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Title: Hokkien  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Names of China, Singaporean Hokkien, Standard Singaporean Mandarin, Chinese language, Cambodian Hokkien
Collection: Languages of Malaysia, Languages of the Philippines, Southern Min
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Native to Mainland China, Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Philippines, United States, and other areas of Hoklo settlement
Region southern Fujian province and other southeatern coastal ereas of Mainland China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia
Ethnicity Hoklo (Subgroup of Han-Chinese)
Native speakers
(no estimate available)
Official status
Official language in
None (one of the statutory languages for public transport announcements in the Republic of China[1])
Regulated by None
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog hokk1242[2]
Distribution of Minnan dialects. Hokkien is dark green.
Traditional Chinese 閩南話
Simplified Chinese 闽南话
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 福建話
Simplified Chinese 福建话

Hokkien (traditional Chinese: 福建話; simplified Chinese: 福建话; pinyin: Fújiànhuà; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hok-kiàn oē) or Quanzhou–Zhangzhou (Chinchew-Changchew; BP: Zuánziū–Ziāngziū) is a group of mutually intelligible Min Nan Chinese dialects spoken by many overseas Chinese throughout Southeast Asia. Hokkien originated from a dialect in southern Fujian. It is closely related to the Teochew, though mutual comprehension is difficult, and is somewhat more distantly related to Hainanese. To clarify, besides Hokkien, there are also other dialects in Fujian province.


  • Names 1
  • Geographic distribution 2
  • Classification 3
  • History 4
    • Quanzhou 4.1
    • Zhangzhou 4.2
    • Xiamen 4.3
    • Hokkien linguistics classics 4.4
  • Phonology 5
    • Initials 5.1
    • Finals 5.2
    • Vowels 5.3
    • Tones 5.4
  • Comparison 6
    • Mutual intelligibility 6.1
  • Grammar 7
    • Pronouns 7.1
    • Copula ("to be") 7.2
    • Negation 7.3
  • Vocabulary 8
    • Literary and colloquial readings 8.1
    • Semantic differences between Hokkien and Mandarin 8.2
    • Words from Minyue 8.3
    • Loanwords 8.4
  • Standard Hokkien 9
  • Writing systems 10
    • Chinese script 10.1
    • Latin script 10.2
    • Computing 10.3
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


The term Hokkien (福建; Min Nan pronunciation:  ( )) is itself a term not used in Chinese to describe the dialect as it simply means Fujian province. In Chinese linguistics, these dialects are known by their classification under the Quanzhang Division (Chinese: 泉漳片; pinyin: Quánzhāng piàn) of Min Nan, which comes from the first characters of the two main Hokkien urban centers Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. The language is also known by other terms such as the more general Min Nan (traditional Chinese: 閩南語, 閩南話; simplified Chinese: 闽南语, 闽南话; pinyin: Mǐnnányǔ, Mǐnnánhuà; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Bân-lâm-gí,Bân-lâm-oē) or Southern Min, and Fulaohua (traditional Chinese: 福佬話; simplified Chinese: 福佬话; pinyin: Fúlǎohuà; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hō-ló-oē). The term Hokkien (Chinese: 福建話; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: hok-kiàn oē;Tâi-lô:Hok-kiàn-uē), on the other hand, is used commonly in South East Asia to refer to Min-nan dialects.

Geographic distribution

Hokkien originated in the Southern region of Fujian province, an important centre for trade and migration, and has since spread beyond China, being one of the most common Chinese languages overseas.

A form of Hokkien akin to that spoken in southern Fujian is also spoken in Republic of China (Taiwan), where it goes by the name Tâi-oân-oē or Hō-ló-oē. The ethnic group for which Hokkien is considered the native language is the Holo or Hoklo, the main ethnicity of Taiwan. The correspondence between language and ethnicity is not absolute, as some Hoklo people have limited proficiency in Hokkien while some non-Hoklos are fluent in the dialect.

There are many Hokkien speakers among overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia as well as in the United States. Many ethnic Chinese emigrants to the region were Hoklo from southern Fujian, and brought the language to what is now Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia (the former Dutch East Indies) and present day Malaysia and Singapore (formerly Malaya and the British Straits Settlements). Many of the Hokkien dialects of this region are highly similar to Taiwanese and Amoy. Hokkien is reportedly the native language of up to 98.5% of the Chinese Filipino in the Philippines, among which is known locally as Lan-nang or Lán-lâng-oē ("Our people’s language"). Hokkien speakers form the largest group of Chinese in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.


