Many people get confused when they think about what language is spoken in Taiwan. After all, the country’s geography and history have had such an immense impact on the kinds of languages spoken within its border. From Chinese, English, and dialects of the locals, there are many factors to consider when answering the question, “What language is spoken in Taiwan?”
There are three official languages in the country. This includes Mandarin, Hakka, and Taiwanese Hokkien. Around 73 percent of people in the country speak Taiwanese Hokkien. Mandarin is dubbed as the lingua franca of the country.
About Taiwanese Hokkien
Because the majority of people speak it, the Hokkien language can be heard anywhere and everywhere. After the suppression from Japan and China, the language was revived by the Taiwanese people in the 1990s. Today, it has cemented itself as one of the most commonly spoken languages in the country.
Hokkien is originally the language of people in Southern China’s Fujian Province. Linguistically, it is a southern Min language that is spoken in the coastal region that includes Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, and Xiamen. Linguists believe that Hokkien diverged from the Standard Chinese language during the Han Dynasty, and it was isolated from the northern part of China for much of history. Because of this, it is very different from Chinese Northern Dialects.
Fujian was the center of migration and trade, and most Chinese people can trace their history in this place. Fishermen first began to migrate from Fujian to Taiwan 400 years ago, and this accelerated further during the Qing Dynasty. The immigrants brought their language with them.
Most people in the country have mastered Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien. The language is also popular among expatriates.
Use of Mandarin in Taiwan
Taiwanese Mandarin is the most understood language in the country. Standard Chinese became the first official language of Taiwan in 1945, and it’s only in recent years that other dialects like Hakka and Hokkien have emerged. However, most people in Taiwan under sixty years old can speak Mandarin fluently.
Taiwanese Mandarin is not the same as Mandarin Chinese. The standard language is more similar to the language used in China. While the vocabulary of the language spoken in Taiwan is modern, the country still uses the traditional writing system. This is different from China, which has adopted a simplified way of writing.
There are also differences in the Taiwanese Mandarin spoken by the population in Taiwan compared to the Mandarin spoken in Chinese. These differences are evident when it comes to pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. These differences were caused by the influence of Hakka, Hokkien, and other native languages in Taiwan.
Is Taiwanese Considered a Dialect of Mandarin Chinese?
Taiwanese is considered a regional derivation of Hokkien, which is a dialect of Chinese. In the Chinese language, “fangyan” refers to different regional dialects of Chinese like Sichuanese, Shanghainese, and Hokkien. Although in Mandarin the word means “language patterns of a specific place,” it is mostly associated with describing the regional dialects of Chinese, such as Taiwanese. In English, this can be translated to topolect or dialect.
So would it be possible for Taiwanese speakers to understand and speak Mandarin, or vice versa? The differences between these languages are quite stark. Although the two have connections, and even if the sentence structure and grammar are quite the same, it’s not intelligible. It can be compared to the similarities of Romance languages like Italian and Spanish.
However, it’s important to note that Hokkien speakers can easily understand Hokkien speakers in the Fujian province, including those who live in Zhangzhou, Xiamen, and Quanzhou, as well as other Hokkien speakers in Southeast Asia.
If you want to know what language is spoken in Taiwan, you need to be familiar with Hakka. Hakka people are the second biggest ethnic group in Taiwan, with over 15 to 20 percent of the population. The Hakka Han people can trace their ancestry to the Hakka-speaking provinces in Chinese, such as Fujian, Guangxi, Zhejiang, Hunan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Guangdong provinces. To preserve the cultural heritage of the Hakka Han people, the language was finally given official status in 2017.
Japanese in Taiwan
The Japanese culture and language were first introduced in the country during colonial rule. The Japanese authorities at that time attempted to suppress all Chinese and indigenous dialects in the country to enable the spread of the Japanese language and culture. This is why a lot of older Taiwanese people can understand Japanese.
Today, two groups in the country have been influenced by the Japanese language. The first one is used and understood by most of the young population that is interested in Japanese Pop culture. The second one is used by business owners and students who study in Japan and conduct business there. This is why when figuring out what language is spoken in Taiwan, Japanese shouldn’t be left out.
