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Romanization and
Language Planning in Taiwan

Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung

4.2.  Romanization for Taiwanese

At present, because spoken Taiwanese is not well standardized, there are correspondingly many proposals for writing Taiwanese. Those proposals may be generally divided into two groups based on their scripts: First, Han character script.[1]   Second, non-Han character script. Non-Han character may be further divided into two subtypes: A new alphabet, such as Ganbun (Hangul-like[2] scheme) designed by Ang Ui-jin, or a ready-made alphabet, which makes use of the present roman letters or Jhuyin Fuhao to write Taiwanese. To better understand the development of non-Han schemes, the number of each category was listed in Table 3 based on the 64 collections by Iun (1999).

Table 3. Number of each category of non-Han schemes.


Owing to the wide use of the personal computer and electronic networks in Taiwan since the 1990s, most orthographic designs, that need extra technical support other than regular Mandarin Chinese software could not survive. Therefore, the majority of recent Taiwanese writing schemes were either in Han characters-only, roman script-only or mixed scripts with roman and Han.[3] At present, there are mainly three competing romanized schemes in relation to the Taiwanese language, i.e. Peh-oe-ji, TLPA, and TYP. Among the romanization proposals, Peh-oe-ji is definitely regarded as an independent orthography rather than just a transliteration scheme (Cheng 1999; Chiung 2000b). However, so far there is no common agreement of whether TLPA and TYP would be treated as writing systems or simply transliteration schemes.[4]

Peh-oe-ji is the traditional romanization for writing Taiwanese (Holo and Hakka) as introduced in the previous section. Prior to the Taibun movement in the 1980s, Peh-oe-ji was the only romanized scheme in practical use for writing Taiwanese. Compared to other romanized schemes, Peh-oe-ji is still the romanization with the richest inventory of written work, including dictionaries, textbooks, literature works, and other publications in many areas (Iun 1999).

TLPA or Taiwanese Language Phonetic Alphabet was proposed in the early 1990s by the Association of Taiwanese Languages.[5] TLPA has been revised several times, and the latest version was finalized in 1997. In January 1998, the MOE announced that TLPA would be adopted as the official romanized scheme for Hakka and Holo Taiwanese. The hasty decision adopting TLPA immediately aroused fierce opposition from Peh-oe-ji users and Taibun-promoting groups.[6] Based on the petition proposed by the Taibun groups against TLPA, we can summarize three factors initiating the controversy. First, the MOE’s procedure for determining the romanized scheme for Taiwanese was considered insufficiently detailed. Taibun groups object, moreover, that TLPA was approved without negotiations with the public in advance. The protestors even considered the whole event a strategy of the MOE to polarize Taibun groups. Second, the TLPA was simply a theoretical design and had never seen practical use. However, Peh-oe-ji has been used since the nineteenth century, and thus it has a long history of literacy convention. Third, Peh-oe-ji is definitely an orthography rather than a set of transliteration symbols. However, the designers of TLPA have never clarified whether or not TLPA is intended to be a writing system.[7] The ambiguity of orthographic status of the TLPA can not conform to the expectation of the protestors.


[1] This is the traditional way to write Taiwanese in classical style, as Hancha in classical Korean prior to the invention of Hangul. There are several problems encountered when writing colloquial speech by using Han characters. For more details in relation to this issue, see Chiung 1999 (50-51) and 1998.

[2] Ganbun諺文is a Hangul-like system, which takes its idea from the design of Korean Hangul.

[3] Roman and Han mixed scheme was proposed mainly to solve the problem that some native Taiwanese words do not have appropriate Han characters (Cheng 1990, 1989). To some extent, it is like the mixture style of Korean Hancha plus Hangul or Japanese Kanji plus Kana. For more discussion on these three Taiwanese schemes, see Chiung 1999 and Tiun 1998.

[4] For comparisons and contrasts between Peh-oe-ji and TLPA, see Cheng 1999 and Khou 1999.

[5] Association of Taiwanese Languages 台灣語文學會was established in 1991. For more information, visit its website at <>

[6] For example, see Ngou 1998, Lu 1998, Ten 1998, and the “Petition against the MOE’s adoption of TLPA” (March 14, 1998).

[7] For example, in the design of TLPA, Taiwanese tones are represented by Arabic numerals, such as ‘hun5’ (cloud) representing the fifth tone. People criticized that numerals should not be used in an orthography.