In this episode, we’ve talked about Taiwanese dialects, regional differences, and a bit on Taiwan’s early immigrants and development.
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Since there are several dialects and accents in Taiwan, what you hear from one native speaker may sound quite different from another. This could be challenging when you learn Taiwanese. We hope this lesson will guide you through different regional accents and give you some historical background as well.
In the 17th century, immigrants from southern Fujian province in China started to arrive in several waves to Taiwan. Specifically, most came from two different regions: “Tsuân-tsiu 泉州” (Quanzhou) and “Tsiang-tsiu 漳州” (Zhangzhou). The two dialects are closely related and both belong to the Southern Min language.
Over time, they began to intermingle and different dialects sprang up that were a mixture of these two types. In addition, these dialects received some influences from other languages such as Hakka, Aboriginal Languages, Japanese, and Mandarin.
The two groups represent the two ends of a whole dialect continuum called “Tsiang-tsuân-lām 漳泉濫”, literally “Tsiang-Tsuan-mix”. Different local accents are called “khiunn 腔” or “khiunn-kháu 腔口”.
|Origin & traditional name||Geographical description|
1. The two ends: Lukang & Yilan
The Lo̍k-káng khiunn 鹿港 腔 (Lukang dialect) usually held up to be most representative of the Hái-kháu 海口 (Seaport) group.
On the flip side, the Gî-lân khiunn 宜蘭 腔 (Yilan dialect) is a typical example of the Lāi-poo 內埔 (Inland) group.
2. Two common accents: North (Taipei) & South (Tainan, Kaohsiung)
Except for those ones on the two ends, most Taiwanese dialects fall in the two categories in the middle, which are the basis for the two general or common accents, or the so-called “Thong-hîng khiunn 通行 腔”. Urban areas, media and younger people tend to use one of the common accents.
What is perceived as the “common” accent also differs in Tíng-káng / Pak-pōo 頂港 / 北部 (the North) and Ē-káng / Lâm-pōo 下港 / 南部 (the South).
In Northern and Central Taiwan, there is a greater distinction between the Seaport and the Inland groups. The Tâi-pak khiunn 台北 腔 (Taipei dialect) is often considered the representative of the common Northern accent and historically it is more Phian-tsuân 偏泉 (Quanzhou-leaning).
The South has a well-mixed hybrid of the two dialect groups and generally has more Phian-tsiang 偏漳 (Zhangzhou-leaning) characteristics. The most representative of the common Southern accent are the Tâi-lâm khiunn 台南 腔 (Tainan dialect) and the Ko-hiông khiunn 高雄 腔 (Kaohsiung dialect).
For Bite-size Taiwanese podcasts, we generally use the “Common Southern” or “Inland-leaning” accent and also provide alternate pronunciations when they are very common. In our written materials like the Workbook, we follow the Ministry of Education convention of prioritizing the Southern dialect as the main pronunciation followed by the Northern dialect as a second pronunciation.
Let’s look more closely at the differences between the Common Southern Inland-leaning and the Common Northern Seaport-leaning accents, which you would most likely encounter.
1. Initial consonant “j-”
In the Seaport and Seaport-leaning dialects, the “j-” sound often merges into the “l-” sound.
In some Inland areas, “ji-” changes to “gi-” because of the influence of the Hakka language. This is commonly heard in Biâu-li̍k 苗栗 (Miaoli), Tâi-tiong 台中 (Taichung), and Ko-hiông 高雄 (Kaohsiung).
The Common Southern accent is known for using the “mid unrounded vowel” (/ə/ or /ɤ/ in IPA) for the “o” sound. The “o” as a mid vowel is said to have started from Tâi-lâm 台南 (Tainan) and has spread to other regions, too.
The biggest difference with the original tones is with the 8th Tone, especially when it’s with a glottal stop (written with “-h”). In the South, it tends to be a high falling tone like a 2nd Tone. In the Central and Northern regions, it can be a high stop, mid stop or a mid flat.
As for the tone change, the main difference is the 5th Tone. Generally, the 5th Tone, low rising, changes to a 7th Tone, mid flat. In the Common Northern Seaport-leaning accent, it changes to a 3rd Tone, mid falling (or low) tone.
|Example words||Common Southern
|j- → l-||日頭 (the sun)
寫字 (to write)
|o → ə (South)||好 (good)
|hó (as /ə/ or /ɤ/)
bô (as /ə/ or /ɤ/)
to (as /ə/ or /ɤ/)
番麥 (sweet corn)
|T5 to T7 / T3||麻油 (sesame oil)
行路 (to walk)
4. Historical change that gives rise to the systematic differences in the finals
Because of the historical sound change, some words that had the same final merged to one sound in the Tsiang-tsiu dialect, but to another in the Tsuân-tsiu dialect. This gives rise to some systematic differences in the finals between the Seaport group in the Inland group.