Use of English in Taiwan
For many years, English has established itself as the major language used by the international community. It is also used commonly in business, and it has a huge influence on pop culture. Considering this, it’s no surprise that many Taiwanese people have grown up learning the language on TV shows and animations.
You may be wondering what language is spoken in Taiwan by young people. English is one of the best answers to this question. This is because English is taught in schools. There are also talks that by 2030, Taiwan will be made into a bilingual country. This is in replacement of a prior goal to add English to the list of Taiwan’s official languages, which was abandoned due to the high cost to translate all government documents to English.
What Language Is Spoken in Taiwan: Indigenous Languages
There are still indigenous languages in Taiwan that are alive until this day. However, some of them are on the brink of extinction, especially for the languages with only a small number of speakers left. Most of the minority people have also become assimilated, so only the older members of the minority speak the language.
One of the indigenous languages in Taiwan is Amis. This commonly spoken language has been pushed by educational programs in an attempt to keep it alive. Siraya, another indigenous language, is also now being revived after becoming almost extinct.
Throughout Taiwan, several immigrant languages are spoken, including Vietnamese and Tibetan.
Taiwan is believed to be the homeland of all Austronesian people that sailed and populated different islands in Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and the Pacific. These people have been living in Taiwan for more than 6,000 years.
Aboriginal Taiwanese only make up less than 2.5 percent of the population in the country. They belong to the Austronesian group. Now, there are 16 officially recognized Taiwanese tribes in the country, and of the 26 languages, 5 are moribund, 10 are extinct, and more are at risk of dying.
The Languages Used in Transportation
When you’re visiting Taiwan, you may be wondering which language the MRT system uses. It is important to note that a lot of people use it as their major choice of transportation because it’s so convenient. The voice-over announcements are made in four languages which are Hakka, Mandarin, Taiwanese, and English. Japanese was also added in 2018. However, the Japanese voice-overs were not done to accommodate all the Japanese-speaking people in Taiwan, but because a lot of Asian tourists visit Taipei every year, and almost half of them are Japanese.
How to Write Taiwanese Languages
The written tradition of Taiwanese is not strong. For most of history, it has simply adopted traditional Chinese characters. Meaning, when a Standard Chinese and Hokkien speaker looks at the character, they would just pronounce the words differently. However, the meaning would stay the same.
However, some characters are unique to Taiwanese or Hokkien, especially when it comes to formal writing. The Taiwan Ministry of Education has also published 700 Chinese Characters that can be used when writing Taiwanese.
The Suppression of Taiwanese Dialects
When the Japanese occupied Taiwan, and when the single-party rule of the Kuomintang followed, there was a suppression of various dialects that happened. This included Hakka and Hokkien. All these languages were not permitted to be used by the media and schools.
The Japanese occupied the country from 1895 up until 1945, when the second world war ended. The Kuomintang or KMT became the ruling party in China before they lost the civil war. When they were overthrown, they went to Taiwan and proceeded to govern until they were overthrown.
In the 1990s, there was a revival of Hakka and Hokkien, among other Chinese dialects. Until today, there are strong movements that promote the continued use of these dialects to preserve Taiwan’s cultural heritage.
Is Taiwanese Considered a Dying Language?
After the repression of the language for a long time by the Japanese and the KMT, it’s not surprising to find out that the language has taken a significant hit. There are still people in Taiwan, mostly born before the 1950s, who still only speak the language. However, younger people speak different levels of Taiwanese. Some only know a small number of words, while others are fluent.
The revitalization of the Taiwanese language is a normal reaction to the years of marginalization and the decline of the language. The Taiwanese language will continue to be a cultural legacy in the coming years. However, how much of its legacy will solely depend on government initiatives.
What Language is Spoken in Taiwan Is More Interesting Than You May Think
Knowing what languages are common in Taiwan can be confusing for many people, especially foreigners. But now that you know what language is spoken in Taiwan, you already have a picture of how rich its linguistic scene is.