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Peh-oe-ji, Childish Writing?

 Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung
The University of Texas at Arlington


Peh-oe-ji means the scripts of vernacular speech in contrast to the complicated Han characters of wenyen (classical Han writing). Peh-oe-ji was originally devised and promoted for the purpose of religious sermons. Peh-oe-ji was introduced to Taiwan by Western missionaries in the second half of nineteenth century, and it was widely used among the church people prior to 1970s. Among its users, women were the majority. Those women did not command any literacy except Peh-oe-ji. This phenomenon reflects the fact that the traditional women with lower social status were not likely to be educated with Han characters, and they had to choose the ‘childish’ but easily learned Peh-oe-ji if they wished to be able to read and write. This paper provides a linguistic account of the Peh-oe-ji writing system and examines the relationships among the orthographic users, literacy, and society in the case of Taiwan.