The Glossika site has an amazing amount of material about Chinese languages and dialects (and related forms like Sino-Vietnamese). From the Introduction:

This website has hyperlinked cross-references and information on hundreds of dialects. Many researchers will find this information useful as it is all in one location.
On the main page are listed the main Chinese languages. Choose a language for a more detailed list of dialects. Most dialects have tone data, which is listed in master tone lists by language. There is also some tone sandhi data available. Some major dialects have complete phonological data available provided with IPA characters in charts that Chinese dialectologists commonly use. A tutorial is given how to read these charts.

Many thanks to jobson, who linked to the site (specifically to the Taiwanese page) in the comments to the katakana entry.


  1. Hoklo” is often used instead of “Taiwanese” or “Southern Min.” Using the term “Taiwanese” is sort of like using “American” to refer to English – it ignores the existence of the other langauges spoken in Taiwan. “Southern Min” on the other hand, is disliked because it refers to a place in China (South of the Min River), as opposed to Taiwan. The orgin and differences between various dialects of Southern Min/Hokkien is well discussed in the introduction to the lession.

  2. Sorry about that – here it is with proper tags:
    Hoklo” is often used instead of “Taiwanese” or “Southern Min.” Using the term “Taiwanese” is sort of like using “American” to refer to English – it ignores the existence of the other langauges spoken in Taiwan. “Southern Min” on the other hand, is disliked because it refers to a place in China (South of the Min River), as opposed to Taiwan. The orgin and differences between various dialects of Southern Min/Hokkien is well discussed in the introduction to the lession.

  3. OK, I’m all for proper language names, but this seems silly to me. In the first place, I’ve never heard anyone, Chinese or waiguoren, refer to the majority language of Taiwan as anything but Taiwanese. “Do you speak Taiwanese?” “Mainlanders never learn Taiwanese.” &c &c. So it’s not comparable to “American” (which is used by some as a quirky alternative but is not at all widespread); it’s the standard name. As for its ignoring the Austronesian languages of the island, I’m sorry, but that’s life. There are hardly any speakers of those languages left, and they play essentially no role in the life of the nation. There are far more minority-language speakers in France (Breton, Alsatian German, &c.), but you don’t hear any complaints about calling the majority language “French,” and for good reason. As for “Hoklo,” I think I have run across it once or twice, but it’s a completely marginal term and will never be anything else (I’m speaking of English use, of course). So the putative debate seems particularly futile.
    I’m curious about this:
    The term Hoklo does not seem to be of Chinese origin, and historically has no standard Chinese character representation. This name has been employed for centuries and centuries by the Hoklo people to refer to themselves.
    If it’s a Hoklo term, used only by the Hoklo, who don’t pronounce the k, how the dickens did the k get there?

  4. Which reminds me, the fact that you have to remember that the k is silent is another strike against “Hoklo” as a useful term.

  5. While this may be true of English speakers, it is not true of Hoklo speakers, many of whom use “Holo oe” to refer to the language in Hoklo. You can quibble about using “Hoklo” or “Holo” – I use the former because that seems to be the defacto standard in much of the recent academic literature, but I don’t really care. But to say that people don’t use the term “Hoklo” is incorrect. Note, people use “Taiwanese” in English because that is how Taiwanese used to refer to the langauge in Mandarin Chinese “Taiwan Hua”. This was a political move in and of itself – opposing “Chinese” culture with “Taiwanese” culture. But replacing one ethnic nationalism with another is sort of like adding two wrongs, isn’t it?

  6. Read item 6 in the FAQ to see the credentials of the Hoklo spelling, with a K.

  7. One more point, it isn’t just ignoring the 1% of the population who are Austronesian. It is also ignoring the 14% who are Hakka speakers. And the large number of Mainlanders (also about 14%, although intermarriage has had a big effect on language) who don’t speak Hoklo.

  8. Sorry, still have more to say.
    To treat “Taiwanese” as an English standard is absurd – most English speakers have no idea the language exists. Moreover, the notion of a unique “Taiwanese” language has remarkably modern origins. It started in the 20s and 30s by Taiwanese scholars in Japan. Monolingual policy by the KMT suppressed Hoklo, Hakka and the Austronesian languages, and there were only a small group of expatriats and dissidents who promoted Hoklo as a unique language. True, it was still widely spoken in the marketplace, but the concept of Hoklo as a language with a unique identity is really quite recent. The process of naming this language has been political from the beginning, and the unselttled nature of both Taiwanese identity and Taiwan’s status as a state means that there is nothing settled about the name that will be used for this language.

