialect.
In 677 (during the reign of Emperor Gaozong), Chen Zheng (陳政), together with his son Chen Yuanguang (陳元光), led a military expedition to pacify the rebellion in Fujian. They settled in Zhangzhou and brought the Middle Chinese phonology of northern China during the 7th century into Zhangzhou; In 885, (during the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang), the two brothers Wang Chao (王潮) and Wang Shenzhi (王審知), led a military expedition force to pacify the Huang Chao rebellion. They brought the Middle Chinese phonology commonly spoken in Northern China into Zhangzhou. These two waves of migrations from the north generally brought the language of northern Middle Chinese into the Fujian region. This then gradually evolved into the Zhangzhou dialect.
Xiamen dialect, sometimes known as Amoy, is the main dialect spoken in the Chinese city of Xiamen and its surrounding regions of Tong'an and Xiang'an, both of which are now included in the Greater Xiamen area. This dialect developed in the late Ming dynasty when Xiamen was increasingly taking over Quanzhou's position as the main port of trade in southeastern China. Quanzhou traders began travelling southwards to Xiamen to carry on their businesses while Zhangzhou peasants began traveling northwards to Xiamen in search of job opportunities. It is at this time when a need for a common language arose. The Quanzhou and Zhangzhou varieties are similar in many ways (as can be seen from the common place of Henan Luoyang where they originated), but due to differences in accents, communication can be a problem. Quanzhou businessmen considered their speech to be the prestige accent and considered Zhangzhou's to be a village dialect. Over the centuries, dialect leveling occurred and the two speeches mixed to produce the Amoy dialect.
Longyan is a prefecture west to Zhangzhou, within which the Xinluo District and Zhangping City are both located in the Hokkien-Speaking Area. The Longyan Dialect is quite different compared with that of Zhangzhou, Xiamen, and Quanzhou, but linguists still classify it within the Hokkien Branch of Min Chinese.
Hokkien linguistics classics
Chinese scholars of late Ming and Qing systematically studied the Hokkien dialects of those times and compiled a number of Chinese linguistics books about Hokkien. These include The Phonology of Quanzhou speech (彙音妙悟) by Huang Qian (黃謙), The Phonology of common Zhangzhou speech (彙集雅俗通十五音) by Xie Xiulan (謝秀嵐) etc.
Hokkien has one of the most diverse phoneme inventories among Chinese varieties, with more consonants than Standard Mandarin or Cantonese. Vowels are more-or-less similar to that of Standard Mandarin. Hokkien varieties retain many pronunciations that are no longer found in other Chinese varieties. These include the retention of the /t/ initial, which is now /tʂ/ (Pinyin 'zh') in Mandarin (e.g. 'bamboo' 竹 is tik, but zhú in Mandarin), having disappeared before the 6th century in other Chinese varieties.
Southern Min has aspirated, unaspirated as well as voiced consonant initials. For example, the word khui (開) (meaning "open") and kuiⁿ (關) (meaning "close") have the same vowel but differ only by aspiration of the initial and nasality of the vowel. In addition, Southern Min has labial initial consonants such as m in m̄-sī (毋是) (meaning "is not").
Unlike Mandarin, Southern Min retains all the final consonants of Middle Chinese. While Mandarin only preserves the n and ŋ finals, Southern Min also preserves the m, p, t and k finals and developed the ʔ (glottal stop).
The following table illustrates some of the more commonly seen vowel shifts. Characters with the same vowel are shown in parentheses.
|English||Chinese character||Accent||Pe̍h-ōe-jī||IPA||Teochew Peng'Im|
|two||二||Quanzhou, Taipei||lī||li˧||jĭ (zi˧˥)|
|Xiamen, Zhangzhou, Tainan||jī||dzi˧|
|sick||病 (生)||Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei||pīⁿ||pĩ˧||pēⁿ (pẽ˩)|
|egg||卵 (遠)||Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taiwan||nn̄g||nŋ˧||nn̆g (nŋ˧˥)|
|chopsticks||箸 (豬)||Quanzhou||tīr||tɯ˧||tēu (tɤ˩)|
|Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei||oê||ue˧˥||ôi (tɤ˩)|
|leather||皮 (未)||Quanzhou||phêr||pʰə˨˩||phuê (pʰue˩)|
|chicken||雞 (細)||Quanzhou, Xiamen, Taipei||koe||kue||koi|
|hair||毛 (兩)||Quanzhou, Taiwan, Xiamen||mng||mŋ||mo|
|Speech||話 (花)||Quanzhou, Taiwan||oe||ue|
In general, Hokkien dialects have 5 to 7 phonemic tones. According to the traditional Chinese system, however, there are 7 to 9 "tones", more correctly termed tone classes since two of them are non-phonemic "entering tones" (see the discussion on Chinese tone). Tone sandhi is extensive. There are minor variations between the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou tone systems. Taiwanese tones follow the patterns of Amoy or Quanzhou, depending on the area of Taiwan. Many dialects have an additional phonemic tone ("tone 9" according to the traditional reckoning), used only in special or foreign loan words.
