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Aug 14, 2007

More on Taiwanese characters

I made a post not so long ago on the Ministry of Education's latest efforts to standardize the Taiwanese system so that future students across the country are learning to read and write in the same way. It came on the heels of a(nother) unified romanization system.

Well, first of all, so far the efforts aren't finished -- the MOE merely made a suggestion list of 300 commonly used characters and put them out there for public consideration. They even provide a form on the Mandarin Promotion Council website for giving feedback on their suggestions. The next step is to consider revisions . You can view the full list here. At this time, several controversial characters have not been covered in the suggestion list.

But given the media's abysmal treatment of the suggestion list as absolutely trivial, I'd like to talk a little about the MOE's choices and why they picked certain characters that struck people as particularly odd.


lim (Mandarin readings lan1, lan2, lan4) v. to drink.
Most often represented in current KTV videos as 喝 or 飲. Although 啉 lim is not in common use and is not even listed in the online 國語辭典,there are historical and phonetic reasons for picking it. It's damn close to the Mandarin reading you might try on first glance, līn, and in second tone meant "to drink to completion." Most reporters, knowing nothing about this, simply asked people if they understood the character in isolation and used their blank stares as proof it was a terrible choice. That actually goes for all of these characters.

仝 kâng / kāng (Mandarin readings tong2, quan2) together (as in 仝款 kāng-khóan, "the same").
Often represented as 共. 仝 kâng is a historical varient of both 同 and 全.

佮 kah (Mandarin reading ge2) with/and (as in 我佮你, you and me). In Mandarin, this character is a varient of 合 he2, making this choice pretty good for both sound and ease of understanding just by looking. See the phrase 佮意 kah-ì, "interest" (有佮意 "interested [in]").

佇 tī (Mandarin reading zhu4) dwell or live at ;stay or wait at; be at
Historically meaning 久立, something like "to stand in one place for a long time." Chosen mostly because it's the most widely used candidate and there aren't many other good choices.

媠 súi (Mandarin readings tuo3, duo4) adj. beautiful
With the reading tuo3, this word did mean beautiful when in use in Mandarin; as duo4, it was a varient of 惰, lazy. At KTVs now, this character is most often represented with the unrelated 水 for sound or 美 for the meaning, but neither character is very well suited since they both have other Taiwanese pronunciations.

(亻因) in (No Mandarin reading, presumably also yin1 -- invented character) pron. them, their
The only character the MOE actually made up in the table. Since it doesn't really exist yet and you can't type it in, they suggested the alternate 怹 (Mandarin tan1) for now, and may decide to scrap (亻因) altogether.


Hope that was interesting!


Joshua Samuel Brown said...

Very interesting, A-Niu (is that how you spell it? Makes me think of the famous movie star turned governor, aka the "Governator". Linguistics in Taiwan has always fascinated me. Will be writing another post about the subject soon, and swapping links with you.


阿牛 said...

Glad you liked it! Actually I normally romanize the name in Taiwanese -- A-gu.

But either one works. BTW, I have enjoyed your posts lately.