  9. To treat “Taiwanese” as an English standard is absurd
    No it’s not. Sure, most English speakers aren’t aware of it, but most English speakers aren’t aware of anything that isn’t on Entertainment Weekly; that doesn’t mean there are no standards. Those who are aware of it call it Taiwanese; I lived on Taiwan and, as I say, I never heard it called anything else.
    Read item 6 in the FAQ to see the credentials of the Hoklo spelling, with a K.
    Do you mean item 6, a collection of references to the name, or item 5, which gives an elaborate justification for it? Either way, there’s no discussion of what I was curious about, namely why there’s a k if it’s not pronounced by the people whose word it is.
    Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the name Hoklo (or Holo, and you have to admit the vanishing k is a problem), and if it somehow becomes popularized I’ll be the first to welcome it (and correct people who use the old name). I simply think the odds against that happening are overwhelming; even if (somehow) most Taiwanese/Hoklo speakers decided they wanted it called “Hoklo” in English, they don’t have the clout that, say, the Beijing government does (enabling it to enforce the pinyin spellings of Chinese names in English, which still annoys me even though there’s no point fighting a rearguard action now).
    By the way, it’s not a matter of “ethnic nationalism” any more than “French” is; the language is called Taiwanese because it’s spoken on Taiwan. The mainlanders had everything their way for half a century, they can hardly whine about being excluded from the name of the language they tried so hard to suppress; as for the Hakka, they’re Hakka, known as such everywhere (except in pinyincentric circles where they’re called “kejia”), and I doubt they feel any more excluded in Taiwan than anywhere else they’re a hardworking and put-upon minority.
    And for heaven’s sake don’t apologize for having more to say — I love these discussions!

  10. I apologized not because I had so much to say but because it all came out in such a haphazard fashion due to the fact that I was tired. I should have waited till the morning.
    The Hakka are, indeed, quite upset. Recently the civil service exams asked a question in Hoklo causing an uproar. Interestingly, this news article from the Taipei times (which more than anything seems to determine what the standards might be for referring to local expressions in English) is titled: Hakkas unite against Hokkien.
    “Hokkien” is quite common in the academic literature as well. Although some nativists don’t like it because it basically means “Southern Min” and also is a broad category that includes dialects of Min not spoken in Taiwan.
    The PRC certainly doesn’t like the use of the term “Taiwanese”!!! They use Southern Min/Hokkien.
    The Mainlanders are a diverse bunch. Although some have been running the country, others are the children of retired soldiers living on their pension and are quite poor. Many have Aborigine or Hakka mothers. These second and third generation Mainlanders have just as much a right to claim a Taiwanese identity as anyone else.
    Mandarin, not Hoklo, is still the national language of Taiwan, and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Many of the 70% Taiwanese who would claim Hoklo as thier mother tongue can’t speak it. Many parents spoke Mandarin to their children in order to ensure their success in school, and so the younger generation has difficulty expressing themselves in Hoklo. But Hoklo is “in” now, and last time I was there I heard all the radio talk shows constantly code-switching into Hoklo. This was interesting because after saying a few words in Hoklo, everyone switched back to Mandarin – the language they feel more comfortable in.
    I use Hoklo because it seems more precise, accurate, and respectful. This isn’t my battle, but it seems that small number of English speakers familiar with “Taiwanese” are also familiar with some of the alternative names, and can easily switch between them.
    About the spelling. I have no scientific basis for this, but the story I heard is this: The word “Hoklo” supposedly derives from the Hakka term used to describe the Hokkien people. It was possibly even, at some point, a deragatory term. The use of the k reflects the orthography used to represent a Hakka sound which is not used in Hoklo pronounciation of the same term. This story makes sense to me, but I haven’t researched it. It may just be a “folk-etemology” which falls apart like so many others.
    I referred to item 6 of the FAQ, because it seems relavent that this term, “Hoklo,” has been in use in publications like Scientific American, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Ethnologue Database, etc. as early as 1845 and as recently as this year. Seems like a fairly accepted “English” term to me. You may not like it, and maybe when you were in Taiwan people weren’t using it. But I think there is a strong case for Hoklo as the English name for this language variety, and even if it co-exists with “Taiwanese” I think there is an equally strong case for perferring Hoklo over “Taiwanese”.