|東 taŋ1||銅 taŋ5||董 taŋ2||-||凍 taŋ3||動 taŋ7||觸 tak4||逐 tak8|
The Amoy dialect (Xiamen) is a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. Taiwanese is also a hybrid of these two dialects. Taiwanese in northern Taiwan tends to be based on the Quanzhou variety, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in southern Taiwan tends to be based on Zhangzhou speech. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. The grammar is generally the same. Additionally, extensive contact with the Japanese language has left a legacy of Japanese loanwords in Taiwanese Hokkien. On the other hand, the variants spoken in Singapore and Malaysia have a substantial number of loanwords from Malay and to a lesser extent, from English and other Chinese varieties, such as the closely related Teochew and some Cantonese.
The Min Nan varieties of Teochew and Amoy are 84% phonetically similar, and 34% lexically similar, whereas Mandarin and Amoy Min Nan are 62% phonetically similar and 15% lexically similar. In comparison, German and English are 60% lexically similar.
Hokkien dialects are analytic; in a sentence, the arrangement of words is important to its meaning. A basic sentence follows the subject–verb–object pattern (i.e. a subject is followed by a verb then by an object), though this order is often violated because Hokkien dialects are topic-prominent. Unlike synthetic languages, seldom do words indicate time, gender and plural by inflection. Instead, these concepts are expressed through adverbs, aspect markers, and grammatical particles, or are deduced from the context. Different particles are added to a sentence to further specify its status or intonation.
A verb itself indicates no grammatical tense. The time can be explicitly shown with time-indicating adverbs. Certain exceptions exist, however, according to the pragmatic interpretation of a verb's meaning. Additionally, an optional aspect particle can be appended to a verb to indicate the state of an action. Appending interrogative or exclamative particles to a sentence turns a statement into a question or shows the attitudes of the speaker.
Hokkien dialects preserve certain grammatical reflexes and patterns reminiscent of the broad stage of Archaic Chinese. This includes the serialization of verb phrases (direct linkage of verbs and verb phrases) and the infrequency of nominalization, both similar to Archaic Chinese grammar.
你 去 買 有 錶仔 無？
- You-go-buy-have watch-no (Gloss)
- "Did you go to buy a watch?"
Choice of grammatical function words also varies significantly among the Hokkien dialects. For instance, 乞 khit (denoting the causative, passive or dative) is retained in Jinjiang (also unique to the Jinjiang dialect is 度 thoo) and Jieyang, but not in Longxi and Xiamen, whose dialects use 互 (hoo) instead.
Hokkien dialects differ in their preferred choice of pronouns. For instance, while the second person pronoun lí (你) is standard in Taiwanese Hokkien, the Teochew loanword lú (汝) is more common among Hokkien-speaking communities in Southeast Asia. The plural personal pronouns tend to be nasalized forms of the singular ones. Personal pronouns found in the Hokkien dialects are listed below:
|阮1, 3gún, góan
咱2, 3 or 俺
lán or án
- 1 Inclusive
- 2 Exclusive
- 3 儂 (-lâng) is typically suffixed in Southeast Asian Hokkien dialects
阮 翁 姓 陳。
- "My husband's surname is Tan."
Reflexive pronouns are made by appending the pronouns ka-kī, ka-tī (家己) or chū-kí (自己).
