Sunday, December 24, 2006

Taike and Being Taiwanese

Ralph Jennings, a Taipei-based reporter for a major news service, has a well-written article on Tai-ke, that down-home expression of a local identity...

Taiwan college teacher Lee Shu-ping has a 20-year-old student who programmed his motorcycle to say "go away" in the Taiwan dialect of Chinese.

It's part of a statement. The same guy wears flip-flops, loose-fitting pants and T-shirts, borrowing from the down-market fashions of working-class elders from Lee's agricultural home county of Yunlin in central Taiwan.

Lee's student blends in with plenty of other Taiwan youth who have ducked fashions from Japan and the West and shunned speaking the standard Mandarin version of Chinese in favour of local clothing styles and dialects to show they're Taiwanese.

Loud motorcycles and betel nut chewing that produces blasts of red spittle are often part of the act, and it's hip to study the Taiwan dialect of Chinese.

Here Hau Lung-bin puts a toe into the identity issue....

Taiwan politicians with a warm spot for Beijing - which considers the island part of its territory and opposes displays of a separate identity - bristle at the trend.

"Taiwan culture is part of Chinese culture," said Taipei mayor-elect Hau Lung-bin, who is backed by the China-friendly Nationalist Party. "I am native Taiwanese. I was born in Taiwan."

Tai-ke has been the subject of media reports for most of this year. The now defunct POTS hosted a good article on it a while back. During the martial law era Taiwanese language and culture were suppressed and deemed low class, an attitude that still survives in the remarks that ones hears from time to time, like Taiwanese language is a market language, or Taiwanese names are "market names." Taiwanese have attempted to reclaim the low class image by adopting it as a fashion trend, just as many African-Americans reclaimed the N-word in using it with each other, and it has now become something of a joke. Thus, the flip side of this trend is a scathing remark heard among local young, describing things as "so tai," implying that the thing addressed is vulgar and low class. And Taiwanese.


Anonymous said...

Those blue slippers are the most amazing, most comfortable flip flops/sandals I have ever worn. The only problem is the bottom wears out too fast. But if the weather is warm enough, those blue-white flip flops over shoes any day.

Dialect is the wrong word to use. The reporter has no clue. Taiwanese is not intelligible to a Mandarin speaker unless they take time to learn it. It's easy to learn, something like learning Italian if you know Spanish, but it'd still take probably a year of listening before you could speak (without actively learning).

Then again, there are Wai-sheng-ren (Hau lung-bin is one) that have lived in Taiwan all their lives and have purposely ignored the language and done their best to not learn it. They can't speak more than a few words.

Prince Roy said...

but what about the many people arguing that the Taiwanese dialect is dying out because the young don't speak it anymore? This article seems to suggest otherwise. Who to believe?

Michael Turton said...

I haven't heard that, PR. I hear Taiwanese all the time from my students. I'll ask around.


Anonymous said...

Well, personally I can speak a little Hakka and Taiwanese but I do a better job on listening than speaking.

-CSU Student

Prince Roy said...

I actually tend to agree with you: even in Taipei I hear Taiwanese everywhere. But there are those seriously making the claim.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard that, PR. I hear Taiwanese all the time from my students. I'll ask around.

I don't doubt that you hear Taiwanese around your students, Michael, but I'll wager to say that:

1) They are actally speaking a farrago of Taiwanese and Mandarin, using sub-standard Taiwanese grammar, and often substituting Mandarin for Taiwanese words, even when the Taiwanese words are well-established.

2) Their level of Taiwanese proficiency is very low, and limited to mundane matters. They have no oration skills in Taiwanese at all.

3) Usually, only male students will speak in Taiwanese. Women, once they reach adolescence, will speak in Mandarin.

Anonymous said...

One thing I noted from that article was that most of their information came from Taipei. Doesn't it seem somewhat ridicuous to write about "tai-ke" without coming to the South, which in my estimation is arguably the home of "tai-ke"? As for Taiwanese dying out--here in Kaohsiung, I hear Taiwanese equally as often--if not more!!--than Chinese. I used to get a little frustrated while learning Chinese because I never had a chance to use it in my old neighborhood, which was pretty much all Taiwanese-speaking.

nosta said...

Great post, thanks for sharing, Michael. Merry X-mas. --I agree with what taiwantiger said: how can u do serious research on Tai-ke in Taipei?? Taichung would at least have been more representative...

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, as you grow older eventually you will pick up Taiwanese one way or another.

-CSU Student

Anonymous said...

Dialect is the wrong word to use. The reporter has no clue. Taiwanese is not intelligible to a Mandarin speaker unless they take time to learn it.

Very true. Taiwaneser and Mandarin are very different languages. They are different in syntax, phonology, and phonetics. There is some overlap in lexicon and morphology, as Taiwanese borrows so many loan-words from Mandarin, but this is true of many different languages. The fact that Spanish speakers use words that closely resemble English---farmacia (pharmacy), televisio'n (television), and parque (park)---does not make Spanish and English dialects.