Southern Fujian is home to three principal Hokkien dialects. They are known by the geographic locations to which they correspond (listed north to south):

As Amoy/Xiamen is the principal city of southern Fujian, the Amoy dialect is considered the most important, or even the prestige dialect, of Hokkien. It's a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. It has played an influential role in history, especially in the relations of Western nations with China, and was one of the most frequently learned of all Chinese languages/dialects by Westerners during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

The varieties of Hokkien spoken in Taiwan are similar to the three varieties of Fujian, and are collectively known as Taiwanese. Taiwanese is used by a majority of the population and bears much importance from a socio-political perspective, forming the second (and perhaps today most significant) major pole of the language. The varieties of Hokkien in Southeast Asia, including Singaporean Hokkien, also originate from these dialects.


Variants of Hokkien dialects can be traced to two sources of origin: Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Both Amoy and Taiwanese are based on a mixture of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects, while the rest of the Hokkien dialects spoken in South East Asia are either derived from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou, or based on a mixture of both dialects.


During the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, there was constant warfare occurring in the Central Plain of China. Northerners began to enter into Fujian region, causing the region to incorporate parts of northern Chinese dialects. However, the massive migration of northern Han Chinese into Fujian region mainly occurred after the Disaster of Yongjia. The Jìn court fled from the north to the south, causing large numbers of northern Han Chinese to move into Fujian region. They brought the old Chinese — spoken in Central Plain of China from prehistoric era to 3rd century — into Fujian. This then gradually evolved into the Quanzhou dialect.


In 677 (during the reign of Emperor Gaozong), Chen Zheng (陳政), together with his son Chen Yuanguang (陳元光), led a military expedition to pacify the rebellion in Fujian. They settled in Zhangzhou and brought the Middle Chinese phonology of northern China during the 7th century into Zhangzhou; In 885, (during the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang), the two brothers Wang Chao (王潮) and Wang Shenzhi (王審知), led a military expedition force to pacify the Huang Chao rebellion. They brought the Middle Chinese phonology commonly spoken in Northern China into Zhangzhou. These two waves of migrations from the north generally brought the northern Middle Chinese languages into Fujian region. This then gradually evolved into the Zhangzhou dialect.


Xiamen dialect, sometimes known as Amoy, is the main dialect spoken in the Chinese city of Xiamen and its surrounding regions of Tong'an and Xiang'an, both of which are now included in the Greater Xiamen area. This dialect developed in the late Ming dynasty when Xiamen was increasingly taking over Quanzhou's position as the main port of trade in southeastern China. Quanzhou traders began travelling southwards to Xiamen to carry on their businesses while Zhangzhou peasants began traveling northwards to Xiamen in search of job opportunities. It is at this time when a need for a common language arose. The Quanzhou and Zhangzhou varieties are similar in many ways (as can be seen from the common place of Henan Luoyang where they originated), but due to differences in accents, communication can be a problem. Quanzhou businessmen considered their speech to be the prestige accent and considered Zhangzhou's to be a village dialect. Over the centuries, dialect leveling occurred and the two speeches mixed to produce the Amoy dialect.

Hokkien linguistics classics

Chinese scholars of late Ming and Qing systematically studied the Hokkien dialects of those times and compiled a number of Chinese linguistics books about Hokkien. These include The Phonology of Quanzhou speech (彙音妙悟) by Huang Qian (黃謙), The Phonology of common Zhangzhou speech (彙集雅俗通十五音) by Xie Xiulan (謝秀嵐) etc.


Hokkien has one of the most diverse phoneme inventories among Chinese languages, with more consonants than Standard Mandarin or Cantonese. Vowels are more or less similar to that of Standard Mandarin. Hokkien varieties retain many pronunciations that are no longer found in other Chinese dialects. These include the retention of the /t/ initial, which is now /tʂ/ (Pinyin 'zh') in Mandarin (e.g. 'bamboo' 竹 is tik, but zhú in Mandarin), having disappeared before the 6th century in other Chinese dialects.[4]


Southern Min has aspirated, unaspirated as well as voiced consonant initials. For example, the word khui () (meaning "open") and kuiⁿ () (meaning "close") have the same vowel but differ only by aspiration of the initial and nasality of the vowel. In addition, Southern Min has labial initial consonants such as m in m̄-sī (毋是) (meaning "is not").

Another example is cha-po·-kiáⁿ (查埔囝) (meaning "boy") and cha-bó·-kiáⁿ (查某囝) (meaning "girl"), which differ in the second syllable in consonant voicing and in tone.


Unlike Mandarin, Southern Min retains all the final consonants of Middle Chinese. While Mandarin only preserves the n and ŋ finals, Southern Min also preserves the m, p, t and k finals and developed the ʔ (glottal stop).