Hokkien dialects use a variety of differing demonstrative pronouns, which are as follows:
- this - che (這, 即), chit-ê (這個, 即個)
- that - he (許, 彼), hit-ê (彼個)
- here - chia (者), hia/hiâ (遮, 遐), chit-tau 這兜)
- there - hia (許, 遐), hit-tau (彼兜)
The interrogative pronouns are:
- what - siáⁿ-mih (啥物), sīm-mi̍h (甚麼)
- when - tī-sî (底時), kī-sî (幾時), tang-sî (當時), sīm-mi̍h-sî-chūn (甚麼時陣)
- where - to-lo̍h (倒落), tó-uī (佗位, 叨位)
- who - siáⁿ-lâng (啥人) or siáⁿ (啥)
- why - án-chóaⁿ (按怎), khah (盍)
- how - án-chóaⁿ (按怎) lû-hô (如何) chóaⁿ-iūⁿ (怎樣)
Copula ("to be")
States and qualities are generally expressed using stative verbs that do not require the verb "to be":
我 腹肚 枵。
- "I am hungry." (lit. I-stomach-hungry)
With noun complements, the verb sī (是) serves as the verb "to be".
昨昏 是 八月節。
- "Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn festival."
To indicate location, the words tī (佇) tiàm (踮), teh/leh (咧), which are collectively known as the locatives or sometimes coverbs in Chinese linguistics, are used to express "(to be) at":
我 踮 遮 等 你。
- "I am here waiting for you."
伊 這馬 佇 厝 裡 咧 睏。
- "He's sleeping at home now."
Hokkien dialects have a variety of negation particles that are prefixed or affixed to the verbs they modify. There are five primary negation particles in Hokkien dialects:
- m̄ (毋, 呣, 唔)
- bē, bōe (袂, 未)
- mài (莫, 勿)
- bô (無)
- put (不) - literary
Other negative particles include:
- biàu (嫑) - a contraction of bô iàu (無要), as in biàu-kín (嫑緊)
- bàng (甭)
- bián (免)
- thài (汰)
The particles m̄ (毋, 呣, 唔) is general and can negate almost any verb:
伊 毋 捌 字。
- "He cannot read." (lit. he-not-know-word)
The particle mài (莫, 勿), a concatenation of m-ài (毋愛) is used to negate imperative commands:
- "Don't speak!"
The particle bô (無) indicates the past tense:
伊 無 食。
- "He did not eat."
The verb 'to have', ū (有) is replaced by bô (無) when negated (not 無有):
伊 無 錢。
- "He does not have any money."
The particle put (不) is used infrequently, mostly found in literary compounds and phrases:
伊 真 不孝。
- "He is truly unfilial."
The majority of Hokkien vocabulary is monosyllabic. Many Hokkien words have cognates in other Chinese varieties. That said, there are also many indigenous words that are unique to Hokkien and are not potentially of Sino-Tibetan origin, while others are shared by all the Min dialects (e.g. 'congee' is 糜 mê, bôe, bê, not 粥 zhōu, as in other dialects).
As compared to Standard Chinese (Mandarin), Hokkien dialects prefer the usage the monosyllabic form of words, without suffixes. For instance, the Mandarin noun suffix 子 (zi) is not found in Hokkien words, while another noun suffix, 仔 (á) is used in many nouns. Examples are below:
- 'duck' - 鸭 ah or 鴨仔 ah-á (SC: 鸭子 yāzi)
- 'color' - 色 sek (SC: 顏色 yán sè)
In other bisyllabic morphemes, the syllables are inverted, as compared to Standard Chinese. Examples include the following:
- 'guest' - 人客 lâng-kheh (SC: 客人 kèrén)
In other cases, the same word can have different meanings in Hokkien and standard written Chinese. Similarly, depending on the region Hokkien is spoken in, loanwords from local languages (Malay, Tagalog, Burmese, among others), as well as other Chinese dialects (such as Southern Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Teochew), are commonly integrated into the vocabulary of Hokkien dialects.
Literary and colloquial readings
The existence of literary and colloquial readings (文白異讀), called tha̍k-im (讀音), is a prominent feature of some Hokkien dialects and indeed in many Sinitic varieties in the south. The bulk of literary readings (文讀, bûn-tha̍k), based on pronunciations of the vernacular during the Tang Dynasty, are mainly used in formal phrases and written language (e.g. philosophical concepts, surnames, and some place names), while the colloquial (or vernacular) ones (白讀, pe̍h-tha̍k) are basically used in spoken language and vulgar phrases. Literary readings are more similar to the pronunciations of the Tang standard of Middle Chinese than their colloquial equivalents.
However, some dialects of Hokkien, such as Penang Hokkien as well as Philippine Hokkien overwhelmingly favor colloquial readings. For example, in both Penang Hokkien and Philippine Hokkien, the characters for 'university,' 大學, are pronounced tōa-o̍h (colloquial readings for both characters), instead of the literary reading tāi-ha̍k, which is common in Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese dialects.
