Taiwanese Mandarin

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Taiwanese Mandarin
國語 Guóyǔ/Kuo-yü
臺灣華語 Táiwān Huáyǔ
Native to Taiwan
Native speakers
4.3 million (1993)[1]
L2 speakers: more than 15 million (no date)[2]
Traditional Chinese characters
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by National Languages Committee (Ministry of Education, ROC).
Language codes
ISO 639-3
ISO 639-6 goyu (Guoyu)
Glottolog taib1240[3]
Percentage of Taiwanese aged 6 and above speaking Mandarin at home in 2010
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Taiwanese Mandarin is a variety of Mandarin Chinese derived from the Standard Mandarin spoken in Taiwan. The latter's standard lect is known in Taiwan as 國語 (Guóyǔ, Kuo-yü), based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect together with the grammar of vernacular Chinese.

The official Guoyu is almost identical except for the writing systems with Standard Mandarin used in the People's Republic of China, which is called Pǔtōnghuà (普通话). However, Mandarin as spoken informally in Taiwan has some notable differences in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation with Standard Mandarin, differences which have arisen mainly under influence from Taiwanese Hokkien (臺灣閩南語,the native variety of about 70% of the population of Taiwan[citation needed]), other mother tongues of Taiwan like Hakka (客家話, spoken natively by about 15% of the Taiwanese[citation needed]) and Formosan languages, additionally English, and Japanese from the prior Japanese period.


In 1945 when the Republic of China took over Taiwan and surrounding islands from Japan, Mandarin was introduced as the official language and made compulsory in schools. A Mandarin Promotion Council (now called National Languages Committee) was established in 1946 by Taiwan Chief Executive Chen Yi to standardize and popularize the usage of Standard Mandarin in Taiwan. The Council was led by 21 Chinese Scholars such as Wei Jiangong (魏建功), He Rong (何容), Qi Tiehen (齊鐵恨), Wang Yuchuan (王玉川), Fang Shiduo (方師鐸), Zhu Zhaoxiang, Wu Shouli (吳守禮) etc. (From 1895 to 1945, Japanese was the official language and taught in schools.) Since then, Mandarin has been established as a lingua franca among the various groups in Taiwan: the majority Han ethnic Hoklo, the Hakka who have their own spoken variant, Mainlanders whose native tongue may be any Chinese variant from mainland China, and the Taiwanese aborigines who speak Formosan languages.

Until the 1980s the Kuomintang administration heavily promoted the use of Standard Mandarin and discouraged the use of Taiwanese and other vernaculars, even portraying them as inferior. Mandarin was the only sanctioned Chinese variety for use in the media. This produced a backlash in the 1990s. Although some supporters of Taiwan independence tend to be opposed to standard Mandarin in favor of Taiwanese, efforts to replace standard Mandarin either with Taiwanese or with a multi-lingual standard have not been successful. Today, Mandarin is taught by immersion starting in elementary school. After the second grade, the entire educational system is in Mandarin, except for local language classes that have been taught for a few hours each week starting in the mid-1990s.

Taiwanese Mandarin (as with Singlish and many other situations of a creole speech community) is spoken at different levels according to the social class and situation of the speakers. Formal occasions call for the acrolectal level of Guoyu (Standard Mandarin). Less formal situations often result in the basilect form, which has more uniquely Taiwanese features. Bilingual speakers often code-switch between Mandarin and Taiwanese, sometimes in the same sentence.

Mandarin is spoken fluently by almost the entire Taiwanese population, except for some elderly people who were educated under Japanese rule. In the capital Taipei, where there is a high concentration of Mainlanders whose native variety is not Taiwanese, Mandarin is used in greater frequency and fluency than other parts of Taiwan.

Differences from Mainland Mandarin[edit]

Further information: Standard Mandarin


Taiwanese Mandarin uses traditional Chinese characters, as opposed to the simplified Chinese characters on the mainland. Taiwanese braille is based on different letter assignments than Mainland Chinese braille. Romanization had once been distinct, but now the pinyin system can be seen in both countries, though pinyin is mainly used in Mainland China while the Wade-Giles system is more prominent in Taiwan.


