Jump to content
  • Sign Up

My Taiwanese (Hokkien) adventure. From zero to fluency.


Recommended Posts

Oh sooo pumped up about my Skype chat tomorrow afternoon! :)

Today, I did the minimal pairs from the Maryknoll book followed by more practise from the Spoken Hokkien SOAS course. I am very pleased I could get the Glossika course. It looks slightly overwhelming at the moment but I couldn't wait to explore the package and listen to a few sentences. I'm really grateful for the IPA transcription. All in all, I am sure it's going to work out for me, I have used very similar methods before with some results. For now, I'm going to concentrate on the tones and sounds ( a couple of consonants are giving me grief! ) :( and building up a vocabulary base. To wind down, I am going to listen to this lady http://youtu.be/YnhcE7Jxr24

http://youtu.be/YnhcE7Jxr24 especially as, according to my Taiwanese speaking friend, her pronunciation is excellent. I also enjoy following the lyrics KARAOKE style. :)

Bye for now :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 4.

Well, the Skype chat went better than I expected (by a combination of Hokkien, Mandarin, POJ, pinyin and Hanzi). :)

Got a bit side-tracked later by a particularly active thread here, regarding the Glossika stuff. I got the fluency course but did not really get into it yet. Tomorrow, I'll build up my list of very simple expressions and continue my tone exercises. Today I practised with the recordings. It's amazing how much you can get away with on public transport here these days. Twenty five years ago people would have thought you were nuts, talking to yourself. Nowadays, they just assume you're on your mobile, talking in some strange language. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 6.

Getting into the swing of things.

In my eclectic approach, I have been following advice from lots of other members of this forum and other accomplished polyglots with a view to being able to progress rapidly in my core skills. So far I have been concentrating on practising the sounds and tones and building up basic vocabulary. Over the last six days I have had a few opportunities to chat online and got to say a few words and received feedback. I keep doing the daily routine from Taiwanese book 1 and Spoken Hokkien and adding to my base of simple phrases enhancing my vocabulary, using frequency lists and phrasebook sentences. I am also working on my back story, as Benny Lewis likes to call it. Another thing I found useful is how Luca Lampariello (mentioned in a book by Benny Lewis) approaches intonation "like the network that holds a sentence together". I find it very useful in my practice as I go through the phrases rather than isolated words as soon as I develop a reasonable understanding of how the sounds and tones go together. I have searched for some resources on line and found a few interesting websites such as this thread on Forumosa: http://www.forumosa.com/taiwan/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=120290 with links to interesting approach for teaching tones with music and videos of Harvard Taiwanese 101. I also found this online dictionary very useful: http://jimbu.bricksquare.com/dictionary/

Another useful website: http://www.reddit.com/r/ohtaigi/ where I found information about two Anki decks, among other things. I'm going to continue with my plan to get as much exposure to spoken Min Nan as possible and will "officially" start the Glossika course this Tuesday as part of my daily routine.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Day 7

Wow! A week already!

Today, I started on the Anki decks. One for Harvard Taiwanese 101 and the other one from here:


Very happy they both come with audio. The other part is doing lots and lots of drills from Taiwanese book 1 by Maryknoll. Came across a blog post earlier on today by a guy learning Thai, doing 90 minutes of pronunciation drills every day. He is a Hero! I could do it but not in one sitting.

Tomorrow is a big day; starting the Glossika S.Min GMS and GSR. First going through the 1000 sentences in book 1 in a single sitting, need to put some time aside for that for sure. Will continue with the other two textbooks for grammar etc.

Hope to be more detailed in this thread in the near future as my experience grows to give you guys more of an idea about the resources that I'm using.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also found this online dictionary very useful: http://jimbu.bricksq...com/dictionary/



I found that site a while back, but, thought it wasn't working. Seems I was using it wrong. I would put something into the input box and hit "enter", which just reset the dictionary. So I thought they were still in beta and hadn't got it working yet.


Now I know to hit the search button.


Anyway, it appears the content is from an old Maryknoll Taiwanese Minnan dictionary that Maryknoll recently put out as an open source spreadsheet. And it appears the TED site has added definitions from the CC-CEDICT as well.


But be aware that the Chinese characters might not match up to the Minnan POJ pronunciations as the Chinese is the standard written Chinese (Mandarin) for the Minnan POJ words.


Also, there seems to be a bug with their search algorithm.


When I enter "hat", I get this.