The pronounced divergence between literary and colloquial pronunciations found in Hokkien dialects is attributed to the presence of several strata in the Min lexicon. The earliest, colloquial stratum is traced to the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE); the second colloquial one comes from the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 - 589 CE); the third stratum of pronunciations (typically literary ones) comes from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) and is based on the prestige dialect of Chang'an (modern day Xi'an), its capital.
Some commonly seen sound correspondences (colloquial → literary) are as follows:
- p- ([p-], [pʰ-]) → h ([h-])
- ch-, chh- ([ts-], [tsʰ-], [tɕ-], [tɕʰ-]) → s ([s-], [ɕ-])
- k-, kh- ([k-], [kʰ-]) → ch ([tɕ-], [tɕʰ-])
- -ⁿ ([-ã], [-uã]) → n ([-an])
- -h ([-ʔ]) → t ([-t])
- i ([-i]) → e ([-e])
- e ([-e]) → a ([-a])
- ia ([-ia]) → i ([-i])
|Chinese character||Reading pronunciations||Spoken pronunciations / †explications||English|
|生||seng||seⁿ / siⁿ||student|
|人||jîn / lîn||lâng||person|
This feature extends to Chinese numerals, which have both literary and colloquial readings. Literary readings are typically used when the numerals are read out loud (e.g. phone numbers), while colloquial readings are used for counting items.
Semantic differences between Hokkien and Mandarin
Quite a few words from the variety of Old Chinese spoken in the state of Wu (where the ancestral language of Min and Wu dialect families originated and which was likely influenced by the Chinese spoken in the state of Chu which itself was not founded by Chinese speakers), and later words from Middle Chinese as well, have retained the original meanings in Hokkien, while many of their counterparts in Mandarin Chinese have either fallen out of daily use, have been substituted with other words (some of which are borrowed from other languages while others are new developments), or have developed newer meanings. The same may be said of Hokkien as well, since some lexical meaning evolved in step with Mandarin while others are wholly innovative developments.
This table shows some Hokkien dialect words from Classical Chinese, as contrasted to the written Chinese standard, Mandarin:
|to chase||逐||jiok, lip||追||zhuī|
For other words, the classical Chinese meanings of certain words, which are retained in Hokkien dialects, have evolved or deviated significantly in other Chinese dialects. The following table shows some words that are both used in both Hokkien dialects and Mandarin Chinese, while the meanings in Mandarin Chinese have been modified:
(and Classical Chinese)
|走||cháu||to flee||zǒu||to walk|
|細||sè, sòe||tiny, small, young||xì||thin, slender|
|懸||kôan||tall, high||xuán||to hang, to suspend|
Words from Minyue
|Word||Hokkien POJ||Foochow Romanized||Meaning|
|骹||kha ([kʰa˥])||kă ([kʰa˥])||foot and leg|
|囝||kiáⁿ ([kiã˥˩])||giāng [kiaŋ˧]||son, child, whelp, a small amount|
|睏||khùn [kʰun˨˩]||káung [kʰɑuŋ˧]||to sleep|
|骿||phiaⁿ [pʰiã˥]||piăng [pʰiaŋ˥]||back, dorsum|
|厝||chhù [tsʰu˨˩]||chuó, chió [tsʰuɔ˥˧]||home, house|
|刣||thâi [tʰai˨˦]||tài [tʰai˥˧]||to kill, to slaughter|
1 lâng is now typically represented by 人 (literary reading jîn).
Loanwords are not unusual among Hokkien dialects, as speakers readily adopted indigenous terms of the languages they came in contact with. As a result, there is a plethora of loanwords that are not mutually comprehensible among Hokkien dialects.
