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Mar 2, 2007

Standardized Holo Taiwanese characters

The Ministry of Education has been working rather quietly (or at least under most Taiwanese media radar) for many years on standardizing written Taiwanese characters/hanzi/kanji (漢字). They will publish a book called Character Suggestion List for 300 Frequently Used Southern Min Phrases (閩南語300常用詞用字建議表).

This has been anticipated for some time, and in several cases there have been reports that said its publication was just around the corner. It's been repeatedly delayed.

Well, I called the archaically-named Mandarin Promotion Council (國語推動委員會) about it yesterday to ask when it would really be out. They told me sometime in March or April. I'm guessing the end of April.

Since this is a controversial topic with a lot of information, let me clear something up. Taiwanese does have characters and can be written. The problem is that many of the most commonly used Taiwanese words or phrases have words that are probably not of Han origin, but that probably came from now assimilated minorities that lived in Fujian some time ago. That makes using an "authentic" character hard.

As far as I understand, the Council is publishing this first as a guide so that it can be publicly discussed (you can be sure that will happen. You'll read lots of complaints no matter what's in the list). Some of the suggestions will then be revised before actually rolling out mandatory use of those characters in future textbooks. The news is welcome to me, since it will mean increased Taiwanese literacy, uniformity in press publications using Taiwanese, increased use of direct Taiwanese quotations in print and online without translation to Mandarin, Taiwanese language localizations for software and more uniform results for Internet searches.

In cases where there is no easy way to pick a good character or get a consensus, the council may suggest using the Taiwanese Romanization system they've published.

1 comment:

Jason said...

This is an interesting development, but it's hardly the first attempt at creating a unified character set for Taiwanese. Pinyin News has an excellent essay By Victor Mair on the present state of Taiwanese:

Let's hope they have better luck this time!