Written Taiwanese and Cantonese

With the mercury in Taipei rising incessantly (roads have started melting and all), it seemed as good a time as any to expand the horizons of Sinoglot’s coverage to the Pénghú 澎湖 archipelago, a group of islands in the Strait of Taiwan. Fishing and tourism are the mainstays of the economy on these islands, which are also known in Taiwan for their boisterous religious festivals and the well-preserved local culture.

So, with a little trepidation at flying in a little turboprop plane for the first time, your correspondent bravely went where no Sinoglot post had gone before. It soon turned out that the preservation of the islands’ local culture extends to its language: unlike in Taipei, Taiwanese (Mǐnnányǔ 閩南語 / Táiyǔ 台語) is still going strong on these islands – you hardly hear any Mandarin on the streets, even among the younger generations. I asked a few islanders and they all agreed that almost all kids are still learning how to speak Taiwanese and using it actively in everyday life, again unlike in Taipei.


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.


Passing notes

I caught two sixth grade girls passing notes in class today (which I think is far better than just chatting and disrupting the class), and they unexpectedly didn’t try to hide the note when I approached them when the class was over.

I was quite surprised at what I saw.  I recognized the script, and had long thought it would be perfect for this sort of thing because I haven’t found many people in China who can identify it, let alone read or write it.


Reflections on Taiwan

I just spent a short week in Taiwan visiting friends and looking into grad programs. I kept seeing things that I thought would be post-worthy.

I’m still going to write about a few as individual posts, but I thought I’d share some general impressions here.

1. Taiwanese often say 和 as hàn. As my friend Jason pointed out, this is in fact a well-documented phenomenon but one I’d not encountered before.