- 'toilet' - 便所 piān-só·, from Japanese 便所 benjo
- Other Hokkien variants: 屎礐 (sái-ha̍k), 廁所 (chhek-só͘)
- 'car' - 自動車 chū-tōng-chhia, from Japanese 自動車 jidōsha
- Other Hokkien variants: 風車 (hong-chhia), 汽車 (khì-chhia)
- 'to admire' - 感心 kám-sim, from Japanese 感心 kanshin
- Other Hokkien variants: 感動 (kám-tōng)
- 'pineapple' - 王梨 ông-lâi
- Other Hokkien variants: 鳳梨/鳳萊 (hōng-lâi), 黃梨 (hông-lâi)
- 'but' - tapi, from Malay
- Other Hokkien variants: 但是 （tān-sī）
- 'doctor' - 老君 lu-gun, from Malay dukun
- Other Hokkien variants: 醫生(i-sing)
- 'stone/rock' - batu, from Malay batu
- Other Hokkien variants: 石头(tsio-tau)
- 'market' - 巴刹 pa-sat, from Malay pasar
- Other Hokkien variants: 市場 (chhī-tiûⁿ)
- 'they' - 伊儂 i lâng from Teochew (i1 nang5)
- Other Hokkien variants: 𪜶 (in)
- 'together' - 做瓠 chò-bú from Teochew 做瓠 (jo3 bu5)
- Other Hokkien variants: 做夥 (chò-hóe), 同齊 (tâng-chê) or 鬥陣 (tàu-tīn)
- 'cup' - ba-su, from Spanish vaso and Tagalog baso
- Other Hokkien variants: 杯子 (poe-á)
- 'office' - o-pi-sin, from Spanish oficina and Tagalog opisina
- Other Hokkien variants: 辦公室 (pān-kong-sek)
- 'soap' - sa-bun, from Spanish jabon and Tagalog sabon
- Other Hokkien variants:
- 'but' - ka-so, from Tagalog kaso
- Other Hokkien variants: 但是 (tan-si)
Hokkien originated from Quanzhou. After the Opium War in 1842, Xiamen (Amoy) became one of the major treaty ports to be opened for trade with the outside world. From mid-19th century onwards, Xiamen slowly developed to become the political and economical center of the Hokkien-speaking region in China. This caused Amoy dialect to gradually replace the position of dialect variants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. From mid-19th century until the end of World War II, western diplomats usually learned Amoy Hokkien as the preferred dialect if they were to communicate with the Hokkien-speaking populace in China or South-East Asia. In the 1940s and 1950s, Taiwan also held Amoy Hokkien as its standard and tended to incline itself towards Amoy dialect.
However, from the 1980s onwards, the development of Hokkien entertainment and media industry in Taiwan caused the Hokkien cultural hub to shift from Xiamen to Taiwan. The flourishing Hokkien entertainment and media industry from Taiwan in the 1990s and early 21st century led Taiwan to emerge as the new significant cultural hub for Hokkien.
In the 1990s, marked by the liberalization of language development and mother tongue movement in Taiwan, Taiwanese Hokkien had undergone a fast pace in its development. In 1993, Taiwan became the first region in the world to implement the teaching of Taiwanese Hokkien in Taiwanese schools. In 2001, the local Taiwanese language program was further extended to all schools in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Hokkien became one of the compulsory local Taiwanese languages to be learned in schools. The mother tongue movement in Taiwan even influenced Xiamen (Amoy) to the point that in 2010, Xiamen also began to implement the teaching of Hokkien dialect in its schools. In 2007, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan also completed the standardization of Chinese characters used for writing Hokkien and developed Tai-lo as the standard Hokkien pronunciation and romanization guide. A number of universities in Taiwan also offer Hokkien degree courses for training Hokkien-fluent talents to work for the Hokkien media industry and education. Taiwan also has its own Hokkien literary and cultural circles whereby Hokkien poets and writers compose poetry or literature in Hokkien on a regular basis.
Thus by the 21st century, Taiwan has truly emerged as one of the most significant Hokkien cultural hub of the world. The historical changes and development in Taiwan had led Taiwanese Hokkien to become the more influential pole of the Hokkien dialect after mid-20th century. Today, Taiwanese prestige dialect (Taiyu Youshiqiang/Tongxinqiang 台語優勢腔/通行腔), which is based on Tainan variant and heard on Taiwanese Hokkien media.
Hokkien dialects are typically written using Chinese characters (漢字, Hàn-jī). However, the written script was and remains adapted to the literary form, which is based on classical Chinese, not the vernacular and spoken form. Furthermore, the character inventory used for Mandarin (standard written Chinese) does not correspond to Hokkien words, and there are a large number of informal characters (替字, thè-jī or thòe-jī; 'substitute characters') which are unique to Hokkien (as is the case with Cantonese). For instance, about 20 to 25% of Taiwanese morphemes lack an appropriate or standard Chinese character.
