Since Mandarin Chinese has become one of the most popular languages to learn in the world, I would like to write an article which provides Chinese learners with a new linguistic knowledge for travelling or living in different regions of China.
In the article, I chose to differentiate Mandarin Chinese spoken in mainland China (普通話 pŭtōnghuà) and Taiwan (國語 guóyŭ).
The article is divided into three parts: pronunciation and tones, grammar, and vocabulary, which explain to readers the general differences and help them to understand the spoken Taiwanese accent while staying in this region.
Pronunciation and tones of the Taiwanese accent
At the beginning, it can be a little hard for a foreign Chinese learner who has always followed the instructions from a standard Chinese textbook to fully understand what Taiwanese people say in Mandarin Chinese during his or her first visit to Taiwan. This is because most Taiwanese people speak with a local accent which is different from those that most students have heard at a Chinese language school overseas or in mainland China.
Since the Taiwanese dialect (閩南語 mĭnnányŭ, a Chinese dialect derived from southern regions of mainland China) has been used commonly in daily life and the pronunciations of letters and tones are actually different from Mandarin Chinese, most Taiwanese people find speaking Mandarin Chinese with a Taiwanese accent easier.
(Standard) zh → z (Taiwanese)
Example: 這 zhè will sound like zè
(Standard) ch → c (Taiwanese)
Example: 吃 chī will sound like cī
(Standard) sh → s (Taiwanese)
Example: 是 shì will sound like sì
(Standard) r → l (Taiwanese)
Example: 熱 rè will sound like lè
Here are some common ways to pronounce a Taiwanese accent:
First of all, most Taiwanese people don’t pronounce the retroflex consonant (捲舌音 juăn shé yīn) as clearly as people from northern Chinese regions. Please refer to the following table which shows the phonetic rules. Follow the example words to practice and start feeling the differences.
Secondly, there is also a different way to pronounce nasal consonants (鼻音 bíyīn). The most common syllables with nasal consonants such as eng and ing from standard Mandarin Chinese, however, tend to be pronounced as en and in by most Taiwanese.
In the following table, readers can study the phonetics and distinguish the difference between both standard Chinese and Taiwanese Chinese sayings:
(Standard) eng → en (Taiwanese)
Example: 增 zēng will sound like zēn
(Standard) ing → in (Taiwanese)
Example: 應 yīng will sound like yīn
(Standard) zh + eng → z + en (Taiwanese)
Example: 蒸 zhēng will sound like zēn
(Standard) zh + en → z + en (Taiwanese)
Example: 真 zhēn will sound like zēn
There are some exceptions such as the consonants b, f, or p followed by the nasal syllable eng. Taiwanese people tend to pronounce the later one as ong. Let’s see some examples below:
(Standard) beng → bong (Taiwanese)
Example: 繃 bēng will sound like bōng
(Standard) feng → fong (Taiwanese)
Example: 風 fēng will sound like fōng
(Standard) peng → pong (Taiwanese)
Example: 朋 péng will sound like póng
Additionally, another particular pronunciation difference exists between the i and u sounds while placed after the retroflex consonants like zh, ch and sh. In Taiwan, older Taiwanese people or inhabitants in southern regions of the island tend to pronounce u when speaking Mandarin Chinese instead of i, which is used in most standard Chinese pronunciations. Let’s discover them in the following table!
(Standard) zh + i → zh + u (Taiwanese)
Example: 知 zhī will sound like zhū
(Standard) ch + i → ch + u (Taiwanese)
Example: 吃 chī will sound like chū
(Standard) sh + i → sh + u (Taiwanese)
Example: 是 shì will sound like shù
To make sure you have learned the main pronunciation rules, you can try pronouncing the following sentences with a Taiwanese accent and compare it with the standard one written in parentheses.