It's easy to learn, something like learning Italian if you know Spanish....

Not that close. The difference between Taiwanese and Mandarin is about the difference between English and German.

The Romance languages are a great deal closer to one another. Italian and Romanian, and Italian and Spanish are much closer to one another than Taiwanese and Mandarin.

Anonymous said...

My theory is that if they standardize Taiwanese writing, it won't be a problem anymore. That's the advantage Cantonese has in HK. They can actually write using it.

A lot of misconceptions have to be broken about the language though. That KMT garbage still lingers, even with Taike, even with the rise of Chen Shuibian. What's happened is that the 40-60 generation that didn't always speak Taiwanese now speak Taiwanese whenever they are with kin or other southerners (actually the majority of the population of that generation, though the countryside population is much smaller now). But because people in the 15-30 range grew up in a Mandarin only environment, they, especially in the north actually may know less Taiwanese than the current generation growing up.

poseidon206 said...

I am a fluent Mandarin speaker. I master the pronunciation tricks of the "zhi" "chi" "shi" "ri" perfectly like any other person from Beijin, I even know when to add the "er" behind certain words to let me sound more "Chinese". I can carry the accent (or act) flawlessly. I was a "public speaking" candidate when I went to school in Taiwan. I can say without blushing that I probably speak better Mandarin than most "Waishengren" in Taiwan. I WAS so proud of my Mandarin.

It was nothing but a sad sight for my father, as well as for me looking back.

During my stay in SA I was asked by a Chinese friend once, about which province I was from. I told him I'm not from China, I'm from Taiwan. He seemed stunned to have heard my answer. He said that my Mandarin was "too perfect" for Taiwanese people and therefore it led him to believe that I was from China.

My friend and I both agreed on the day that we will never pretend to be Chinese again.

Eversince that day I started speaking more and more Taiwanese on any occasion. When I first moved back to Taiwan two years ago, hardly any Taiwanese words can be heard coming out of my mouth; now I can have a full conversation in Taiwanese: It just takes time and practice.

Taiwanese is a very profound language in any standard. The Chinese part of the Taiwanese language still utilizes the old Han words (漢字) and expressions, which define the items/emotion/expressions better than the later-invented Mandarin. We call chopsticks by its original name "箸"; we don't misuse the word "走", which actually mean run instead of walk (the proper word for walk is "行"). As for the aboriginal part of the language, it is fun to observe how the early immigrants interacts or blends in with the local. We say "尪某" (ang-bo, husband and wife in Taiwanese) instead of "夫妻" (hu-tse, husband and wife in Chinese). My father calls his mother "姨喔" (Yi-oh, the Ping-pu way of addressing mother) instead of "阿娘" (Ah-niagn, mother in Chinese).

Trust me, there a lot more in Taiwanese than what I have illustrated. It is certainly not low class. Anyone who degrades other people culture deserves no respect, no different than being a racist.

Anonymous said...

That is a very interesting comment. Thanks for telling us about your experience. A few more interesting points about Taiwanese for me:

1. Taiwanese often holds certain signals for me, too. I know when people are talking about me when they shift aprubtly from Chinese to Taiwanese and it fits contextually into camoflaging what they are saying. It's cute, but I'll get 'em someday, when my Tai-yu improves!

2. I am learning bits of Tai-yu from my girlfriend's family, who are from Penghu. Even if I do use a little Taiwanese, people ask "where did you learn your Taiwanese?" So, my Chinese bears the marker of Taiwanese, though I can clean it to fei-chang-biao-jun if necessary. And now my Taiwanese bears the marker of Penghu. I would be interested in learning more about the local dialects of Taiwanese.

Taiwan Echo said...

Taiwanese language is actually "more chinese" than mandarin. The word "mandarin" is translated from 滿州話 that is a language of 滿族,which is a race that dominated Chinese and built Tsing Dynasty. It's not the language of Han race.To Chinese the mandarin is actually a foreign language. Chinese are forced to use them and abandoned their original language, which could well be what later became Taiwanese.

Very simple verification is, when you pick up any ancient chinese poems or old docs and read it in both Taiwanese and Mandarin, you would found that reading in Taiwanese makes a lot more sense.

Anonymous said...

Anybody know any good Taiwanese/Mandarin or Taiwanese/English dictionaries online? Or resources for learning Taiwanese?

Anonymous said...

Anybody know any good Taiwanese/Mandarin or Taiwanese/English dictionaries online? Or resources for learning Taiwanese?

Though Church Romanization is the most widely known system of writing Taiwanese, MLT (Modern Literal Taiwanese) is a much better thought-out and more scientifically-designed system. You can find out more about MLT at:

Here is a quick tutorial

There is also an English-Taiwanese and Taiwanese-English dictionary, though it is currently offline:

lin said...

tai ke are the most racist, ignorant, violent, and dishonest people i have ever met.

Anonymous said...

If you spell it "biao-jun" it's not biaozhun.