  11. The Hakka are, indeed, quite upset.
    But what they’re upset about (quite understandably) is the use of Taiwanese/Hokkien/Hoklo on exams, not the use of a particular term for the language, at least according to the article you link to; the main thing that strikes me about the article is that it uses the term “Hokkien” for the language, which would seem to imply it’s a common name. So I withdraw my statement that “Taiwanese” is the standard term in English — “Hokkien” is clearly a competitor. If it’s “quite common in the academic literature as well,” it seems like a strong candidate to replace “Taiwanese” if the latter comes to be regarded as unsuitable by large numbers of people.
    The PRC certainly doesn’t like the use of the term “Taiwanese”!!!
    That, to me, is an argument for rather than against it, but your opinion of the PRC’s government may differ from mine.
    Many of the 70% Taiwanese who would claim Hoklo as thier mother tongue can’t speak it… after saying a few words in Hoklo, everyone switched back to Mandarin – the language they feel more comfortable in.
    This is fascinating (and sad). Do you think the language is in danger of dying out in Taiwan? Things have certainly changed since I was there 25 years ago.
    This story makes sense to me
    Me too. Please let me know if you find out anything more about it; it’s the kind of minor mystery that gnaws at me.
    Well, you’ve convinced me that “Taiwanese” isn’t an immutable standard, but I’m afraid I now see “Hokkien” as the main competition. But whichever becomes the preferred usage (in English) of its speakers, I’ll be happy to support it; after all, I’ve been standing up for Oromo (vs “Galla”), Romany/Romanes (vs “Gypsy”), and other such causes, so adding one more is no problem! I really appreciate your comments, from which I’ve learned a great deal.

  12. Oh, boy!!
    When I was in Taiwan people seemed to differentiate Mainlanders from locals (Hokkienese, whatever) primarily by their accent. Fair enough, but a few of the 1948 mainlanders spoke a “Fukien” dialect similiar to Hoklo. I asked, and they are unquestionably still Mainlanders just for historical or class reasons.
    Some of the young Taiwan Mainlanders I talked to were anxious to blur the distinction. Not from fear, but solidarity I think. But the KMT loyalists didn’t seem to be. (Already in 1983 almost nobody beleved the KMT claims any more, though many pretended to).
    My suggetsion was to standardize Taiwan Mandarin (sz=shi) as the national language, but I just said that to annoy my Chinese teacher, whose mission in life was to get the locals to talk right.
    We could call it “Formosan” just to be even more annoying.
    Considering that we’re negotioating between popular language and scholarly language in English, mainland Mandarin, Taiwan Mandarin, and Taiwan Hoklo (with mainland Hokkien sitting in the wings), the proper designations are going to be tough. Sort of like designating the various dialexts of French and Frankish in the French language (the Paris dialect is called “francien” to distinguish it from other contemporary dialects as well as from the later standard French it developed into.)

  13. P.S. When I was in Taiwan in 1984 there was a Hoklo “Wolfman Jack” on the radio who interspersed Japanese and English into his stuff. I’m sure he was code-switching between Hoklo and Mandarin too but I only heard him once and only understood Mandarin well enough to believe that he wasn’t speaking it.

  14. Wish I’d heard him! I did have the piquant experience of crouching over a shortwave radio and listening to the incomprehensible exhortations of Radio Pyongyang, endlessly repeating the only thing I could understand, “Kim Il-Sung,” surrounded by what were doubtless extravagant expressions of eternal fealty. I listened to it only because it was forbidden, and the knowledge that I could get in big trouble for it was a cheap thrill I’m glad I was able to have.