老師說我很認真。(lăoshī shuō wŏ hĕn rènzhēn)
你說的是真的嗎？(nĭ shuō de shì zhēn de mā)
今天天氣很熱，可以開電風扇嗎？(jīntiān tiānqì hĕn rè kéyĭ kāi diànfēngshàn mā)
今天中午你想吃什麼？ (jīntiān zhōngwŭ nĭ xiăng chī shénme)
Furthermore, there are also some differences of tones between standard Chinese and Taiwanese Chinese for some words and expressions. Here are three main features about tone differences:
- Different pronunciations for words which have the same meaning
- Missing ĕr 兒
- Diverse exclamatory words
In mainland China, you might hear 企業 qĭyè, yet in Taiwan, most people tend to say qìyè. If the difference between simplified and traditional Chinese writing is not considered, in fact, the characters are identical but only pronounced in another way when they are applied in Taiwan. This is just a common way how people say it. In the short list bellow, you can find some Chinese words pronounced differently.
wēi pō lú
wéi pō lú
If you are more familiar with the sound of er in Chinese, in Taiwan you might not hear people using it very often, as the er 兒 sound is not commonly used in Taiwanese Chinese. This is unlike most regions of mainland China, where people tend to add the er at the end of words or sentences.
A table for comparison:
a little bit
一點兒。(yì diăn er)
一瓶兒 (yì píng er)
一瓶 (yì píng）
孩子兒 (hái zi er)
孩子 (hái zi)
In most Taiwanese conversations, people use more exclamatory words than in mainland China.
Here is a list of exclamatory words and in what situation they should be used.
1. 喔！ (o) and 耶！ (ye)
These are both applied at the end of the sentences where the speaker wants to give compliments.
你好棒喔！ (ní hăo bàng o) means “You are great!”
好好吃喔！ (hăo hăo chī o) means “Delicious!”
好漂亮喔！ (hăo piàoliàng o) means “Very pretty!”
2. 吧！ (ba) is applied in imperative sentences like “let’s go!” “let’s start!” …etc.
我們走吧！ (wŏmen zŏu ba) means “Let’s go!”
我們開始吧！ (wŏmen kāishĭ ba) means “Let’s start!”
3. 囉！ pronounced as “luo”’ by Taiwanese people. It’s used when people feel like reminding the listener of something.
我們先吃囉！(wŏmen xiān chī luo) means “we are going to eat first!”
4. 啦！ is actually pronounced as (là) by Taiwanese, and it’s used when one wants to hurry up someone.
快點啦！ (kuài diăn la) means “Hurry up!”
5. 呀！ or 呀？ is pronounced as (yā) by Taiwanese. It’s used for asking permission or general questions. And it can also be used for expressing surprise.
你剛才跟他講什麼呀？ (nĭ gāngcái gēn tā jiăng shénme ya) means “What did you tell him before?”
As Taiwanese use their dialect often, some grammar can be a little different from standard Mandarin Chinese.
a) Difference in usage of Present Continuous Tense
In standard Mandarin Chinese: Subject + Verb + 著 (zhe)
我吃著飯。(wŏ chī zhe fàn) I am eating.
In Taiwanese Chinese: Subject + 在 (zài) ＋ Verb with the same meaning.
我在吃飯。 (wŏ zài chī fàn)
b) Difference in usage of Past Tense
In standard Mandarin Chinese: Subject + Verb + 了 (le)
我上了課。 (wŏ shàng le kè) I went to class.
In Taiwanese Chinese : Subject + 有 (yŏu) + Verb
我有上課。 (wó yŏu shàng kè) with the same meaning.
There are also some differences in usage of words between standard Chinese and Taiwanese Chinese. The following table shows the most common ways of speaking and their meanings.
In conclusion, there are still a lot of different words sharing the same meaning between standard Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Chinese, and I believe that learning to use these kinds of words can not only help you build the knowledge of vocabulary, but also help you to learn the local culture and even sound more friendly for the habitants while visiting the region.
Finally, I hope that all of you have enjoyed reading the article.