There are two categories of pronunciation differences. The first is of characters that have an official pronunciation that differs from Putonghua (普通话 Pǔtōnghuà), primarily in the form of differences in tone, rather than in vowels or consonants. The second is more general, with differences being unofficial and arising through Taiwanese Hokkien influence on Guoyu (國語 Guóyǔ).

Variant official pronunciations[edit]

There are a few differences in official pronunciations, mainly in tone, between Guoyu and Putonghua.

The following is a partial list of such differences:

垃圾 (or 拉圾)
lājī lèsè The pronunciation of lèsè originates from Wu Chinese and was the common pronunciation in China before 1949.
液體 (液体)
yètǐ yìtǐ, yètǐ

xīngqī xīngqí
企業 (企业)
qǐyè qìyè
危險 (危险)
wēixiǎn wéixiǎn
包括 (包括)
bāokuò bāoguā, bāokuò
法國 (法国)
fǎguó fàguó,fǎguó
微波爐 (微波炉)
wēibōlú wéibōlú


In acrolectal Taiwanese Mandarin:

  • the retroflex sounds (ch, zh, sh, r) from Putonghua are pronounced more like alveolo-palatal affricates and fricatives.
  • erhua is very rarely heard
  • the syllable written as pinyin: eng before b, f, m, p and w is pronounced as [ʊŋ] in all tones.
  • Isochrony is considerably more syllable-timed than in other Mandarin dialects (including Putonghua), which are stress-timed. Consequently, the "neutral tone" (輕聲) does not occur as often.

In basilectal Taiwanese Mandarin, sounds that do not occur in Taiwanese are replaced by sounds from Mandarin. These variations from Standard Mandarin are similar to the variations of Mandarin spoken in southern China. Using the Hanyu Pinyin system, the following sound changes take place (going from Putonghua to Taiwanese Mandarin followed with an example):

  • r- becomes z (ren → zen)
  • zh-, zhi becomes hard dz-, dzih (zhao → DZao 照 → 造)
  • sui becomes shuei
  • the diphthong ou are monophthongized as [oh].


The standard Mandarin construct 有…沒有 (have or not have) is not as commonly used in Taiwanese Mandarin as in standard Mandarin. For example, the sentence "Do you have a car?" is as follows:

Taiwanese Mandarin: 你有沒有汽車? (lit. "you have or not have a car?")
PRC Mandarin: 你有汽车沒有? (lit. "you have a car or not have?")

For non-recurring events, the construction involving is used where the sentence final particle would normally be applied to denote perfect. For instance, Taiwanese Mandarin more commonly uses "你有看醫生嗎?" to mean "Have you seen a doctor?" whereas Putonghua uses "你看醫生了嗎?". This is due to the influence of Hokkien grammar, which uses ū in a similar fashion. For recurring or certain events however, both Taiwanese and Mainland Mandarin use the latter, as in "你吃飯了嗎?", meaning "Have you eaten?"

Another example of Hokkien grammar's influence on Taiwanese Mandarin is the use of as "to be" verbs before adjectives, in addition to the usual meanings "would" or "will". For instance:

Taiwanese Mandarin: 你會冷嗎? (lit. "you are cold INT?")
Taiwanese Mandarin: 我會冷 (lit. "I am cold.")
Taiwanese Mandarin: 我不會冷 (lit. "I not am cold.")

This reflects Hokkien syntax, as shown below:

Hokkien: 你會寒袂? (lit. "you are cold, not?")
Hokkien: 我會寒 (lit. "I am cold.")
Hokkien: 我袂寒 (lit. "I not cold.")

