[Wikipedia-l] Re: Peh-oe-ji on minnan.wikipedia.org

Henry H. Tan-Tenn share2002nov at lomaji.com
Sun Aug 8 16:28:03 UTC 2004

(I'm sorry for the lengthy response below, but I felt it was necessary 
to supply some historical context in response to a lengthy criticism of 
how a Wikipedia should be named.  Neither the language/dialect nor the 
Wikipedia, as productive as it has been, is not well-known, particularly 
to Anglo/European editors.)

Tim Starling wrote:

 > Contrary to what Shizhao said, it seems that the Peh-oe-ji orthography,
 > as seen on minnan.wikipedia.org, is not even representative of
 > Taiwanese, let alone Min Nan. In fact it is only used by a small
 > minority.

Of course the Peh-oe-ji (hereafter POJ) orthography is used by a "small 
minority".  This is in large part due to the fact that Min Nan 
everywhere is historically not a written language.  In fact historically 
the vast majority of Min Nan speakers were illiterate.  Those elite who 
could afford to read and write primarily did so in Classical Chinese, 
albeit pronounced in Literary Min Nan (a form of Vulgar Classical 
Chinese, if you will).  But there were piecemeal and largely 
non-cumulative attempts to write down the speech, though nothing 
systematic has come out of it.  Historically.

More recent development:  In the early part of the 19th century US and 
later British missionaries started to proselytize in Min Nan speaking 
regions, starting from the large "expatriate" communities in Southeast 
Asia, then Amoy (Xiamen), Shantou, eventually Formosa (Taiwan).  The 
orthography used was thus not limited to the Taiwanese population.  (See 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Van_Nest_Talmage.  I wrote this but 
feel free to check the sources.)  Now of course, as you can imagine, its 
usage was at first limited only to the Min Nan-speaking Christian 
population, which had always been small, but the variety of works in 
this corpus was much broader, and not all of a blatantly religious 
nature, than anything that had been written in any other scripts 
including Chinese characters, to this day.  Since the end of martial law 
in Taiwan, school children are no longer punished for speaking Min Nan 
and although no authority in Min Nan-speaking region anywhere has 
regulated how Min Nan *ought* to be written, in Taiwan POJ is taught. 
This could be misconstrued as evidence that POJ is intrinsically 
"Taiwanese" but that's simply not so.

Also see my previous response to your contention that "[the POJ] writing 
there [i.e. minnan.wikipedia.org] is thus not representative of min-nan 


I quote:
"To keep discussion short I'll just say, for now, that most variants of
Minnan are generally and historically *not* written and when written,
generally without reference to a standard (lots of words written
inconsistently).  The genra have also been limited to songs and other
poetic forms.  So it's difficult to talk about representativeness in
that context.  The current Minnan Wikipedia *is* the "state of the art"
to the extent that Minnan has been written and read historically."

 >Now I have every respect for the goals of those who promote
 > Peh-oe-ji, but I don't think Wikipedia should assign subdomains which
 > support one political viewpoint over another.

Now I am puzzled by your assertion that using the Peh-oe-ji orthography 
to write Min Nan constitutes a "political viewpoint".  Which viewpoint 
is that?  A Christian viewpoint?  A Taiwan-centric Min Nan viewpoint?  A 
pro-alphabet, anti-character viewpoint?

I will say for now that people use the orthography for many reasons. 
Many like the fact that they are able to write in a consistent manner in 
an orthography attested by a century-and-half of works.  Many are 
Taoist, Buddhist, atheists, etc.  (I am certainly not Christain in case 
you are wondering -- not that this should be relevant.)  If some people 
would like to politicize a writing system, well, they are feel to do so 
but that does not necessarily mean their viewpoint has wide currency.

 > Currently the predominant form of writing in Taiwan is "Traditional
 > Chinese", given the code zh-tw. Writing of this form is commonly used on
 > zh.wikipedia.org.

Traditional Chinese has been widely taught in Taiwan's educational 
system since the end of WWII, for the purpose of writing the (de facto) 
official Mandarin language (or dialect, if you will).  The ISO code 
zh-tw specifies the regional variety of the "zh language", which is 
generally interpreted as meaning Mandarin.

But since the Taiwanese are a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society, how 
official Mandarin is written does not dictate how other native languages 
must be written.  The Government certainly does not prescribe that Min 
Nan in Taiwan should be written in Chinese characters.

 >The Taiwanese people who write in zh.wikipedia.org
 > speak the exact same language as those who write on
 > minnan.wikipedia.org. That language is a form of Min Nan, referred to in
 > Taiwan as Ho-lo-oe.

Note that Min Nan is not the native language of every Taiwanese and 
therefore only some Taiwanese speak Min Nan.  Other people who are not 
Taiwanese also speak some form of Min Nan.  When those Min Nan speakers 
(regardless of nationality) participate in an xx-language Wikipedia, 
they use whatever the dominant writing system is.  Thus they do not 
attempt to, for example, write Japanese in Roumaji (romanization) in 

Nor is every editor in minnan.wikipedia.org Taiwanese.  We also have 
editors from Amoy, PRC.

I hope you would not try to confuse the issue by implying that since 
Mandarin speakers write Mandarin in Chinese characters, that they 
therefore necessarily must write Min Nan similarly.  It should not be 
difficult to understand that related languages, for historical reasons, 
may well be treated to different scripts.  I need not cite the many 
examples in this category (but I will if requested).

 > Based on the information I have now, I would like to move
 > minnan.wikipedia.org to peh-oe-ji.wikipedia.org. I'm expecting
 > objections to this from the users of that wiki, who seem to be keen
 > promoters of the Peh-oe-ji orthography. All the same, I'd like to hear
 > any comments or objections anyone has.

In June 2004 you very nicely asked:

 > > How about minnan.wikipedia.org? It's shorter, doesn't conflict with
 > > anything, and is easy to remember.
 > >
 > > -- Tim Starling


But to the surprise of several Min Nan editors, you went ahead without 
waiting for any feedback, even though you appeared to invite it in a 
non-rhetorical fashion.  Given this experience I have concluded that I, 
as a Min Nan editor, is powerless to influence whatever you believe, 
rightly or wrongly, to be the best course of action.  I trust your 
judgement as a developer but I am not convinced by your arguments to the 
effect that  the Minnan Wikipedia, as written, is somehow unrepresentive 
(even "unauthentic"?).  You are of course free to conduct further 
research and show Min Nan editors works that you regard as representive 
of Min Nan (or Min Nan Taiwanese) writing.


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