In general, Hokkien dialects have 5 to 7 phonemic tones. According to the traditional Chinese system, however, there are 7 to 9 "tones", more correctly termed tone classes since two of them are non-phonemic "entering tones" (see the discussion on Chinese tone). Tone sandhi is extensive.[5] There are minor variations between the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou tone systems. Taiwanese tones follow the patterns of Amoy or Quanzhou, depending on the area of Taiwan. Quanzhou is the only Hokkien dialect that preserves all 6 phonemic tones of Late Middle Chinese (LMC); both Amoy and Taiwanese Hokkien typically have 5 phonemic tones, having lost LMC tone 6. Many dialects have an additional phonemic tone ("tone 9" according to the traditional reckoning), used only in special or foreign loan words.[6]

陰平 陽平 陰上 陽上 陰去 陽去 陰入 陽入
Tone Number 1 5 2 6 3 7 4 8
調值 Xiamen, Fujian 44 24 53 - 21 22 32 4
東 taŋ1 銅 taŋ5 董 taŋ2 - 凍 taŋ3 動 taŋ7 觸 tak4 逐 tak8
Taipei, Taiwan 44 24 53 - 11 33 32 4
Tainan, Taiwan 44 23 41 - 21 33 32 44
Zhangzhou, Fujian 34 13 53 - 21 22 32 121
Quanzhou, Fujian 33 24 55 22 41 5 24
Penang, Malaysia[7] 33 23 445 - 21 3 4


The Amoy dialect (Xiamen) is a hybrid of the Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. Taiwanese is also a hybrid of these two dialects. Taiwanese in northern Taiwan tends to be based on the Quanzhou variety, whereas the Taiwanese spoken in southern Taiwan tends to be based on Zhangzhou's. There are minor variations in pronunciation and vocabulary between Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects. The grammar is generally the same. Additionally, Taiwanese includes several dozen loanwords from Japanese as well as Taiwanese aboriginal languages. On the other hand, the variants spoken in Singapore and Malaysia have a substantial number of loanwords from Malay and to a lesser extent, from English and other Chinese dialects such as the closely related Teochew and some Cantonese.

Mutual intelligibility

The Quanzhou dialect, Xiamen dialect, Zhangzhou dialect, Taiwanese, Penang Hokkien, Southern Peninsular Malaysian Hokkien and Singaporean Hokkien are mutually intelligible.

The Min Nan varieties of Teochew and Amoy are 84% phonetically similar, and 34% lexically similar, whereas Mandarin and Amoy Min Nan are 62% phonetically similar and 15% lexically similar. In comparison, German and English are 60% lexically similar.[8]


Hokkien dialects are analytic; in a sentence, the arrangement of words is important to its meaning.[9] A basic sentence follows the subject–verb–object pattern (i.e. a subject is followed by a verb then by an object), though this order is often violated because Hokkien dialects are topic-prominent. Unlike synthetic languages, seldom do words indicate time, gender and plural by inflection. Instead, these concepts are expressed through adverbs, aspect markers, and grammatical particles, or are deduced from the context. Different particles are added to a sentence to further specify its status or intonation.

A verb itself indicates no grammatical tense. The time can be explicitly shown with time-indicating adverbs. Certain exceptions exist, however, according to the pragmatic interpretation of a verb's meaning. Additionally, an optional aspect particle can be appended to a verb to indicate the state of an action. Appending interrogative or exclamative particles to a sentence turns a statement into a question or shows the attitudes of the speaker.

Hokkien dialects preserve certain grammatical reflexes and patterns reminiscent of the broad stage of Archaic Chinese. This includes the serialization of verb phrases (direct linkage of verbs and verb phrases) and the infrequency of nominalization, both similar to Archaic Chinese grammar.[10]

() (khì) () (ū) 錶仔(pió-á) (bo)
You-go-buy-have watch-no (Gloss)
"Did you go to buy a watch?"

Choice of grammatical function words also varies significantly among the Hokkien dialects. For instance, 乞 khit (denoting the causative, passive or dative) is retained in Jinjiang (also unique to the Jinjiang dialect is 度 thoo) and Jieyang, but not in Longxi and Xiamen, whose dialects use 互 (hoo) instead.[11]


Hokkien dialects differ in their preferred choice of pronouns. For instance, while the second person pronoun (你) is standard in Taiwanese Hokkien, the Teochew loanword (汝) is more common among Hokkien-speaking communities in Southeast Asia. The plural personal pronouns tend to be nasalized forms of the singular ones. Personal pronouns found in the Hokkien dialects are listed below:
Person Singular Plural
First person
1, 3gún, góan

2, 3 or 俺
lán or án

Second person


lín lâng
Third person

i lâng
1 Inclusive
2 Exclusive
3 儂 (-lâng) is typically suffixed in Southeast Asian Hokkien dialects

Possessive pronouns are marked by the particle ê (的), or its literary version chi (之). Plural pronouns are typically unmarked (the nasalized final serves as the possessive indicator):[12]

(góan) (ang) (sèⁿ) (Tân)
"My husband's surname is Tan."

Reflexive pronouns are made by appending the pronouns ka-kī, ka-tī (家己) or chū-kí (自己).