In Putonghua, sentences would more likely be rendered as follows:

Putonghua: 你冷不冷? (lit. "you cold, not cold?"), or 你冷嗎? (lit. "you cold INT?").
Putonghua: 我冷 (lit. "I cold")
Putonghua: 我不冷 (lit. "I not cold").[4]


Vocabulary differences can be divided into several categories – particles, different usage of the same term, loan words, technological words, idioms, and words specific to living in Taiwan. Because of the limited transfer of information between mainland China and Taiwan after the Chinese civil war, many items that were invented after this split have different names in Guoyu and Putonghua. Additionally, many terms were adopted from Japanese both as a result of its close proximity (Okinawa) as well as Taiwan's status as a Japanese territory in the first half of the 20th century.


Spoken Taiwanese Mandarin uses a number of Taiwan specific (but not exclusive) final particles, such as 囉 (luō), 嘛(ma), 喔 (ō), 耶 (yē), 咧 (lie), 齁 (hō), 咩 (mei), 唷 (yō), etc.

Same words, different meaning[edit]

Some terms have different meanings in Taiwan and mainland China, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings between speakers of different sides of the Taiwan Strait. Often there are alternative, unambiguous terms which can be understood by both sides.

Term Meaning in Taiwan Meaning in mainland China Remarks
peanut potato Unambiguous terms:
  • 花生 (peanut)
  • 馬鈴薯/马铃薯 (potato).

to carry out something insidious, to screw/fuck (vulgar) to do, to perform a task As such, it is a verb that is rarely seen in any official or formal setting in Taiwan, whereas it is widely used in mainland China even by its top officials in official settings.
窩心 (T)
窝心 (S)
a kind of warm feeling having an uneased mind
出租車 (T)
出租车 (S)
rental car taxi In Taiwan, taxis are called 計程車 / 计程车 (jìchéngchē), which is used less frequently in mainland China. However, many taxis in Taiwan have 個人出租汽車 written on them.
yánjiūsuǒ (mainland China)
yánjiùsuǒ (Taiwan)
graduate school research institute
愛人 (T)
爱人 (S)
lover (unmarried)/mistress spouse this term is falling out of use in mainland China

Different preferred usage[edit]

Some terms can be understood by both sides to mean the same thing; however, their preferred usage differs.

Term Taiwan mainland China
tomato fānqié (番茄), literally "foreign eggplant" xīhóngshì (西红柿), literally "western red persimmon"
(fānqié is the preferred term in southern China)
boxed meal biàndāng (便當)
(loanword from Japanese bentō 弁当)
héfàn (盒饭)
bicycle jiǎotàchē (腳踏車), literally "pedaling/foot-stamp vehicle" zìxíngchē (自行车), literally "self-propelled vehicle"
(jiǎotàchē is the preferred term in Wu-speaking areas)
kindergarten yòuzhìyuán (幼稚園),
(loanword from Japanese yōchien 幼稚園)
yòu'éryuán (幼儿园)
pineapple fonglí (鳳梨) bwōluó (菠萝)

Loan words[edit]

Loan words may differ largely between Putonghua and Taiwanese Mandarin, as different characters or methods may be chosen for transliteration (phonetical or semantical), even the number of characters may different. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama's surname is called 奥巴馬 Àobāmǎ in Putonghua and 歐巴馬 or 歐巴瑪 Ōubāmǎ in Guoyu. Also, in Taiwanese Mandarin, rhotacization (erhua) is generally avoided.

From English[edit]

The term (麻吉 májí) borrowed from the English term "match", is used to describe items or people which complement each other well. Note that this term has become popular in mainland China as well.

The English term "hamburger" has been adopted in many Chinese-speaking communities. In Taiwan, the preferred form is 漢堡 (hànbǎo) rather than the mainland Chinese 漢堡包 (hànbǎobāo).

From Taiwanese Hokkien[edit]

The terms "阿公 agōng" and "阿嬤 amà" are more commonly heard than the standard Mandarin terms 爺爺 yéye (paternal grandfather), 外公 wàigōng (maternal grandfather), 奶奶 nǎinai (paternal grandmother) and 外婆 wàipó (maternal grandmother).

