Modern Literal Taiwanese

Modern Literal Taiwanese (MLT), also known as Modern Taiwanese Language (MTL), is an orthography 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 any subsidiary scripts or diacritic symbols.


    Alveolar Palato-alveolar Bilabial Alveolar Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless unaspirated     p t k ' ([ʔ])
aspirated     ph th kh  
voiced unaspirated     b   g  
Affricate voiceless unaspirated z c        
aspirated zh ch        
voiced unaspirated   j        
Fricative voiceless unaspirated s s        
aspirated           h
Nasal voiced unaspiration     m/v n ng/v  
Lateral voiced unaspiration       l    
  Front Central Back
Close i   u
Close-mid e   ø(2)
Mid   ø(1)  
Open-mid     o
Open a    

MLT Examples

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

MLT English
Lienhabkog seakaix jinkhoaan soangieen

Tøe-id tiaau

Langlaang svilai zuxiuu, zai zungiaam kab khoanli siong itlut pengterng. Yn huoiuo lysexng kab liongsym, peng irnie hviati koanhe ee cviasiin hoxsiong tuiethai.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

MLT greetings

MLT Translation Remarks
Ciaqpar`bøe? Greetings. ("Have you eaten?")
Sitlea! Sorry for my impoliteness! (lit., "Disrespect")
Goar thviaf bøo. I don't understand. (lit., "I hear not")
Piexnsor ti tøfui? Where's the bathroom? (lit., "bathroom is where?")
Loflat! Kafmsia! Thank you
Ho taf `laq! Cheers! (lit., Let it [the cup/glass] be dry [empty]!)
Lie karm korng Engguo? Do you speak English?
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 want to go to Shilin Night Market.

The current system

The MLT alphabet adopts the Latin alphabet of 26 letters and the Scandinavian letter ø to express the basic sounds of Taiwanese:

a b c ch e f g h i j k kh l m n ng ø o 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 bracket [] are optional):

  • [Consonant] + [front nasal-sound] + vowel + [tone indicator]
  • [Consonant] + vowel + [tone indicator] + [rear nasal-sound]


  • Bilabial: b, p, ph, m
  • Alveolar: t, th, n, l
  • Velar: g, k, kh, h
  • Palatal: c, ch, s, j
  • Dental: z, zh, s, j


  • 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
  • Front Nasal (indicator only, must be followed by a vowel): v
  • Rear Nasal: m, n, ng

The nasals 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 with no audible release. (The finals h and q stand for a glottal stop of high and low tone, respectively.)

TMSS originally prescribed two special characters: the Greek letter ν and an o crossed by a backslash. These were replaced with the Latin letter v and number 0, respectively. Because mixing numbers into words is problematic for spell checkers, 0 was subsequently replaced by ø.


Not only consonants and vowel sounds, but also tones are represented by letters in the MLT system. Certain letters have no sound of their own and are merely used as tone indicators. Others letters represent vowels or vowel combinations which have certain tones. For example, "f", "r", and "x" are tone indicators only, and have no sound of their own in MLT. "Af" represents the "a" sound with a "high" tone, "ar" represents the same vowel sound but with a "shouting" tone, "ax" is the "a" sound with the low falling tone. A "y" or "w" indicates a high tone "i" and "u", respectively, while certain diphthongs, such as "ie" and "uo", are treated as "shouting" tones. The basic tone is represented by a normal, simple vowel (or voiced consonant—e.g. the nasals, "m" or "ng") without any special spelling modification.

High Tone

A high tone is derived by raising the pitch of the voice to a level somewhat above the basic tone and is normally represented by adding the tone indicator "f" after a vowel, with the exception of the “i” and “u” sounds in a syllable. A high tone "i" and a high tone "u" are denoted by "y" and "w", respectively.

(The high tone would be near the top of one's normal speaking register. It may possibly be compared to the sort of high intonation used by English speakers when imitating a singer warming up with a high but level "mi, mi, mi, mi, mi".)

Shouting-out Tone

A shouting-out [or just "shouting"] tone is derived from shouting out a basic tone, and is normally represented by adding a tone indicator "r" after a vowel. When compound vowels are present in the shouting tone, however, sounds which by the normal rule would otherwise be written (“air”, “ir”, “ur”, “er”, and “aur”) are instead spelled "ae", "ie", "uo", "ea", and "ao", respectively. Exceptions occur when this rule overlaps with other rules. For example, the shouting tone of "lin" is written "lirn", not "lien" (interpreted as a compound vowel in basic tone) even though "lie" is the "shouting" counterpart to "li".