Hokkien dialects use a variety of differing demonstrative pronouns, which are as follows:

  • this - che (這, 即), chit-ê (這個, 即個)
  • that - he (許, 彼), hit-ê (彼個)
  • here - chia (者), hia/hiâ (遮, 遐), chit-tau 這兜)
  • there - hia (許, 遐), hit-tau (彼兜)

The interrogative pronouns are:

  • what - siáⁿ-mih (啥物), sīm-mi̍h (甚麼)
  • when - tī-sî (底時), kī-sî (幾時), tang-sî (當時), sīm-mi̍h-sî-chūn (甚麼時陣)
  • where - to-lo̍h (倒落), tó-uī (佗位, 叨位)
  • who - siáⁿ-lâng (啥人) or siáⁿ (啥)
  • why - án-chóaⁿ (按怎), khah (盍)
  • how - án-chóaⁿ (按怎) lû-hô (如何) chóaⁿ-iūⁿ (怎樣)

Copula ("to be")

States and qualities are generally expressed using stative verbs that do not require the verb "to be":

(goá) 腹肚(pak-tó͘) (iau)
"I am hungry." (lit. I-stomach-hungry)

With noun complements, the verb (是) serves as the verb "to be".

昨昏(cha-hng) () 八月節(peh-go̍eh-cheh)
"Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn festival."

To indicate location, the words (佇) tiàm (踮), teh/leh (咧), which are collectively known as the locatives or sometimes coverbs in Chinese linguistics, are used to express "(to be) at":

(goá) (tiàm) (chia) (tán) ()
"I am here waiting for you."
(i) 這馬(chit-má) () (chhù) () (teh) (khùn)
"He's sleeping at home now."


Hokkien dialects have a variety of negation particles that are prefixed or affixed to the verbs they modify. There are five primary negation particles in Hokkien dialects:

  1. (毋, 呣, 唔)
  2. bē, bōe (袂, 未)
  3. mài (莫, 勿)
  4. (無)
  5. put (不) - literary

Other negative particles include:

  1. biàu (嫑) - a contraction of bô iàu (無要), as in biàu-kín (嫑緊)
  2. bàng (甭)
  3. bián (免)
  4. thài (汰)

The particles (毋, 呣, 唔) is general and can negate almost any verb:

(i) () (bat) ()
"He cannot read." (lit. he-not-read-word)

The particle mài (莫, 勿), a concatenation of m-ài (毋愛) is used to negate imperative commands:

(mài) (kóng)!
"Don't speak!"

The particle (無) indicates the past tense:

(i) () (chia̍h)
"He did not eat."

The verb 'to have', ū (有) is replaced by (無) when negated (not 無有):

(i) () (chîⁿ)
"He does not have any money."

The particle put (不) is used infrequently, mostly found in literary compounds and phrases:

(i) (chin) 不孝(put-hàu)
"He is truly unfilial."


The majority of Hokkien vocabulary is monosyllabic.[13] Many Hokkien words have cognates in other Chinese languages. That said, there are also many indigenous words that are unique to Hokkien and are not potentially of Sino-Tibetan origin, while others are shared by all the Min languages (e.g. 'congee' is 糜 , bôe, , not 粥 zhōu, as in other dialects).

As compared to Standard Chinese (Mandarin), Hokkien dialects prefer the usage the monosyllabic form of words, without suffixes. For instance, the Mandarin noun suffix 子 (zi) is not found in Hokkien words, while another noun suffix, 仔 (á) is used in many nouns. Examples are below:

  • 'duck' - 鸭 ah or 鴨仔 ah-á (SC: 鸭子 yāzi)
  • 'color' - 色 sek (SC: 顏色 yán sè)

In other bisyllabic morphemes, the syllables are inverted, as compared to Standard Chinese. Examples include the following:

  • 'guest' - 人客 lâng-kheh (SC: 客人 kèrén)

In other cases, the same word can have different meanings in Hokkien and standard written Chinese. Similarly, depending on the region Hokkien is spoken in, loanwords from local languages (Malay, Tagalog, Burmese, among others), as well as other Chinese dialects (such as Southern Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Teochew), are commonly integrated into the vocabulary of Hokkien dialects.

Literary and colloquial readings

The existence of literary and colloquial readings (文白異讀), called tha̍k-im (讀音), is a prominent feature of some Hokkien dialects and indeed in many Sinitic varieties in the south. The bulk of literary readings (文讀, bûn-tha̍k), based on pronunciations of the vernacular during the Tang Dynasty, are mainly used in formal phrases and written language (e.g. philosophical concepts, surnames, and some place names), while the colloquial (or vernacular) ones (白讀, pe̍h-tha̍k) are basically used in spoken language and vulgar phrases. Literary readings are more similar to the pronunciations of the Tang standard of Middle Chinese than their colloquial equivalents.

