Hokkien Creationism.

Lañitri Kirinputra has a guest post at the Log that is the most interesting thing I’ve read about writing systems in a long time. Back in 2010 I posted about the Pe̍h-ōe-jī system of orthography used to write Taiwanese and Amoy Hokkien; it might be helpful to consult that before plunging into Kirinputra’s discussion of the debate about romanization vs. Hàn-jī (漢字 = Kanji), but it’s certainly not necessary. Here’s a sample:

Anybody who sets out to learn or learn about Hanji-based Hokkien these days will get the impression that pre-ROC Hanji-based Hokkien was, at best:

  1. Utterly unstandardized. To each man his own version. An unholy mess. Internally inconsistent.
  2. Largely made up of sound-only Hanji, or what the Japanese call ateji (当て字): Hanji employed for their sound value, with no regard to their “underlying meaning”.
  3. Well-represented in the experimental mess that was Hanji-based Hokkien in the 1980s and 90s.
  4. Reasonably well-represented in a series of 19th and 20th century dictionaries and rimebooks that allow us to access a cleaned-up version of pre-ROC Hanji Hokkien without having to look at any actual writings.
  5. Reasonably well-accounted for by the scholars of the late 20th century, who used the pre-ROC orthography as a starting point for the Neo-Hokkien they were creating, only replacing the parts that were unworkable.

This is what I used to think too, pretty much, before I found Tō͘ Kiàn-hong’s (杜建坊) essays. From there I looked for and found dozens of pre-ROC Hokkien publications that had been uploaded to the internet. It was a rude awakening. Pre-ROC Hokkien was surprisingly consistent. It spanned 400 years. The later stuff showed a level of orthographic polish and de facto standardization comparable to the Cantonese of today. Most of the late 20th century orthographic mess was not to be found in the pre-ROC publications. (Most of the mess that the Taiwanese Creationist scholars and writers claimed to be cleaning up had in fact been introduced by their own selves!) In turn, the conventions in the pre-ROC publications were only partly represented in the dictionaries and rimebooks of their time. And while scholars of the last 30-some years often cited “popular” (民間 bîn-kan) usage, it turned out what they meant by “popular” most times was in fact select dictionaries and rimebooks instead of popular … usage.

Now I just want to know what kind of a name Lañitri is; Google finds only references to the Log post.


  1. Lañitra~lañitri is Malagasy for ‘sky’, cognate with Hawaiian lani. Kirinputra sounds Malay.

  2. Lañitri Kirinputra posted on languagehat thread on Saving Hakka last year.

    He has great language blog by the way


  3. he writes his nickname in Tamil script as லஞித்ரி @ tawa.asia, but it’s just another language game of his. The word is clearly Malagasy, not Tamil.

    He lived in Madagascar for some time and learned Malagasy as he describes in part 5 of his language memoirs


  4. Thanks! My Malagasy dictionary gives the word for ‘sky’ simply as lanitra.

  5. Adelaar, Malagasy Dialect Divisions: Genetic versus Emblematic Criteria (Oceanic Linguistics 52:457, 2013), gives lànitră for the Central (Merina) dialect, làŋitsĕ, làŋitsĭ for the Western (Sakalava), làŋitsĕ for Southwestern (Tandroy), and laŋitrĭ for the Northern (Tankarana). These final tV’s are all reflexes of PAn *t.
    (<ñ> is of course /ŋ/.)

  6. Thanks!

  7. Wow, @Y and @SFReader (thanks, BTW!) got right to the heart of it. People call me “Langit” in maritime SEA. I wanted an Ankaraña or Sakalava version of my name to use outside SEA, though. “Lañitri” is what I found. Thing is, till now I always thought “ñ” was [ɲ]! I guess I butchered Ankaraña just as others before me butchered Sanskrit, Pali and English.

  8. I was out and about and it hit me — I was so zoomed in on the comments earlier that I forgot to say THANKS, @languagehat! Great blog. (Understatement.)

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