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Steve Alvest


Interesting Notes on the Taiwanese Language

I've lived in the US all my life and don't look very Asian (I'm often confused for Latino or Middle Eastern), but I can speak the Taiwanese dialect of Chinese conversationally with very little accent. I picked up the language from my grandmother when I was little. It's always fun to see the reactions of other Taiwanese speakers when I suddenly start speaking Taiwanese to them.

Here are some interesting things I've picked up about the Taiwanese language.


    1. Same character set as Mandarin Chinese

    It uses the same writing system as Mandarin Chinese, but you pronounce the words completely differently. A Mandarin speaker can't understand anything a Taiwanese speaker says, and vice versa. However, Mandarin speakers and Taiwanese speakers can both read something written in Chinese.

    2. Greeting

    I never learned Taiwanese formally, so I don't know the official Romanization of the words... but the common greeting is "jia ba a ve?" It translates to "have you eaten yet?"

    3. Impossible

    A joke I heard while on a taxi ride in Taipei goes something like this: Let's have an English lesson. "Een pa shee vo" (sounds like "impossible" spoken in a heavily Taiwanese accent). It means, "vo ko ding e dai jee" (Taiwanese for "something that cannot happen"). But the punchline is that "een pa shee vo" means "they beat their wives to death" in Taiwanese.

    4. Gender neutral third person

    The spoken Taiwanese (and Chinese) language does not differentiate between he/she/it. That's why if you speak with native Chinese people, they tend to mix up genders, like saying "he" when they really mean "she".

    5. Japanese loan words

    The Japanese controlled Taiwan for many years before the end of World War II. Because of that, there are a lot of Japanese loan words in the language. One that comes to mind is "a pa do" for "apartments" (which I think is in turn a word the Japanese loaned from English). I know there are many others, but I can't think of them right now.

    6. A dirty poem

    I learned a dirty poem from watching the (in)famous Taiwanese comedian Chu Ke-liang:

    "mung kwee kwee, ka kwee kwee, ho sheen vang a shee gwee dwee", which translates to "The door opens, your legs open, all the flies and mosquitos die in droves"

    7. Selling poop

    I learned this from my cousins. If you tell them "ve sai" (means "you're not allowed"), they might reply "lee ga gee kee ve" (means, "you go sell it yourself"). That's because "ve sai" sounds just like "sell poop".

    8. Eat pan?

    This one is kind of stupid, but it's what goes on in my mind when I hear someone say "Japan". "Ja" in Taiwanese means "eat", so when I hear "Japan" I think "eat pan". Growing up, I would frequently mix my Taiwanese with English and Mandarin, so in the end only my family members would understand what I was saying.

    9. The worst curse word I know

    I have a Taiwanese step-grandfather who always had a foul mouth. The worst Taiwanese curse word I know is "gan leen nia", which is the equivalent of "motherf****r"

    10. CD

    When a Taiwanese person says "CD" it sounds to them like "shee dee", which means "dead pig" in Taiwanese.

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