Modern Literal Taiwanese

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Hiexntai Bunsuhoad 🔊 (現代文書法 Modern Literal Taiwanese) (MLT), also known as Hiexntai-buun 🔊 (現代文) and Modern Taiwanese Language (MTL), is a writing system in the Latin alphabet for Taiwanese based on the Taiwanese Modern Spelling System (TMSS). MLT is able to use the ASCII character set to indicate the proper variation of pitch without subsidiary scripts or diacritic symbols.

MLT Examples

Ciaqpar`boe? 🔊
Greetings. (lit., "Have you eaten?")
Iawboe 🔊
Not yet.
Sitlea! 🔊 
Sorry for my impoliteness! (lit., "Disrespect")
Piexnsor ti tøfui? 🔊 
Where's the bathroom? (lit., "bathroom is where?")
Thviaf u`bøo. 🔊 
Do you understand? (lit., "Heard, no?")
Goar thviabøo. 🔊 
I don't understand. (lit., "I hear not")
Lie karm korng Engguo? 🔊 
You do speak English, no?
Loflat! Kafmsia! 🔊 
Thank you
Ho taf`laq! 🔊 
Cheers! (lit., Let it (the cup) be dry!)
Siensvy korng, hagsefng tiaxmtiam thviaf. 
The teacher talks, the students quietly listen.
Kin'afjit hit'ee zabor-gyn'ar laai goarn-taw khvoax goar. 
Today that girl came to my house to see me.
Kin'axm larn beq khix Suxliim Iaxchi'ar. 🔊 
Tonight, we are going to Shilin Night Market.

Current system

The Taiwanese alphabet adopts the Latin alphabet of 26 letters, plus ø, to express the basic sounds of Taiwanese. Here are the basic sounds:

  • a b c ch e f g h i j k kh l m n ng o ø p ph q r s t th u v y z zh

A MLT word, like each English word, can be formed by only one syllable or several syllables, with the two syllables being the most typical. Each syllable in MLT follows either one of the two underlying patterns (phonemes inside the brackets are optional):

  • [consonant] + [nasalizer] + vowel + [tone indicator]
  • [consonant] + vowel + [tone indicator] + [nasal final consonant]


  • Bilabial: b, p, ph, m 🔊
  • Alveolar: t, th, n, l 🔊
  • Velar: g, k, kh, h 🔊
  • Palatal: c, ch, s, j (followed by vowel "i") 🔊
  • Dental: z, zh, s, j (not followed by vowel "i") 🔊

The convention of using "h" to denote aspirated consonants is similar to the way superscript "h" is used in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It is also similar to the way the apostrophe is used in Wade-Giles.


  • Simple: a, i, u, e, o, ø, m, ng 🔊
  • Compound: ai, au, ia, iu, iø, iau, ui, oa, oe, øe, oai 🔊
  • Special high tone (1st tone of i, u): y, w 🔊
  • Special shouting-out tone (2nd tone of ai, i, u, e, au): ae, ie, uo, ea, ao 🔊
  • Nasal vowel (indicator followed by a vowel): v 🔊

The nasal final consonants m, n, and ng can be appended to any of the vowels and some of the diphthongs. In addition, m and ng can function as independent syllables by themselves.

The stops h/q, k/g, p/b and t/d can appear as the last letter in a syllable, in which case they are pronounced as unreleased stops. (The final consonants h and q stand for a glottal stop of high and low tone, respectively.)

TMSS originally prescribed two special characters: the Greek nu (letter) and an o crossed by a backslash. To enable ASCII only typing, these were replaced with the Latin letter v and number 0, respectively. In modern computing environments, ø ("letter O with stroke") is used without much technical difficulty.


The Tones of Taiwanese are encoded by appending and modifying spellings with attention to the rules of the MLT system. The basic tone has no modification.

High Tone

A high tone is derived from raising a basic tone, and is represented by adding a tone indicator "f" after a vowel, except "i" and "u", in a syllable. The high tone of "i" and "u" are "y" and "w" respectively. Note that the tone indicator "f" is a silent letter.

Shouting-out Tone

A shouting-out tone is derived from shouting out a basic tone, and is represented by adding a tone indicator "r" after a vowel. Exceptions "ai", "i", "u", "e", and "au", in a syllable, for which "ae", "ie", "uo", "ea", and "ao" are substituted, respectively.

Low-falling Tone

The low-falling tone is always marked by appending an "x" to the rearmost vowel.

Rising Tone

The rising tone is denoted by the following rules:

  • Simple vowel: simply repeat the vowel.
  • Compound vowel: repeat the last vowel letter except when it contains an "a", then repeats "a". In the case of ø, use øo rather than øø.

Short Tone

Low stopping tones are indicated by substituting the final stops as follows: h->q, t->d, p->b, k->g.

Rare shouting tone

This tone has largely merged with the shouting-out tone. It is used in rare instances such as the triplet "aarng'ang'aang", meaning "extraordinarily red".


Examples for the seven Tones of Taiwanese: ty, bea, pax, aq, zoaa, chviu, lok 🔊

  • 1 (High): ty (pig)
  • 2 (Shouting-out): bea (horse)
  • 3 (Low-falling): pax (leopard)
  • 4 (Low stop): aq (duck)
  • 5 (Rising): zoaa (snake)
  • 7 (Basic): chviu (elephant)
  • 8 (High stop): lok (deer)

Special Symbols

The vertical typewriter apostrophe (') is used to demarcate syllables when there is ambiguity. A hyphen (-) is used to join two, or more isolated words to make a new compound word with its own meaning.

All the syllables after a grave accent (`) (also known as a backquote or backtick) are spoken in a weaker tone -- either a low-falling tone or a low stop. Tone sandhi is not applied to the preceding syllable. Note that modern word processors might automatically substitute non-ASCII variants...this is not recommended.

History of MLT

The Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) system, introduced in the 19th century, provides a basis for the phonetic transcription of the Taiwanese language using the Latin alphabet and developed a significant user base. However this user base declined during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, when the use of POJ was suppressed in preference to katakana, and during the Kuomintang era of martial law, during which Standard Mandarin was promoted.

Prof. Liim Keahioong, formerly of the National Cheng Kung University in Tailaam, Taiwan, pioneered the Taiwanese Modern Spelling System (TMSS) in 1943, with the intent to avoid the diacritic markings of POJ and the cumbersomeness of inputting Chinese characters with the technology available. TMSS served as the basis for Modern Literal Taiwanese (MLT), or Modern Taiwanese Language (MTL) system.

See Also/Zhamkhør

External links