However, some dialects of Hokkien, such as Penang Hokkien as well as Philippine Hokkien (Lan-lang-oe) overwhelmingly favor colloquial readings. For example, in both Penang Hokkien and Philippine Hokkien, the characters for 'university,' 大學, are pronounced toā-ȯh (colloquial readings for both characters), instead of the literary reading tāi-hȧk, which is common in Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese dialects.

The pronounced divergence between literary and colloquial pronunciations found in Hokkien dialects is attributed to the presence of several strata in the Min lexicon. The earliest, colloquial stratum is traced to the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE); the second colloquial one comes from the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420 - 589 CE); the third stratum of pronunciations (typically literary ones) comes from the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE) and is based on the prestige dialect of Chang'an (modern day Xi'an), its capital.[14]

Some commonly seen sound correspondences (colloquial → literary) are as follows:

  • p- ([p-], [pʰ-]) → h ([h-])
  • ch-, chh- ([ts-], [tsʰ-], [tɕ-], [tɕʰ-]) → s ([s-], [ɕ-])
  • k-, kh- ([k-], [kʰ-]) → ch ([tɕ-], [tɕʰ-])
  • -ⁿ ([-ã], [-uã]) → n ([-an])
  • -h ([-ʔ]) → t ([-t])
  • i ([-i]) → e ([-e])
  • e ([-e]) → a ([-a])
  • ia ([-ia]) → i ([-i])

This table displays some widely used characters in Hokkien that have both literary and colloquial readings:

Chinese character Literary reading Colloquial reading
pe̍k as in 明白 (bêng-pe̍k) pe̍h as in 白菜 (pe̍h-chhài)
biān as in 面會 (biān-hōe) bīn as in 海面 (hái-bīn)
su chu
seng as in 醫生 (i-seng) seⁿ / siⁿ as in 先生 (sian-siⁿ)
hóan tńg
ha̍k o̍h
jîn / lîn lâng
siàu chió
chóan tńg
This feature extends to Chinese numerals, which have both literary and colloquial readings. Literary readings are typically used when the numerals are read out loud (e.g. phone numbers), while colloquial readings are used for counting items.
Numeral Reading Numeral Reading
Literary Colloquial Literary Colloquial


it chit lio̍k la̍k
jī, lī nn̄g, nō͘ chhit
sam saⁿ pat peh, poeh
sù, sɨ kiú káu
ngō si̍p cha̍p

Semantic differences between Hokkien and Mandarin

Quite a few words from the variety of Old Chinese spoken in the state of Wu (where the ancestral language of Min and Wu dialect families originated and which was likely influenced by the Chinese spoken in the state of Chu which itself was not founded by Chinese speakers), and later words from Middle Chinese as well, have retained the original meanings in Hokkien, while many of their counterparts in Mandarin Chinese have either fallen out of daily use, have been substituted with other words (some of which are borrowed from other languages while others are new developments), or have developed newer meanings. The same may be said of Hokkien as well, since some lexical meaning evolved in step with Mandarin while others are wholly innovative developments.

This table shows some Hokkien dialect words from Classical Chinese, as contrasted to the written Chinese standard, Mandarin:
Meaning Hokkien Mandarin
Hanji POJ Hanzi Pinyin
eye 目睭/目珠 ba̍k-chiu 眼睛 yǎnjīng
chopstick tī, tū 筷子 kuàizi
to chase jiok, lip zhuī
wet jūn, lūn shī
black hēi
book chheh shū
For other words, the classical Chinese meanings of certain words, which are retained in Hokkien dialects, have evolved or deviated significantly in other Chinese dialects. The following table shows some words that are both used in both Hokkien dialects and Mandarin Chinese, while the meanings in Mandarin Chinese have been modified:
Word Hokkien Mandarin
POJ Meaning
(and Classical Chinese)
Pinyin Meaning
cháu to flee zǒu to walk
sè, sòe tiny, small, young thin, slender
tiáⁿ pot dǐng tripod
chia̍h to eat shí food
kôan tall, high xuán to hang, to suspend
chhuì mouth huì beak

Words from Minyue

Some commonly used words, shared by all Min languages, came from the ancient Minyue languages. They include the following examples, compared to the Fuzhou dialect, a Min Dong language:
Word Hokkien POJ Foochow Romanized Meaning
kha ([kʰa˥]) kă ([kʰa˥]) foot and leg
kiáⁿ ([kiã˥˩]) giāng [kiaŋ˧] son, child, whelp, a small amount
khùn [kʰun˨˩] káung [kʰɑuŋ˧] to sleep
骿 phiaⁿ [pʰiã˥] piăng [pʰiaŋ˥] back, dorsum
chhù [tsʰu˨˩] chuó, chió [tsʰuɔ˥˧] home, house
thâi [tʰai˨˦] tài [tʰai˥˧] to kill, to slaughter

1 lâng is now typically represented by 人 (literary reading jîn).