Some local foods usually are referred to using their Hokkien names. These include:

Taiwanese (mixed script) Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) IPA English
礤冰[5]/chhoah冰[6][7] chhoah-peng [tsʰuaʔ˥˧piŋ˥] baobing: shaved ice with sliced fresh fruit on top (usually strawberry, kiwi or mango)
麻糍[5]/麻糬[6] môa-chî [mua˧tɕi˧˥] glutinous rice cakes (see mochi)
蚵仔煎 ô-á-chian [o˧a˥tɕiɛn˥] oyster omelette

List of Taiwanese Hokkien words commonly found in local Mandarin-language newspapers and periodicals

As seen in two popular newspapers[8] Taiwanese (POJ) Mandarin Equivalent (Pinyin) English
China Times
Liberty Times
a local tyrant; a bully
China Times
Liberty Times
( (lo) -bà-khā)
incompetent; foolish person; a person whose ability is unmatched with those around him. (compare to baka)
China Times
Liberty Times
(adj, adv) obstinate(ly), tense (as of singing/performing)
China Times
Liberty Times
to like
China Times
Liberty Times
shy; bashful; sense of shame
China Times
Liberty Times
to end up with nothing
China Times
Liberty Times
(bù gāncuì)
picky; high-maintenance
Q 𩚨[5]
軟潤有彈性 (ruǎn rùn yǒu tánxìng)
description for food—soft and pliable (like mochi cakes)
China Times
Liberty Times
[lau˨˩ kʰɔk˥kʰɔk˩]
old and senile
China Times
Liberty Times
to muck around
China Times
Liberty Times
I beg your pardon; I am sorry; Excuse me.
China Times
Liberty Times
(adj) well-suited to each other
China Times
Liberty Times
an event; a matter; an affair
China Times
Liberty Times
(shòu bù liǎo)
(dǎng bù zhù)
1can not bear something
²compelled to do something
China Times
Liberty Times
to win an election[11]
China Times
Liberty Times
(thâu-khak pháiⁿ-khì)
(nǎojīn yǒu wèntí)
(you have/he has) lost (your/his) mind!
China Times
Liberty Times
(thut-chhôe / thut-chhê)
to go off the rails; to go wrong
China Times
Liberty Times
driver (of automotive vehicles; from Japanese 運ちゃん unchan, slang for 運転士 untenshi, see 運転手)
China Times
Liberty Times
depressed; sulky; unhappy; moody
From Japanese[edit]

Japanese loanwords based on kanji, now pronounced using Mandarin.

Japanese (Romaji) Taiwanese Mandarin (Pinyin) Mainland Chinese Mandarin (Pinyin) English Note
弁当 (bentō) 便當 (biàndāng) 盒饭 (héfàn) A boxed lunch. 弁当 in Japanese was borrowed from a Classical Chinese term using different characters but reintroduced to Taiwan via Mandarin as 便當 via different characters via 便 instead of 弁 because 便 means "convenient" which certainly is what a bento box is. In China, they used the semantic approach.
達人 (tatsujin) 達人 (dárén) 高手 (gāoshǒu) Someone who is very talented at doing something (a pro or expert) or adult. Also written 大人 達人 has the same meaning in Classical Chinese, but not widely used in vernacular Chinese in mainland china.[12]
中古 (chūko) 中古 (zhōnggǔ) 二手 (èrshǒu) Used, second-hand.

Japanese loanwords based on phonetics, transliterated using Chinese characters with similar pronunciation in Mandarin or Taiwanese.

Japanese (Romaji) Taiwanese Mandarin[13] (Pinyin) English
気持ち (kimochi) 奇檬子 (qíméngzǐ)[14] Mood; Feeling.
お婆さん (obāsan) 歐巴桑 (ōubāsāng)[15] Auntie.
おでん (oden) 黑輪 (hēilún)[16] A type of stewed flour-based snack/sidedish.
お爺さん (ojīsan) 歐吉桑 (ōujísāng)[17] Uncle.
オートバイ (ōtobai) 歐多拜 (ōuduōbài) motorcycle ("autobike", from "autobicycle").