But when I enter "帽", I get this.




The word "帽子" isn't in the first search even though the definition "cap, hat" includes "hat".



I specifically looked up "hat" because when I was testing out the dictionary, I was comparing it to a spreadsheet file where I had tried to add Chinese characters matching the POJ pronunciation Romanization found in the Maryknoll spreadsheet.


Really difficult when you don't know the language. Gave up after a while.   :)


Come to think of it. The first search, the one for "hat" didn't even return an entry for "hat". The closest thing is "hat worn by officials".



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

Mike Campbell is definitely the guy to talk to about the Min-nan language. I've had a few chats with him and he's very knowledgeable and helpful.


One day, I too would like to learn 'Taiwanese', but first I am determined to learn Middle Chinese so that I can have a strong foundation. I wish you luck, as the Min languages are the most tonally challenging of all (because of tone sandhi).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not sure if this link only magically works for me because I'm in a university, but if anyone wondered for what reasons a syllable wouldn't have tone sandhi, here is the classic source:



Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 8 months later...

From what little I've heard of it, Campbell's Mandarin is amazingly good. But his Hokkien just makes You think, "He must speak real good Mandarin." He speaks Hokkien with Mandarin vowels, Mandarin tone contours, Mandarin cadences, Mandarin vocabulary, Mandarin structures and idioms. Coming from a linguist of his caliber, it would seem he's doing it on purpose, whatever that purpose may be.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@AMHOANNA, thanks, that was a very interesting read.


Regarding Mandarin diverging from the SE Asia Sprachbund, do you really think it's diverged so far that Vietnamese can be included and Mandarin left out? I think Mandarin is still firmly rooted within that sprachbund, although it might be a bit strange phonologically (but so was Classical Chinese, based on reconstructions.)


Although "white collar" Cantonese may be more similar to Mandarin than Hokkien, could it be that this is because Cantonese has more of a tradition of reading 'baihua' texts using Canto-readings (and thus reinforcing Mandaring-like structures)? Very colloquial, 'non-white-collar' Cantonese can be very different and I've found it often uses Canto-specific colloquial expressions (similar to things like 'thong sèkài' that don't appear often in learning materials. I believe the same thing is happening to Shanghainese, in that it's becoming a lot like Mandarinised-Shanghaihua.


I've also read that Min dialects are supposedly the only Chinese languages that don't descend from Middle Chinese (presumably they descend from something earlier)? Perhaps this is another reason why it seems so different from other Chinese languages.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

All major Chinese language branches have two strata of character readings: colloquial (白讀) and literary (文讀). The latter form, in all cases, descends directly from the Late Middle Chinese of the Tang-Song period, including the Min branch. However, the colloquial stratum of Min was indeed thought to predate Middle Chinese altogether, which I find a bit dubious, since many of the colloquial Min readings overlap rather well with those of Early Middle Chinese (Northern/Southern-Sui-Tang).

Link to comment
Share on other sites



Thanks. Glad You enjoyed it.


Re: the Mainland SEA Sprachbund, Vietnamese is to the Sprachbund what Germany is to the EU! :D  Sharp minds may differ on who's in and who's out, but Tai-Kadai, Hmong-Mien, and Viet-Muong are clearly core.


There's a useful paper out there "left-braining" the Sprachbund and assessing where it ends. The title and author slip my mind, but it's on the web. An esp. insightful paper to read is Blench's "Ethnographic and archaeological correlates for an MSEA linguistic area".


«Very colloquial, 'non-white-collar' Cantonese can be very different and I've found it often uses Canto-specific colloquial expressions (similar to things like 'thong sèkài' that don't appear often in learning materials.»


Yes. Probably left out unintentionally, subconsciously and for sociolinguistic reasons.


«Although "white collar" Cantonese may be more similar to Mandarin than Hokkien, could it be that this is because Cantonese has more of a tradition of reading 'baihua' texts using Canto-readings (and thus reinforcing Mandaring-like structures)?»


I'd say this is a secondary factor, b/c the effects on Hokkien vs Cantonese have likely been generally comparable, with a slight "edge" to Cantonese … till the last 50 years or so.


What happened is that w/ the advent of all-Mandarin classrooms in Taiwan and "the Malay countries" in the mid 20th cen., the skill of voicing kanji in Hokkien (and other South Chinese languages) was abruptly lost. Not only were the Hokkien readings not taught, but an ideology was introduced where kanji & Mandarin are siamesed to each other. In China & the Philippines this started in the late 20th. Today, the average middle-aged Taiwanese person is not only unable to voice kanji in Hokkien, but unable to grasp the concept. They think kanji belong to Mandarin, w/ the uncontemplated exception of when they're used for Japanese.