Loanwords are not unusual among Hokkien dialects, as speakers readily adopted indigenous terms of the languages they came in contact with. As a result, there is a plethora of loanwords that are not mutually comprehensible among Hokkien dialects.

Taiwanese Hokkien, as a result of linguistic contact with Japanese[15] and Formosan languages, contains many loanwords from these languages. Among these include the following examples:

  • 'toilet' - 便所 piān-só·, from Japanese 便所 benjo
    Other Hokkien variants: 屎礐 (sái-ha̍k), 廁所 (chhek-só͘)
  • 'car' - 自動車 chū-tōng-chhia, from Japanese 自動車 jidōsha
    Other Hokkien variants: 風車 (hong-chhia), 汽車 (khì-chhia)
  • 'to admire' - 感心 kám-sim, from Japanese 感心 kanshin
    Other Hokkien variants: 感動 (kám-tōng)
  • 'pineapple' - 王梨 ông-lâi
    Other Hokkien variants: 鳳梨/鳳萊 (hōng-lâi), 黃梨 (hông-lâi)

Singaporean Hokkien and Malaysian Hokkien dialects like Penang Hokkien tend to draw loanwords from Malay, English as well as other Chinese dialects, primarily Teochew. Examples include:

  • 'but' - tapi, from Malay
    Other Hokkien variants: 但是 (tān-sī
  • 'doctor' - 老君 lu-gun, from Malay dukun
    Other Hokkien variants: 醫生(i-sing)
  • 'stone/rock' - batu, from Malay batu
    Other Hokkien variants: 石头(tsio-tau)
  • 'market' - 巴刹 pa-sat, from Malay pasar
    Other Hokkien variants: 市場 (chhī-tiûⁿ)
  • 'they' - 伊儂 i lâng from Teochew (i1 nang5)
    Other Hokkien variants: 𪜶 (in)
  • 'together' - 做瓠 chò-bú from Teochew 做瓠 (jo3 bu5)
    Other Hokkien variants: 做夥 (chò-hóe), 同齊 (tâng-chê) or 鬥陣 (tàu-tīn)

Philippine Hokkien dialects, as a result of centuries-old contact with both Philippine language and Spanish also incorporate words from these languages. Examples include:

  • 'cup' - ba-su, from Spanish vaso and Tagalog baso
    Other Hokkien variants: 杯子 (poe-á)
  • 'office' - o-pi-sin, from Spanish oficina and Tagalog opisina
    Other Hokkien variants: 辦公室 (pān-kong-sek)
  • 'soap' - sa-bun, from Spanish jabon and Tagalog sabon
    Other Hokkien variants:
  • 'but' - ka-so, from Tagalog kaso
    Other Hokkien variants: 但是 (tan-si)

Standard Hokkien

Hokkien originated from Quanzhou.[16] After the Opium War in 1842, Xiamen (Amoy) became one of the major treaty ports to be opened for trade with the outside world. From mid-19th century onwards, Xiamen slowly developed to become the political and economical center of the Hokkien-speaking region in China. This caused Amoy dialect to gradually replace the position of dialect variants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. From mid-19th century until the end of World War II, western diplomats usually learned Amoy Hokkien as the preferred dialect if they were to communicate with the Hokkien-speaking populace in China or South-East Asia. In the 1940s and 1950s, Taiwan also held Amoy Hokkien as its standard and tended to incline itself towards Amoy dialect.

However, from the 1980s onwards, the development of Hokkien entertainment and media industry in Taiwan caused the Hokkien cultural hub to shift from Xiamen to Taiwan. The flourishing Hokkien entertainment and media industry from Taiwan in the 1990s and early 21st century led Taiwan to emerge as the new significant cultural hub for Hokkien.

In the 1990s, marked by the liberalization of language development and mother tongue movement in Taiwan, Taiwanese Hokkien had undergone a fast pace in its development. In 1993, Taiwan became the first region in the world to implement the teaching of Taiwanese Hokkien in Taiwanese schools. In 2001, the local Taiwanese language program was further extended to all schools in Taiwan, and Taiwanese Hokkien became one of the compulsory local Taiwanese languages to be learned in schools.[17] The mother tongue movement in Taiwan even influenced Xiamen (Amoy) to the point that in 2010, Xiamen also began to implement the teaching of Hokkien dialect in its schools.[18] In 2007, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan also completed the standardization of Chinese characters used for writing Hokkien and developed Tai-lo as the standard Hokkien pronunciation and romanization guide. A number of universities in Taiwan also offer Hokkien degree courses for training Hokkien language talents to work for the Hokkien media industry and education. Taiwan also has its own Hokkien literary and cultural circles whereby Hokkien poets and writers compose poetry or literature in Hokkien on a regular basis.