Below is a list of some common words that are pronounced differently. Note that these differences are not across the board for each and every word that has the same final, e.g. not all words with the final “-inn” in the Seaport-leaning group are pronounced with “-enn” in the Inland-leaning group.
|Example words||Common Southern
|-i / -u||魚 (fish)
|-in / -un||巾 (cloth, towel)
|-e / -ue||雞 (chicken)
買 (to buy)
|-ue / -e||火 (fire)
粿 (rice cake)
|-enn / -inn||青 (green)
Now let’s take a look at a few specific dialects.
LO̍K-KÁNG KHIUNN 鹿港 腔
Lo̍k-káng khiunn 鹿港 腔 (Lukang dialect) is the most representative of the Seaport dialects.
Different tones: Some Seaport dialects like Lukang are noticeable for having different tones and tone change rules. Because of that, they often sound “rising and floating”.
|T1||high flat → mid flat||mid flat = mid flat|
|T2||high falling → high flat||high falling / high flat → mid rising|
|T3||mid falling → high falling||mid falling → high falling / high flat|
|T4||mid stop → high stop||high stop = high stop|
|T5||low rising → mid flat||low rising → low flat|
|T6||--||mid flat → low flat|
|T7||mid flat → mid falling||mid falling → low flat|
|T8||high stop → low stop||mid rising → low stop|
Mid vowels: Some Seaport dialects keep the mid vowels like /ɨ/ and /ə/ (often written as “-ir” and “-er”) from the Tsuân-tsiu 泉州 dialect.
Many words that have “i/u”, “e/ue”, “ue/e” variations in the common accents are often pronounced with the mid vowels in Lukang and a few Seaport dialects.
Here’s a sample to give you more of an idea. Big thanks to Khóo Ka-ióng 許 嘉勇, who is a Taiwanese teacher and researcher from Lukang.
GÎ-LÂN KHIUNN 宜蘭 腔
Gî-lân khiunn 宜蘭 腔 (Yilan dialect) is the most distinct one of the Inland dialects.
Nasal vowel “-uinn”: Yilan is known to keep the nasal vowels “-uinn” from the Tsiang-tsiu 漳州 dialect. In other dialects, those words are usually pronounced with the “-ng” sound.
For example, for the phrase “tsia̍h pn̄g phuè lóo-nn̄g 食 飯 配 滷卵” (“eat rice with a braised egg”), you might hear instead, “tsia̍h puīnn phuè lóo-nuī”.
Here’s a sample:
Also, a big thanks to Alan's mom (who is a native speaker from Yilan) for providing this recording!
TÂI-LÂM KHIUNN 台南 腔
Tâi-lâm khiunn 台南 腔 (Tainan dialect) is basically the Common Southern accent but with some characteristics that are specific to Tainan. The most noticeable is the final “-ionn”, which is generally pronounced as “-iunn” in other places.
The forming of the representative accents is also related to Taiwan’s history. We actually have a saying in Taiwanese which includes the cities and specific dialects we’ve mentioned:
It Hú, jī Lo̍k, sann Báng-kah
一 府 二 鹿 三 艋舺
“Hú 府” is Hú-siânn 府城 (seat of government), which is Tainan, the original capital located in the South. “Lo̍k 鹿” is Lo̍k-káng 鹿港 (Lukang) in Changhua in Central Taiwan, and “Báng-kah 艋舺” is the Wanhua district in Taipei that used to be the original borders of the city and the commercial center.
This saying basically means: first Tainan, second Lukang, third Taipei. It tells that the development started from the South and gradually moved to Central and Northern Taiwan, and these were also three important cities and sea ports in Taiwan’s history.
Tainan port’s golden period was during the 17th century, ships traded between China, Japan, Indonesia, and also carried goods from or to Europe through the Dutch, who built a fort in Tainan, in the now An-pîng 安平 district. It remained one of the major ports until the late 19th century.
The golden period of Lo̍k-káng 鹿港 was from late 18th century to mid 19th century and was the commercial center in Central Taiwan that traded frequently with Tsuân-tsiu 泉州 in China.
Finally it’s the old Taipei historic areas such as Tām-tsuí 淡水 (Tamsui), Báng-kah 艋舺 (Wanhua) and Tuā-tiū-tiânn 大稻埕 (Dadaocheng). The golden period of Tām-tsuí-káng 淡水港 (Tamsui port) was from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century. In the past, shipments first arrived in the Tām-tsuí-káng 淡水港, came down the Tām-tsuí-hô 淡水河 (Tamsui River), and then ended up in the neighborhood of Báng-kah 艋舺 and Tuā-tiū-tiânn 大稻埕, which was the commercial center of Taipei.
The old town parts of An-pîng 安平, Lo̍k-káng 鹿港, Tām-tsuí 淡水, Báng-kah 艋舺, and Tuā-tiū-tiânn 大稻埕 are now tourist hotspots in Taiwan.
Music Credit: TeknoAXE