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Hokkien

Writing and Pronouncing Hokkien



Being a primarily spoken language, Hokkien has no standard, universal romanization in the regions it is spoken. Perhaps its most widely accepted romanization is Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ), which was developed by Western missionaries.

Writing and Pronouncing Hokkien

Published by The LingoNomad


The use of POJ is not common outside of Taiwan, and there have been numerous attempts to romanize the language. While writing this article, I discovered that there was a Taiwanese linguist who proposed the use of Korean alphabets (Hangeul) to represent the written form of Hokkien, which is incredibly interesting. As someone who is familiar with Hangeul, I find that it may actually work really well because there is a degree of similarity when it comes to pronunciation between Hokkien (in general) and Korean.

Regardless, a main problem in proposing a standard romanization of Hokkien is accounting the variations of the language. Although different dialects of Hokkien are often mutually intelligible, tone and pronunciation variations can cause standardization to be a challenging issue.

However, Hokkien dialects often co-exist and you need not learn a single variant exclusively. For instance, in Taiwan, the Amoy, Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou variants co-exist and many subdialects in different counties lie on the spectrums shared amongst these three major dialects. Whatever the case, acknowledging the different variants of Hokkien may in turn expand your Hokkien knowledge for the better.

POJ may be suitable for use with Amoy and Quanzhou Hokkien, but it may not accommodate other variants of Hokkien very well. This website proposes a variant of romanization with elements similar to POJ. It will be used consistently in this website, and in developing it, I maintained a few considerations:

  • For it to be as close as possible to POJ, an existing Hokkien romanization.
  • For it to be as close as possible to International Phonetic Alphabets (IPA), a standardized international phonetic notation to represent sounds of a language.
  • For it to be as simple as possible, meaning the use of as few characters as possible to represent a sound. For instance, this website proposes the use of ch instead of chh (which is used in POJ).
  • For it to be as easily typeable as possible, meaning the characters can be typed on a standard English keyboard without the need to set up another. For instance, this website proposes the use of o: instead of   like in POJ (if the character o͘  is unclear, it is an o with a dot on its top right side)

In the first columns of the tables below are the romanized characters of Hokkien that will be used consistently in this website. I have provided an IPA transcription of the characters, with English approximations of their pronunciations. I have also added a POJ column as a point of comparison of the romanizations. Most importantly, I have audios!

Vowels

VOWELS IPA English 
Approx.
Hokkien Examples POJ
a [a] art áng 'red' a
i [i] eerie īn 'to respond' i
u [u] oolong ut 'to iron' u
e [e] end sē 'small' e
e: [ɛ] sell sè: 'thrifty' eⁿ
o [o] own so 'to rub' o
o: [ɔ] song sò:ng 'nice'

Consonants

CONSONANTS IPA English 
Approx.
Hokkien Examples POJ
b [b] bun bān 'slow' b
c [cɕ] - cān 'storey' ch
g [ɡ] go gáu 'smart' g
h [h] how hāu 'filial piety' h
j [ɟʑ] jug jak 'mark' j
k [k] skate kak 'with' k
l [l] lye lái 'to come' l
m [m] my māi 'do not want' m
n [n] now nàu 'brain' n
p [p] spa pau 'to wrap' p
s [s] sunk sang 'pair' s
t [t] stun tāng 'heavy' t

Aspirated Consonants

ASPIRATED CONSONANTS IPA English 
Approx.
Hokkien Examples POJ
ch [cʰ] chai chai 'to guess' chh
kh [kʰ] khaki khai 'to spend' kh
th [tʰ] Thai thai 'overly' th
ph [pʰ] pie phai 'to take a photo' ph

Syllabic Consonants

A syllabic consonant is consonant that can form a syllable on its own.

SYLLABIC CONSONANTS IPA English 
Approx.
Hokkien Examples POJ
m [m̩] rhythm m 'not' m
ng [ŋ] song sn̄g 'to count' ng

 

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This article was last updated on Friday, 3 January 2020, SGT (UTC +8). 


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