Thus by the 21st century, Taiwan has truly emerged as one of the most significant Hokkien cultural hub of the world. The historical changes and development in Taiwan had led Taiwanese Hokkien to become the more influential pole of the Hokkien dialect after mid-20th century. Today, Taiwanese prestige dialect (Taiyu Youshiqiang/Tongxinqiang 台語優勢腔/通行腔), which is based on Tainan variant and heard on Taiwanese Hokkien media.

Writing systems

Chinese script

Hokkien dialects are typically written using Chinese characters (漢字, Hàn-jī). However, the written script was and remains adapted to the literary form, which is based on classical Chinese, not the vernacular and spoken form. Furthermore, the character inventory used for Mandarin (standard written Chinese) does not correspond to Hokkien words, and there are a large number of informal characters (替字, thè-jī or thuè-jī; 'substitute characters') which are unique to Hokkien (as is the case with Cantonese). For instance, about 20 to 25% of Taiwanese morphemes lack an appropriate or standard Chinese character.[19]

While most Hokkien morphemes have standard designated characters, they are not always etymological or phono-semantic. Similar-sounding, similar-meaning or rare characters are commonly borrowed or substituted to represent a particular morpheme. Examples include "beautiful" (美 is the literary form), whose vernacular morpheme suí is represented by characters like 媠 (an obsolete character), 婎 (a vernacular reading of this character) and even 水 (transliteration of the sound suí), or "tall" (高 ko is the literary form), whose morpheme kuân is 懸.[20] Common grammatical particles are not exempt; the negation particle (not) is variously represented by 毋, 呣 or 唔, among others. In other cases, characters are invented to represent a particular morpheme (a common example is the character 𪜶 in, which represents the personal pronoun "they"). In addition, some characters have multiple and unrelated pronunciations, adapted to represent Hokkien words, such as 肉 for bah ("meat"), although it also has distinct colloquial and literary readings as well (hi̍k and jio̍k, lio̍k respectively).[12] Another case is the word 'to eat,' chia̍h, which is often transcribed in Taiwanese newspapers and media as 呷 (a Mandarin transliteration, xiā, to approximate the Hokkien term), even though its recommended character in dictionaries is 食.[21]

Moreover, unlike Cantonese, Hokkien does not have a universally accepted standardized character set. Thus, there is some variation in the characters used to express certain words and characters can be ambiguous in meaning. In 2007, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China formulated and released a standard character set to overcome these difficulties.[22] These standard Chinese characters for writing Taiwanese Hokkien are now taught in schools in Taiwan.

Latin script

Hokkien, especially Taiwanese, is sometimes written in the Latin script using one of several alphabets. Of these the most popular is Pe̍h-ōe-jī (traditional Chinese: 白話字; simplified Chinese: 白话字; pinyin: Báihuàzì). POJ was developed first by Presbyterian missionaries in China and later by the indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan; use of this alphabet has been actively promoted since the late 19th century. The use of a mixed script of Han characters and Latin letters is also seen, though remains uncommon. Other Latin-based alphabets also exist.

Minnan texts, all Hokkien, can be dated back to the 16th century. One example is the Doctrina Christiana en letra y lengua china, presumably written after 1587 by the Spanish Dominicans in the Philippines. Another is a Ming Dynasty script of a play called Romance of the Lychee Mirror (1566), supposedly the earliest Southern Min colloquial text. Xiamen University has also developed an alphabet based on Pinyin, which has been published in a dictionary called the Minnan Fangyan-Putonghua Cidian (閩南方言普通話詞典) and a language teaching book, which is used to teach the language to foreigners and Chinese non-speakers. It is known as Pumindian.

Taiwan has also developed a Latin alphabet for Taiwanese Hokkien, derived from Pe̍h-ōe-jī.[23] It is known as Tai-lo and since 2006 has been officially promoted by Taiwan's Ministry of Education and taught in Taiwanese schools.


The character for the third person pronoun (they) in some Hokkien dialects, 𪜶 (in), is now supported by the Unicode Standard at U+2A736.

Hokkien is registered as "Southern Min" per RFC 3066 as zh-min-nan.[24]

When writing Hokkien in Chinese characters, some writers create 'new' characters when they consider it impossible to use directly or borrow existing ones; this corresponds to similar practices in character usage in Cantonese, Vietnamese chữ nôm, Korean hanja and Japanese kanji. Some of these are not encoded in Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), thus creating problems in computer processing.

All Latin characters required by Pe̍h-ōe-jī can be represented using Unicode (or the corresponding ISO/IEC 10646: Universal Character Set), using precomposed or combining (diacritics) characters. Prior to June 2004, the vowel akin to but more open than o, written with a dot above right, was not encoded. The usual workaround was to use the (stand-alone; spacing) character Interpunct (U+00B7, ·) or less commonly the combining character dot above (U+0307). As these are far from ideal, since 1997 proposals have been submitted to the ISO/IEC working group in charge of ISO/IEC 10646—namely, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2—to encode a new combining character dot above right. This is now officially assigned to U+0358 (see documents N1593, N2507, N2628, N2699, and N2713). Font support is expected to follow.

