Zheng Qinghong, MA, Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages, and Literature, National Taiwan Normal University
About the Taiwanese Language is an illustrated book published by Pink Phang Phang House in 2015. The work is divided into three sections: the first part, “About Taiwanese Language,” introduces seventy-six Taiwanese (Holo) vocabulary items; part two, “Colors,” introduces Taiwanese terms for thirteen common colors; the final section, “Talking and Eating,” includes thirteen food-related proverbs.
The book is primarily written in Taiwanese (Holo), using Chinese characters; pronunciations are given in romanized Taiwanese and Mandarin phonetic symbols, the latter serving to familiarize Taiwan readers with the romanization system. Explanations and definitions are given in standard Chinese. Unlike typical Taiwanese learning materials, the book grew out of the authors’ personal experiences of studying Taiwanese – based on youthful memories and observations of daily life, the writers define, research the origins of, and provide usage examples for many common Taiwanese words and phrases. Lastly, several short Taiwanese essays round out the book.
Written and illustrated by a husband-and-wife team, writer “Tua-long-thau” (Li Xinlung) and artist “Ho-jit-phang” (Lai Xiangjun), the book is “narrated” by “Phang Phang” and “Dalang,” two pink cartoon rabbits. Tua-long-thau provides in-depth explanations for Taiwanese vocabulary items, observing Taiwanese language and culture from a different perspective, (cross) cultural discourse adding depth to the work. For example, research into Japanese studies of the Taiwanese (Holo) language shows that Taiwanese differs from dialects of Southern Min 1 spoken in other areas. In addition, the writer also delves into the works of contemporary Taiwanese pop groups – Pigskin, Ko Chou Ching, and LTK Commune – finding traditional proverbs deftly incorporated into song lyrics. Using personal experience and various subcultural phenomena as examples, the book’s creators highlight their deep concern for Taiwan, as well as their vibrant cultural outlook.
In addition to illustrations and explanations, the authors share their thoughts and observations on the study of Taiwanese in a series of lighthearted essays. The book makes learning fun, touching on Taiwanese history and music, as well as the discovery and experience of diverse transnational elements that have become part of Taiwanese culture. Interesting and informal, About the Taiwanese Language is a lively introduction the language spoken by seventy percent of Taiwan’s population. Readers will not only the experience the beauty of Taiwanese, but also come to understand the plight of Taiwan’s native languages, and, perhaps join the ranks of those learning these endangered tongues.
1Taiwanese is a variety of Southern Min (Hokkien), a language originating in the southern part of China’s Fujian province. Southern Min is also spoken in ethnic Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaysia, and other areas of Southeast Asia.
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