  15. Hokkien is used about as much as Hoklo in my experience, although its adoptation by the Taiwan Times certainly gives it a leg up. I personally prefer Hoklo because it is more narrow in focus, and doesn’t refer to all the languages spoken south of the Min River, some of which are mutually unintelligable.
    I don’t think Hokkien/Hoklo will die out, but it needs help. There is certainly a significant decline in use, and the younger generation speaks a variety which is very much infused with Mandarin. That is, even though there exists a perfectly good Hoklo word for something, people will use the Mandarin word with a Hoklo pronounciation instead. This may just be a normal feature of language change, like what is happening with English words entering French, or ti may signify a real decline in people’s ability to use the language. I know that when I tried to study Hoklo many of my Hoklo friends were unable to help me with questions I had. The situation is much worse for Hakka and the Aborigine languages because (1) they don’t have so many speakers, and (2) there isn’t as much reinforcement from the mass media. At least there are still popular songs and soap operas in Hoklo.
    Recently, the government introduced mother tongue langauge education into the schools. Unfortunately, this is mostly a political gesture. In neighborhoods where there is not already a large speech community, one or two hours a week of mother tongue classes for the first three years of schooling will do very little to reverse the process of decline. A lot will depend on what happens in the next election.
    The current orthography reforms (which will likely be rolled back if the KMT comes back into power) seem to standardize the Taiwanese-Mandarin (Taiwan Guoyu) pronounciation. This also pisses off the Hakka and others, whose pronounciation is not reflected in the Tongyong Pinyin system. I have a lot to say about these orthographic debates, but I don’t think I can fit it all into a comment, or even a blog entry. But the situation right now is that the orthographic system used in any particular town depends on which party is in control of the local government. My personal feeling is that I don’t care what system they use, as long as they standardize it somehow. (NB: Even though the article doesn’t mention Hakka displeasure at the use of the term “Taiwanese” I can assure you that the more politically active of them don’t like it. Since the Hakka are generally pretty politically active, this is a large percentage of them.)

  16. OK, I’ll take your word for the Hakka dislike of the term, and I hope you’ll write that blog entry on orthography; it’s an interesting subject.

  17. Douglas Davidson says:

    Kerim–I admire efforts at precision in nomenclature, but I suspect you may be tilting at windmills. For example, “Mandarin” is pretty obviously inappropriate as an English term for modern Standard Chinese, but that doesn’t stop you or anyone else from using it–I suspect primarily because there’s no clearly better alternative, and politics gets in the way of creating one. For me, the use of the term “Hokkien” in English is familiar, but it has the flavor of dusty fifty-year-old volumes that call the island “Formosa”; “Hoklo” is similar, only less familiar–notice that most of the citations are quite old. In common speech I’ve never heard anyone refer to the majority language of Taiwan as anything other than “Taiwanese” in English, or in Taiwanese for that matter. Maybe things are changing, though…

  18. Not to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to show that the Taipei Times may be switching over to using Hoklo. See this article from today’s issue:
    “Martinez, like his 24 predecessors, speaks fluent Hoklo, commonly referred to as Taiwanese, but knows little Mandarin.”
    A search of the paper shows 24 hits for news stories this year using the term.
    (I know, I know, it also says “commonly referred to as Taiwanese”…)

  19. Update: The Washington Post chose the rather awkward “minnanese“.

  20. That is an odd choice. But the article is great, with a balanced and knowledgeable account of the history (including the 2-28 Incident, which could be discussed only in whispers when I lived there), one of the few I’ve read in American newspapers that didn’t make me wince. I didn’t realize things had gone so far in the direction of localization. Here’s an excerpt:
    “Last year, a writer named Wang Benhu launched Taiwan’s first talk show requiring guests to speak Minnanese, and it stunned the television industry by becoming the island’s No. 1 talk show after only six months.
    “Wang attributes his success to his strong emphasis on Taiwanese identity and a pro-independence tilt. ‘Before, the Taiwanese people didn’t have a voice. . . . Now, they have a chance to speak out,’ he said in his studio in the southern city of Kaohsiung, a base of Taiwanese activism. ‘Basically, this is the mainstream now, the heart of Taiwan.’”

  21. I’m a Taiwanese. I think “Hoklo” is the correct term to use, instead of “Taiwanese”, “Minnanese”, “Hokkien” or any name derived from the district name.
    Hoklo is the native language of over 70% of Taiwanese people, and is also spoken in Southern Fujien (Min-nan), Eastern Canton and Singapore.
    Please see
    for detail.

Speak Your Mind