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What Language is Spoken in Taiwan?

Taiwan is a linguistically diverse island. When asked what language is spoken in Taiwan, the Taiwanese will probably correct you by telling you there is more than one language spoken in Taiwan. In this article, we will discover all the languages spoken on this island in the western Pacific Ocean and their status quo.

What Language Do They Speak in Taiwan?

What language does Japan speak? Japanese. What language does Taiwan speak? Don’t say Taiwanese. 

The noun Taiwanese refers to the people living on the island of Taiwan and other islands and island groups under Taiwan’s jurisdiction, including Matsu and Kinmen. 

Today, the population that speaks Taiwanese Mandarin and Hokkien at home stands at 83.5% and 81.9%. Apart from the dominant languages, other Chinese dialects like Hakka and Cantonese, indigenous Formosan languages, and foreign languages like Japanese, Indonesian, and Vietnamese are also spoken in Taiwan, contributing to the linguistic diversity of the island. 

Overview of Languages Spoken in Taiwan

Formosan languages, a branch of Austronesian languages, used to be the dominant language for thousands of years in prehistorical Taiwan. It is recognized as the homeland (Urheimat) of the whole Austronesian language family due to its wide variety. 

Sinitic languages like Mandarin, Hokkien, and Hakka were introduced to Taiwan in the last few centuries due to many waves of Han emigrations. Owe to Taiwan’s colonial and immigration history, foreign languages like Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, Indonesian, Tagalog, Vietnamese, etc., have all once secured a place in Taiwan. 

Languages

Variants/Variety

Classification

Official Status

Indigenous

(Formosan)

Atayal, Truku, Seediq

Atayalic

/

Amis, Kavalan, Sakizaya

Eastern Formosan

/

Saisiyat, Thao

Northern Formosan

/

Rukai

Rukaic

/

Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma

Southern Formosan

/

Tsou, Kanakanavu, Saaroa

Tsouic

/

Indigenous

(Malayo-Polynesian)

Tao

Philippine

/

Sinitic

Taiwanese Mandarin

Chinese language

Taiwanese Hokkien

Chinese language

/

Taiwanese Hakka

Chinese language

/

Matsu dialect

Chinese language

/

Wuqiu dialect

Chinese language

/

Cantonese

Chinese language

/

Foreign

Japanese

East Asian language

/

Indonesian

South-East Asian language

/

Javanese

South-East Asian language

/

Tagalog

South-East Asian language

/

Vietnamese

South-East Asian language

/

Dutch

European language

/

Spanish

European language

/

English

European language

/

Official Languages of Taiwan

Does Taiwan speak Mandarin? Big yes. But is Mandarin the only language by legal definition in Taiwan? Not really. 

The languages spoken in Taiwan consist of Chinese languages, Taiwan dialects such as the Matsu dialect and Wuqiu dialect, and Formosan languages, all of which are national languages by legal definition. Among these languages, Taiwanese Mandarin, Taiwanese Hokkien, and Taiwanese Hakka account for 88% of Taiwan’s population. 

However, only Mandarin is the official language and has been made compulsory in schools in Taiwan. Since 1945, Mandarin has become the lingua franca among people living in Taiwan, including the majority of Hakka people who speak Taiwanese Hokkien, the aborigines who speak aboriginal languages, and immigrants from Mainland China who speak different Chinese variants. 

Since Mandarin is universally understood among most of the population, its dominance naturally helped the language establish its status as the official national language. Nowadays, the younger generations in Taiwan speak Mandarin better than Hokkien or Hakka, or other Chinese dialects, making it a lingua franca for the island in the truest sense. 

Today, the Taiwanese government uses Standard Mandarin Chinese as the spoken language and Traditional Chinese script on official occasions. 

Language of Taipei

Located in the northern part of the island of Taiwan, Taipei is the capital city and the economic, educational, and cultural center of Taiwan. It is also an international city serving as one of East Asia’s major hubs. Like other parts of Taiwan, the population of Taipei comprises four major ethnic groups, including Hoklos (people who speak Hokkien in Taiwan), Mainlanders (people who speak Mandarin in Taiwan and originally came from mainland China), Hakkas, and aborigines. 

The Mandarin-speaking and Hokkien-speaking populations make up the majority of Taipei’s population. However, more and more Hakkas have moved to the urban area, leading to the increasing presence of the Hakka language. The aboriginal population also speaks the Formosan languages in Taipei, mostly in the suburban districts. 

Due to its status as the capital and a global city, foreigners living in Taiwan have centered in Taipei City. They are mostly expats from western countries or immigrants from Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam. 

To Wrap Up

What language is spoken in Taiwan? The better question to ask is what languages are spoken in Taiwan. Since there are at least 30 languages in use there, including various Chinese languages and dialects, indigenous Formosan languages, and some southeastern Asian languages. However, if you refer to the most commonly spoken language spoken in Taiwan, the one and only answer is Taiwanese Mandarin, which spoken language is intelligible to mainland Chinese Mandarin yet adopts traditional Chinese scripts in their writing system. 

When translating a document into Taiwanese Chinese, it’s best to leave the work to native Taiwanese translators who understand the indigenous culture and the unique loanwords derived from the foreign languages of the neighboring countries. 

If you need such a service, look no further than Wordspath. Home to 30,000+ professional linguists worldwide, Wordspath has a vast talent pool that enables our project managers to mobilize the most qualified resource to finish the job quickly while ensuring quality and efficiency. Contact our team if you need to discuss your project further. 

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