I had occasion a while back to consult the Wikipedia article for Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ), a system of orthography used to write Taiwanese and Amoy Hokkien, and was disappointed: it was sloppy and incomplete. I just revisited it and found it had been thoroughly overhauled by user Taiwantaffy, and is now as thorough a treatment as one could hope to find. A brief overview:

Developed by Western missionaries working among the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century and refined by missionaries working in Xiamen and Tainan, it uses a modified latin alphabet together with some diacritics to represent the spoken language. After initial success in Fujian, POJ became most widespread in Taiwan, and in the mid-twentieth century there were over 100,000 people literate in POJ. A large amount of printed material, religious and secular, has been produced in the script, including Taiwan’s first newspaper, the Taiwan Church News.
The orthography was suppressed during the Japanese era in Taiwan, and faced further countermeasures during the Kuomintang martial law period. In Fujian use declined after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China and today the system is not in general use there. Use of Pe̍h-ōe-jī is now restricted to some Taiwanese Christians, non-native learners of the language, and native-speaker enthusiasts in Taiwan. Full native computer support arrived in 2004, and users can now call on fonts, input methods, and extensive online dictionaries.

As for the name, “Pe̍h-ōe-jī … literally means vernacular writing, i.e. written characters (Chinese: 字; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: jī) representing everyday spoken language (simplified Chinese: 白话; traditional Chinese: 白話; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: pe̍h-ōe).” You can even hear it pronounced (click on “listen” in the first line). A splendid job.


  1. The system works?
    As if Jimbo wasn’t insufferable enough already.
    (I keed. I keed! I don’t know what I’d do without WP. – Well, aside from perhaps opening some of the books on my desk …)

  2. Off-topic:
    A funny “Grammar Nazi” video on

  3. mollymooly says

    Most of the best articles on Wikipedia are largely the work of one or two heroic editors. The open-collaboration model tends to result in lumpy puddings. For the more controversial articles, the Talk: page is often far more enlightening (or at least amusing) than the article itself.

  4. J Blakeslee says

    Ah, now I know what the Southern Min Wikipedia is written in.

  5. Reading Wiki is sort of like buying vegetables in a farmers’ market. You have to choose carefully. The bad articles fall into several categories which are mostly easily recognizable. Except in difficult, unfamiliar technical areas I believe that I am able to choose pretty well.

  6. Thanks for the mention. I was researching Pe̍h-ōe-jī for a different project, and thought I may as well improve the article – I’m glad to hear you like it! I mean to get around to fixing up some related articles on Wikipedia some day – Taiwanese Hokkien (strange title, as nobody really calls it that) is the next article which needs some serious work.

  7. Let me know if you do one you’re particularly pleased with; I’d be glad to see more of your work. That really is an excellent article.

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