Taiwan Bopomofo slang for beginners

A lot has been said about the decision to learn Simplified or Traditional characters when you first start learning Chinese. Of course ultimately you’d learn both, but you have to start somewhere. For me it wasn’t much of a choice, since I started out on the Mainland. It wasn’t until grad school that I needed 文言文 and traditional characters, and then moving to Korea where they were all that was used (in the rare cases when characters were used at all).

Anyway, I’m planning a quick trip to Taiwan in a few weeks. Fortunately I have some friends and family spread around the island who’ve volunteered to help me secure accommodation. Still, in some cases I’m on my own, which means trolling the internet for good hotel reviews, interesting restaurant recommendations and mountains worth climbing. Character sets are one issue. While I can read 繁體 without too much trouble, it’s definitely slower for me than simplified, and it’s much more prone to mistakes. But that’s only one of the problems a mainland expat is going to face in Taiwan. The other, at least online, has to do with Bopomofo and how often it shows up in user-generated content.

Below are some examples of common uses. In each, the bopomofo letter is from the first sound in the character, a direct result of the user’s input.

- “我天天ㄑ那” = ㄑ for 去
- wǒ tiāntiān q’ nà

- “我ㄇ走” = ㄇ for 們. also commonly for 嗎
- wǒ m’ zǒu

- “不知道是真ㄉ假ㄉ” – ㄉ for 的
- bù zhīdào shì zhēn d’ jiǎ d’

- “太好ㄌ” – ㄌ for pretty much anything pronounced like 了
- tài hǎo l’

- “不錯ㄚ” – ㄚ for 啊,語氣詞
- bùcuò a’

- “ㄋ吃飯ㄌㄇ” – 你吃飯了嗎
- n’ chīfàn l’ m’

I’ve never lived in Taiwan but from what I’ve seen visiting, I can tell you you will definitely need to know Bopomofo to send a text message on anything other than a smart phone. Beyond that, it’s not necessary. But in cases like this, it sure makes things a bit more interesting. So much for “Taiwan is more traditional because they didn’t ruin the writing with simplification”.

So far the above examples given have been from Facebook or other social networking services. There’s one more place that bopomofo keeps popping up that isn’t the result of lazy text input:

In the image above, it’s no longer bopomofo standing in for Mandarin characters but rather for Taiwanese Min. ㄟ, pronounced ‘ei’, is the 台語 pronunciation of what would be 的 in Mandarin. 鹿港ㄟ小籠包 is just 鹿港的小籠包, pronounced lùgǎng ei xiǎolóngbāo. Here, it’s being used as a sort of slogan or mark for the brand. In this following example, the inclusion of ㄟ is a more likely a way to attract people’s attention. This is the label on meat/produce packaged by the supermarket:

It reads 阿嬤ㄟ滷肉飯 (āmā ei lǔ ròu fàn), “Grandma’s minced pork rice”. Note 阿嬤 is used, which itself is a more Taiwanese word for Mother Grandmother.

7 responses to “Taiwan Bopomofo slang for beginners”

  1. Aaron says:

    I can tell you you will definitely need to know Bopomofo to send a text message on anything other than a smart phone.

    I did a fun three-week tour around the island last year around this time, and for communication I bought a cheapo Nokia feature phone with a prepaid plan. What really incensed me was that if you put the phone into 简体字 mode then you could use Hanyu Pinyin, but only to input 简体字. The only input method available in 繁體字 mode was bopomofo, which I ended up learning entirely for the purpose of texting within Taiwan.

    Perhaps I could have just sent all my friends 简体字 messages, but I didn’t want to take the chances of their phones garbling the text, or of seeming un-hip to the 繁體字 jive.

  2. Hans says:

    Nice intro and interesting to see how you prepare for the subtle script differences :-)

    Just two corrections, ㄚ stands for “a” (you wrote “y” in pinyinization of “不錯ㄚ”).

    And second, 阿嬤 is actually a word for grandmother.

    Hope you enjoy the stay in Taiwan!

    • Kellen Parker says:


      Of course you’re right for ㄚ. The resemblance to 丫 threw me off when I was writing this. ㄇㄚ = ma. I’ve fixed the post.

      For 阿嬤, I was just wrong. It’s been fixed. :)

  3. Andrew ACG says:

    I don’t have any examples on me, but you also see の (roughly, the Japanese equivalent of 的, so also a possessive particle with analogous syntax) used in Taiwan in place of 的 a lot, particularly in “trendy” or “hip” establishments.

    I assume, but I don’t know for sure, that this is because of Taiwan’s history of Japanese colonization, the high degree of cultural interaction, and Taiwan’s similarly complex but much less hostile attitude towards Japan.

    Aside from that, enjoy Taiwan and have lots of 滷肉飯!

    • Kellen Parker says:

      の is used a bit on the mainland as well, at least in Shanghai. I’m sure everywhere tho. I’d say it’s more about ‘hip’ than connections to Japan given that I think I’ve seen it in Nanjing as well.

      滷肉飯 is the bomb.

  4. YT says:

    Some of the shorthand is based on the name of the 注音符號. It’s similar to writing “u” for “you” in English. For 太好ㄌ, the name for ㄌ is equivalent to 了. For 不錯ㄚ, the name for ㄚis the same as 啊. There are youtube videos of the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ song or check out http://www.mdnkids.com/BoPoMo/ .

    The Taiwanese threw me for a bit of a loop. The characters in the pictures are read with the Mandarin pronunciation to create the Taiwanese sound. But if the characters were to be read in directly Taiwanese, I think the characters would be 阿媽的, or, to follow the substitution of 的 with 注音符號, 阿媽ㄝ.

    People in Taiwan generally don’t learn romanization, so it’s not used as an input method.

  5. 路人 says:


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