See also


  1. ^ 大眾運輸工具播音語言平等保障法 - 维基文库,自由的图书馆 (in 中文). Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hokkien". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hokkien". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Kane, Daniel (2006). The Chinese language: its history and current usage. Tuttle Publishing. pp. 100–102.  
  5. ^ "無標題文件". Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  6. ^ 周長楫,《閩南方言大詞典》,福建人民出版社,2006年:17, 28頁。ISBN 7-211-03896-9。
  7. ^
  8. ^ "German". Ethnologue. Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  9. ^ Ratte, Alexander T. (May 2009). "A DIALECTAL AND PHONOLOGICAL ANALYSIS OF PENGHU TAIWANESE". Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College. p. 4. 
  10. ^ Li, Y.C. (1986). "Historical significance of certain distinct grammatical features in Taiwanese". In John McCoy, Timothy Light. Contributions to Sino-Tibetan studies. Brill Archive.  
  11. ^ Lien, Chinfa (2002). "Grammatical Function Words 乞, 度, 共, 甲, 將 and 力 in Li Jing Ji 荔鏡記 and their Development in Southern Min". Papers from the Third International Conference on Sinology (National Tsing Hua University): 179–216. 
  12. ^ a b Klöter, Henning (2005). Written Taiwanese. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.  
  13. ^ Lim, Beng Soon. "Malay Lexicalized Items in Penang Peranakan Hokkien". Singapore: Regional Language Centre (RELC). p. 165. 
  14. ^ Chappell, Hilary; Alain Peyraube. "The Analytic Causatives Of Early Modern Southern Min In Diachronic Perspective". Linguistic studies in Chinese and neighboring languages (Paris, France: Centre de Recherches Linguistiques sur l’Asie Orientale): 1–34. 
  15. ^ 臺灣閩南語外來詞 (in Chinese). Republic of China: Ministry of Education, R.O.C. 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "《網路社會學通訊期刊》第45期,2005年03月15日". Retrieved 16 September 2010. 
  18. ^ 有感于厦门学校“闽南语教学进课堂”_博客臧_新浪博客
  19. ^ Mair, Victor H. "How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Hsieh, Shelley Ching-yu (October 2005). "Taiwanese Loanwords in Mandarin Chinese: Language Interaction in Taiwan". Taiwan Papers (Southern Taiwan University of Technology) 5. Retrieved 1 July 2011. 
  22. ^ 參、臺灣閩南語. National Languages Committee (in Chinese). ROC Ministry of Education. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  23. ^ Formosan Association, World United Formosans for Independence, United Young Formosans for Independence (Japan), Union for Formosa's Independence in Europe, United Formosans in America for Independence, Committee for Human Rights in Formosa (Toronto, Ont.) (1963). The Independent Formosa, Volumes 2-3. Formosan Association. p. 14. Retrieved 20 December 2011. newspapers with the help of Roman letters within one month's learning." To be sure, Roman letters are a very effective means to transcribe Formsan. On this point Mr. Ozaki seems to mean that it is against the "Racial style", which is misleading...atmosphere covered the whole Japanese territories, including Korea and Formosa, and the Japanese mainlands as well. So quite naturally works to applaud the "holy war" were not infrequently produced. But who could blame them and who had a right to throw a stone at Original from the University of Michigan
  24. ^ "RFC 3066 Language code assignments". Retrieved 16 September 2010. 

Further reading

  • Branner, David Prager (2000). Problems in Comparative Chinese Dialectology — the Classification of Miin and Hakka. Trends in Linguistics series, no. 123. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.  
  • Chung, R.-f (196). The segmental phonology of Southern Min in Taiwan. Taipei: Crane Pub. Co.  
  • DeBernardi, J. E (1991). "Linguistic nationalism--the case of Southern Min". Sino-Platonic papers, no. 25. Dept. of Oriental Studies, University of Pennsylvania. 

External links

  • 當代泉州音字彙, a dictionary of Quanzhou speech
  • 台語-華語線頂辭典, Taiwanese-Mandarin on-line dictionary
  • 台語線頂字典, Taiwanese Hokkien Han Character online dictionary.
  • 臺灣本土語言互譯及語音合成系統, Taiwanese-Hakka-Mandarin on-line conversion
  • 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典, Dictionary of Taiwanese Hokkien-Mandarin by Ministry of Education in Republic of China (Taiwan).
  • Voyager - Spacecraft - Golden Record - Greetings From Earth - Amoy, includes translation and sound clip
    (The voyager clip says: Thài-khong pêng-iú, lín-hó. Lín chia̍h-pá--bē? Ū-êng, to̍h lâi gún chia chē--ô•! 太空朋友,恁好。恁食飽未?有閒著來阮遮坐哦!)
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