Technical terms[edit]

Taiwanese Mandarin (Pinyin)
Google hits: .tw
Google hits: .cn
Mainland Chinese Mandarin (Pinyin)
Google hits: .tw
Google hits: .cn
部落格 (bùluògé)
.tw: 3,240,000
.cn: 120,000
博客 (bókè)
.tw: 1,090,000
.cn: 8,470,000
光碟 (guāngdié)
.tw: 2,930,000
.cn: 735,000
光盘 (guāngpán)
.tw: 29,300
.cn: 7,310,000
Optical disc
滑鼠 (huáshǔ)
.tw: 1,320,000
.cn: 381,000
鼠标 (shǔbiāo)
.tw: 54,500
.cn: 10,200,000
mouse (computing)
加護病房 (jiāhùbìngfáng)
.tw: 101,000
.cn 14,800
监护病房 (jiānhùbìngfáng)
.tw 704
.cn 41,600
Intensive Care Unit (ICU); Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU)
雷射 (léishè)
.tw: 811,000
.cn: 131,000
激光 (jīguāng)
.tw: 129,000
.cn: 4,540,000
錄影機 (lùyǐngjī)
.tw: 156,000
.cn: 42,700
录像机 (lùxiàngjī)
.tw: 2,950
.cn: 706,000
videocassette recorder
軟體 (ruǎntǐ)
.tw: 10,200,000
.cn: 983,000
软件 (ruǎnjiàn)
.tw: 569,000
.cn: 51,900,000
(網際)網路 ([wǎngjì] wǎnglù)
.tw: 438,000
.cn: 75,000
互联网 (hùliánwǎng), 網絡 (wǎngluo)
.tw: 75,900
.cn: 6,830,000
印表機 (yìnbiǎojī)
.tw: 522,000
.cn: 96,300
打印机 (dǎyìnjī)
.tw: 7,690
.cn: 4,940,000
computer printer
硬碟 (yìngdié)
.tw: 1,460,000
.cn: 550,000
硬盘 (yìngpán)
.tw: 37,800
.cn: 10,700,000
Hard disk
螢幕 (yíngmù)
.tw: 3,810,000
.cn: 339,000
显示器 (xiǎnshìqì)
.tw: 631,000
.cn: 8,480,000
computer monitor (螢幕 is the equivalent of "screen (noun)" in English, while 显示 means "to display" in English)
資料庫 (zīliàokù)
.tw: 5,050,000
.cn: 2,190,000
数据库 (shùjùkù)
.tw: 70,200
.cn: 13,800,000
資訊 (zīxùn)
.tw: 8,220,000
.cn: 9,460,000
信息 (xìnxī)
.tw: 317,000
.cn: 13,600,000
作業系統 (zuòyè xìtǒng)
.tw: 1,830,000
.cn: 177,000
操作系统 (cāozuò xìtǒng)
.tw: 97,900
.cn: 6,930,000
operating system

Idioms and proverbs[edit]

Taiwanese Mandarin (Pinyin)
Google hits: .tw
Google hits: .cn
Mainland Chinese Mandarin (Pinyin)
Google hits: .tw
Google hits: .cn
垂手可得 (chuí shǒu kě dé)
.tw: 31,100
.cn: 51,100
唾手可得 (tuò shǒu kě dé)
.tw: 16,300
.cn: 259,000
extremely easy to obtain
一蹴可幾 (yī cù kě jī)
.tw: 10,700
.cn: 1,320
一蹴而就 (yī cù ér jiù)
.tw: 3,680
.cn: 309,000
to reach a goal in one step
一覽無遺 (yī lǎn wú yí)
.tw: 75,800
.cn: 184,000
一览无余 (yī lǎn wú yú)
.tw: 2,530
.cn: 373,000
to take in everything at a glance
入境隨俗 (rù jìng suí sú)
.tw: 22,400
.cn: 7,940
入乡随俗 (rù xiāng suí sú)
.tw: 1,980
.cn 144,000
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
.tw: 39,900
.cn: 18,100
.tw: 49,300
.cn 579,000

