Taiji Romanisation for Hokkien Speakers


(8 October, 2009)

Taiji Romanisation is a system for writing Hokkien, particularly Penang Hokkien. It was created to provide Hokkien-speaking people a means to communicate in writing in the language using a system that can be easily written. Taiji Romanisation uses tone numbers in place of diacritic marks, so it can be used on any communication device without needing a download or plug in. The number of tone classes is also reduced from seven (in traditional romanisation of Hokkien) down to just four, to correspond to local knowledge of the four tones of Mandarin. Among the Hokkien speaking, the reducing in tone classes has been employed effectively without any loss of meaning.

Taiji Romanisation was created in Penang for the use with Penang Hokkien. Therefore the rule of tone and tone changes (or tone sandhi) is specific to Penang Hokkien. Nevertheless, for transcribing sentences, you can use it for other dialects of Hokkien.

The Tone System of Taiji Romanisation

There are four classes of tones in Taiji. Every syllable is numbered 1, 2, 3/33 and 4. These four tones correspond to the four tones in Mandarin, as understood by local (Penang) Mandarin speakers. Tone 3 and 33 are regarded as the same tone, but exhibit different behaviours.

For example:

ma1 , ma2 , ma3 , ma4

pa1 , pa2 , pa3 , pa4

kau1 , kau2 , kau3 , kau4

kong1 , kong2 , kong3 , kong4

1) A syllable that has a meaning is called a morpheme. A morpheme can be a word on its own, for example jip1 (to go in), chut3 (to go out). Syllables with different tone numbers are different morphemes with different meanings, for example, kau1 (to hang), kau2 (monkey), kau3 (enough) and kau4 (nine).

2) There is a small number of some heterographs (words that are spelled differently, but pronounced the same way, i.e. "way" and "weigh") to help bring out the written meaning more clearly, for example, kau4 (nine) and kao4 (dog).

3) Words of tone 3 and tone 33 are pronounced the same way, but often mean different things, for example, lau3 (to leak) and lau33 (old). The reason there are two types of tone 3 words (3 and 33) is due to how the morpheme behaves (to be explained soon).

4) Words can also be formed by putting morphemes together, for example, lau3juak1 (fun), pan3gee2 (cheap), etc.

5) When two morphemes are side by side, the one in front usually changes its tone.

Example 1: ang2 (red) and sna1 (shirt) becomes ang3 sna1 (red shirt).

Example 2: wah4 (I), boek3 (want), khee3 (to go), co3 (to do) and kang1 (work).
Strung together, those words form the sentence:
Wah1 boek1 khee1 co1 kang1 (I want to go to work). As you see, all the words change tones except the last one.

6) The rule for changing tones is as follows:

Words ending in tone 1 or tone 2 change their tone to 3 when placed in front of another word.

Example: ang1 (husband) + bor4 (wife) = ang3bor4 (husband and wife, couple)
Example: ang2 (red) + sna1 (shirt) = ang3 sna1 (red shirt)

7) Words ending in tone 3 or tone 4 change their tone to 1 when placed in front of another word.

Example: lau3 (to leak) + chooi4 (water) = lau1 chooi4 (leaking water)
Example: kang4 (river) + pni1 (side) = kang1 pni1 (riverside)

8) Tone 33 sounds the same as tone 3, except that, words ending in tone 33 do not change the final tone when placed in front of another word.

Example: lau33 (old) + lang2 (man) = lau33 lang2 (old man)

9) Note that lau3 (to leak) and lau33 (old) sound almost the same (in fact, I regard them as the same), but due to the way one changes tones while the other doesn't, we can tell which is which when we see them in writing.

10) The Penang Hokkien Dictionary lists over 5,000 words in use. The dictionary has audio to help you hear how each word is pronounced. All the entries include definition in English and Malay, with a large number also showing example sentences, the Chinese characters, and the same word in Taiwanese Hokkien and Amoy Hokkien. You can reference it for free from anywhere in the world. To learn more of Penang Hokkien, go to Penang Hokkien Made Easy or try the free online course, Penang Hokkien on Memrise.

I wish you all the best in getting to know Taiji Romanisation!

Learn Penang Hokkien with Memrise

Now you can use the most user-friendly tool on the web to learn Penang Hokkien. It helps you to listen, understand and memorise. Go to Memrise, and learn Penang Hokkien at your own pace.

Selected Books related to the Hokkien Language

  1. Taiwan Grammar: A Concise Reference
  2. Koxinga of Taiwan
  3. History of the Thai Chinese

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