The silver lining is that the inability to voice kanji in Hokkien insulates Taiwanese and South Seas Hokkien from this path to Mandarization. No such luck in China. Paradoxically, though, middle-aged China Hoklophones probably speak better Hokkien than Taiwanese and South Malaysian Hoklophones of the same vintage. China fell off a cliff starting with the generation now in their 30s, though. Young China Hoklophones can voice Mandarin text msgs in Hoklo. That's better than using straight Mandarin, I guess. The downside is that when they talk, they sound like they're reading off a Mandarin text. I haven't spent much time among them but this seems to be the case.


The MAIN factor, though, is the flow of people induced by the lay of the land. The yellow brick road from the Yangtze Valley into the tropics runs along the Xiang River of Hunan into the West-Pearl (西江、珠江) drainage basin. This explains the Sinicism of Cantonese, esp. learned Cantonese, vs the coastal tongues both up and down the coast. So Pearl River Cantonese is kind of a Mandaristic intrusion on the coast. (Now, in this context, “Mandarin” has a broader and more “diachronic” meaning than it did in the last paragraph.) It might be the most Mandarized coastal language south of Ningbo. (Then again, inland valley languages in South China tend to be more Mandarized than coastal ones. Even the seaward dialects of Hakka are less Mandarized than the inland ones...)


The coast from east of Hong Kong all the way up to southern Zhejiang has always been last to plug into whatever new grid was being rolled out from "the heartland". This shows up in a million facets, not least linguistic. Again, counter-intuitively, the inland side of what became the coastal provinces have tended to plug in before the coast. At times the coastal tribes even go and plug themselves into overseas things. The Hoklos are also often the last to unplug from old, failing grids. The non-convergence (usually thought of, possibly incorrectly, as divergence) of the Hoklo tongues and the political status of Taiwan can both be understood from this angle, among others.


«I believe the same thing is happening to Shanghainese, in that it's becoming a lot like Mandarinised-Shanghaihua.»


I believe so.


«I've also read that Min dialects are supposedly the only Chinese languages that don't descend from Middle Chinese (presumably they descend from something earlier)?»


There may be a grain of truth in this. But the model we've been working with where the South Chinese languages descended and diverged from various past “central Chineses” is probably no match for millennia of raw reality. This ties in to a re-working of the basic paradigms of historical linguistics, going "back" to Indo-European linguistics (the 中原 of modern historical linguistics  :conf). 


Even under the 20th century paradigm, though, there are other Chinese languages that don't “descend from Middle Chinese”. These tend to be isolated languages spoken in the hills of northern Kwongtung, southern Hunan, etc. Piu (標話), for instance. But only the Hoklo tongues have sea views, millions of speakers, and international connections.


Now Vietnamese has much the same kind of relationship w/ MC that Hokkien does; and in fact both have something that Teochew doesn't, namely a full set of MC-based literary readings. Interesting to consider in light of the fact that in the late 10th century when the proto-Vietnamese seized on the fall of the Tang to establish their “pattern of independence”, much (even most) of what became the Hoklo and Hakka homelands was still beyond the pale, i.e. there were people there ... but they weren't “citizens”. ;)


Most of us were lulled into thinking that Pearl River Cantonese was somehow the end of the line, and everything else must be either more Mandarish than it, or off the grid. The reality is way more interesting.





A worthy inquiry.


«All major Chinese language branches have two strata of character readings: colloquial (白讀) and literary (文讀).»


This seems to be true for the "wok" cultures of Canton and northern Zhejiang, but by time we get “out” to Hoklo or Vietnamese, we may find ourselves looking at three or more strata, w/ the "internal architecture" increasingly unclear.


The kanji , for example, maps uncontroversially to four etyma in Hokkien: kē, ē, hē, hā — all much used, non-obscure, and non-interchangeable. The kanji 方 maps uncontroversially to png, hng, & hong, w/ possible ties to yet other etyma.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Could it be that both the colloquial and literary strata sometimes contain multiple readings each? The Sino-Japanese stratum has four subdivisions of readings (呉音, 漢音, 唐音, and 慣音 or 'customary'), while the native Japanese stratum has no limit.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...