Words specific to living in Taiwan[edit]

Google hits: .tw
Google hits: .cn
Pinyin English
.tw: 261,000
.cn: 4,330
ānqīnbān after school childcare (lit. happy parents class)
.tw: 78,400
.cn: 992
bǎngzhuāng pork barrel (lit. bind stumps together)
.tw: 38,200
.cn: 8,620
gékuí the premier (surname + kui for short)
.tw: 761,000
.cn: 827,000[19]
gōngchē public bus (in the PRC, 公车 also/mainly refers to government owned vehicles)
.tw: 2,500,000
.cn: 692,000
jīchē motor scooter/(slang) someone or something extremely annoying or irritating (though the slang meaning is often written 機扯)(means "locomotive" in mainland China)[20]
.tw: 1,320,000
.cn 65,600
jiéyùn rapid transit (e.g. Kaohsiung MRT, Taipei Metro)
.tw: 997,000
.cn: 133,000
tǒngyī biānhào the Government Uniform ID number of a corporation


  1. ^ Mandarin Chinese (Taiwan) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Mandarin Chinese (Taiwan) at Ethnologue (14th ed., 2000).
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Taibei Mandarin". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Lu (2011).
  5. ^ a b c d e f g MoE (2011).
  6. ^ a b c d e Iûⁿ.
  7. ^ Often written using the Mandarin equivalent 刨冰, but pronounced using the Taiwanese Hokkien word.
  8. ^ Google hits from the China Times (中時電子報) and Liberty Times (自由時報) are included.
  9. ^ This can be a tricky one, because 見笑 means "to be laughed at" in Standard Mandarin. Context will tell you which meaning should be inferred.
  10. ^ Many people in Taiwan will use the Mandarin pronunciation (guīmáo).
  11. ^ the writing 凍蒜 (lit. freeze garlic) probably originated in 1997, when the price of garlic was overly raised, and people called for the government to gain control of the price.
  12. ^ 晋 葛洪 《抱朴子·行品》:“顺通塞而一情,任性命而不滞者,达人也。” 贾谊 《鵩鸟赋》:“小智自私兮,贱彼贵我;达人大观兮,物无不可。”
  13. ^ 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典-外來詞 [Taiwanese Hokkien Dictionary of Common Words - Loanwords] (in Chinese). Ministry of Education (Republic of China). 2011. Retrieved 24 December 2014. 
  14. ^ Derived from Taiwanese 起毛-chih (Pe̍h-ōe-jī: khí-mo͘-chih; [ki˧mɔ˥ʑi˧]; see 起毛)
  15. ^ Most people in Taiwan will use the Taiwanese pronunciation (Pe̍h-ōe-jī: o·-bá-sáng; [ɔ˧ba˥saŋ˥˧])
  16. ^ Derived from Taiwanese 烏輪 (Pe̍h-ōe-jī: o͘-lián; [ɔ˧liɛn˥˧])
  17. ^ Most people in Taiwan will use the Taiwanese pronunciation (Pe̍h-ōe-jī: o·-jí-sáng; [ɔ˧ʑi˥saŋ˥˧])
  18. ^ The first character is usually omitted when placed behind the surname. For example, the former premier was Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌). Since his surname is , he was referred to in the press as 蘇揆.
  19. ^ The numbers are a bit misleading in this case because in the PRC, 公车 also refers to government owned vehicles.
  20. ^ Young people in Taiwan also use this word to refer to someone or something extremely annoying or irritating.
  21. ^ Often abbreviated as 統編 (tǒngbiān).

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