While most Hokkien morphemes have standard designated characters, they are not always etymological or phono-semantic. Similar-sounding, similar-meaning or rare characters are commonly borrowed or substituted to represent a particular morpheme. Examples include "beautiful" (美 bí is the literary form), whose vernacular morpheme suí is represented by characters like 媠 (an obsolete character), 婎 (a vernacular reading of this character) and even 水 (transliteration of the sound suí), or "tall" (高 ko is the literary form), whose morpheme kôan is 懸. Common grammatical particles are not exempt; the negation particle m̄ (not) is variously represented by 毋, 呣 or 唔, among others. In other cases, characters are invented to represent a particular morpheme (a common example is the character 𪜶 in, which represents the personal pronoun "they"). In addition, some characters have multiple and unrelated pronunciations, adapted to represent Hokkien words. For example, the Hokkien word bah ("meat") has been reduced to the character 肉, which has etymologically unrelated colloquial and literary readings (he̍k and jio̍k, respectively). Another case is the word 'to eat,' chia̍h, which is often transcribed in Taiwanese newspapers and media as 呷 (a Mandarin transliteration, xiā, to approximate the Hokkien term), even though its recommended character in dictionaries is 食.
Moreover, unlike Cantonese, Hokkien does not have a universally accepted standardized character set. Thus, there is some variation in the characters used to express certain words and characters can be ambiguous in meaning. In 2007, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China formulated and released a standard character set to overcome these difficulties. These standard Chinese characters for writing Taiwanese Hokkien are now taught in schools in Taiwan.
Hokkien, especially Taiwanese, is sometimes written in the Latin script using one of several alphabets. Of these the most popular is Pe̍h-ōe-jī (traditional Chinese: 白話字; simplified Chinese: 白话字; pinyin: Báihuàzì). POJ was developed first by Presbyterian missionaries in China and later by the indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan; use of this alphabet has been actively promoted since the late 19th century. The use of a mixed script of Han characters and Latin letters is also seen, though remains uncommon. Other Latin-based alphabets also exist.
Min Nan texts, all Hokkien, can be dated back to the 16th century. One example is the Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua china, presumably written after 1587 by the Spanish Dominicans in the Philippines. Another is a Ming Dynasty script of a play called Romance of the Lychee Mirror (1566), supposedly the earliest Southern Min colloquial text. Xiamen University has also developed an alphabet based on Pinyin, which has been published in a dictionary called the Minnan Fangyan-Putonghua Cidian (閩南方言普通話詞典) and a language teaching book, which is used to teach the language to foreigners and Chinese non-speakers. It is known as Pumindian.
Taiwan has also developed a Latin alphabet for Taiwanese Hokkien, derived from Pe̍h-ōe-jī. It is known as Tai-lo and since 2006 has been officially promoted by Taiwan's Ministry of Education and taught in Taiwanese schools.
When writing Hokkien in Chinese characters, some writers create 'new' characters when they consider it impossible to use directly or borrow existing ones; this corresponds to similar practices in character usage in Cantonese, Vietnamese chữ nôm, Korean hanja and Japanese kanji. Some of these are not encoded in Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), thus creating problems in computer processing.
All Latin characters required by Pe̍h-ōe-jī can be represented using Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), using precomposed or combining (diacritics) characters. Prior to June 2004, the vowel akin to but more open than o, written with a dot above right, was not encoded. The usual workaround was to use the (stand-alone; spacing) character Interpunct (U+00B7, ·) or less commonly the combining character dot above (U+0307). As these are far from ideal, since 1997 proposals have been submitted to the ISO/IEC working group in charge of ISO/IEC 10646—namely, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2—to encode a new combining character dot above right. This is now officially assigned to U+0358 (see documents N1593, N2507, N2628, N2699, and N2713). Font support is expected to follow.
Cultural and political role
Min Nan (or Hokkien) can trace its roots through the Tang Dynasty. Min Nan (Hokkien) people call themselves "Tang people," (唐人, Tn̂g-lâng) which is synonymous to "Chinese people". Because of the widespread influence of the Tang culture during the great Tang dynasty, there are today still many Min Nan pronunciations of words shared by the Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese languages.
|English||Chinese characters||Mandarin Chinese||Taiwanese Hokkien||Korean||Vietnamese||Japanese|
|University||大學||Dàxué||Tāi-ha̍k (Tōa-o̍h)||Taehak||Đại học||Daigaku|
- Penang Hokkien
- Taiwanese Hokkien
- Singaporean Hokkien
- Amoy dialect
- Lan-nang (Philippine dialect of Hokkien)
- Teochew dialect
- Languages of China
- Languages of Taiwan
- Amoy Min Nan Swadesh list
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