(Note that the so-called "shouting" tone is not literally a shout, but refers to the sort of quick, falling tone used, e.g., in shouting out a single-syllable word. It may be understood by English speakers by comparing the neutral tone in the normal pronunciation of the vowel in the name "Bob" with the quick, falling tone used when shouting the name (or saying the name quietly but with urgency), "Bob!" Similarly, saying "No!" achieves the same quick, downward tone in English.)

Low-falling tone

The low-falling tone is always marked by appending an "x" to the rearmost vowel. (Think of the low, almost guttural tone used in muttering a flat "Huh." or "Hmph." in English.)

Rising tone

The rising tone is denoted according to the following rules:

  • Simple vowel: simply repeat the vowel. (E.g., "guu".)
  • Compound vowel: repeat the last vowel letter except when it contains an “a”, then just repeat the “a”. (E.g., "zoaa".) In the case of ø, use øo rather than øø.

(Just as an urgent, quick "No!" can provide an example of the "shouting" tone in English, a questioning "No?" may represent the rising tone.)

Short tone

The low stopping tones are indicated by switching the final stops with the high stopping tones' as follows: h->q, t->d, p->b, k->g.


Examples for the seven tones:

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

Special Symbols

The apostrophe (', 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. When a word contains a grave accent (`), all the syllables after this mark are accented in the low tone (low-falling for the long tones, and low-short for short tones).

Comparison chart

IPA a ap at ak ã ɔ ɔk ɔ̃ ə o e i iɛn iəŋ
Pe̍h-ōe-jī a ap at ak ah aⁿ ok oⁿ o o e eⁿ i ian eng
Revised TLPA a ap at ak ah aN oo ok ooN o o e eN i ian ing
TLPA a ap at ak ah ann oo ok oonn o o e enn i ian ing
BP a ap at ak ah na oo ok noo o o e ne i ian ing
MLT a ab/ap ad/at ag/ak aq/ah va o og/ok vo ø ø e ve i ien eng
DT a āp/ap āt/at āk/ak āh/ah ann/aⁿ o ok onn/oⁿ or or e enn/eⁿ i ian/en ing
Taiwanese kana アア アㇷ゚ アッ アㇰ アァ アア オオ オㇰ オオ オオ ヲヲ エエ エエ イイ イェヌ イェン
Extended bopomofo ㄚㆴ ㄚㆵ ㄚㆶ ㄚㆷ ㆦㆶ ㄧㄢ ㄧㄥ
Tâi-lô a ap at ak ah ann oo ok onn o o e enn i ian ing
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

IPA iək ĩ ai au am ɔm ɔŋ ŋ̍ u ua ue uai uan ɨ (i)ũ
Pe̍h-ōe-jī ek iⁿ ai aiⁿ au am om m ong ng u oa oe oai oan i (i)uⁿ
Revised TLPA ik iN ai aiN au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan ir (i)uN
TLPA ik inn ai ainn au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan ir (i)unn
BP ik ni ai nai au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan i n(i)u
MLT eg/ek vi ai vai au am om m ong ng u oa oe oai oan i v(i)u
DT ik inn/iⁿ ai ainn/aiⁿ au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan i (i)unn/uⁿ
Taiwanese kana イェㇰ イイ アイ アイ アウ アム オム オン ウウ ヲア ヲエ ヲァイ ヲァヌ ウウ ウウ
Extended bopomofo ㄧㆶ ㄨㄚ ㄨㆤ ㄨㄞ ㄨㄢ
Tâi-lô ik inn ai ainn au am om m ong ng u ua ue uai uan ir (i)unn
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

IPA p b m t n l k ɡ h tɕi ʑi tɕʰi ɕi ts dz tsʰ s
Pe̍h-ōe-jī p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h chi ji chhi si ch j chh s
Revised TLPA p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h zi ji ci si z j c s
TLPA p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h zi ji ci si z j c s
BP b bb p bb d t n lng l g gg k h zi li ci si z l c s
MLT p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h ci ji chi si z j zh s
DT b bh p m d t n nng l g gh k h zi r ci si z r c s
Taiwanese kana パア バア パ̣ア マア タア タ̣ア ナア ヌン ラア カア ガア カ̣ア ハア チイ ジイ チ̣イ シイ ザア サ̣ サア
Extended bopomofo ㄋㆭ
Tâi-lô p b ph m t th n nng l k g kh h tsi ji tshi si ts j tsh s
Example (traditional Chinese)

Example (simplified Chinese)

Tone name Yin level
Yin rising
Yin departing
Yin entering
Yang level
Yang rising
Yang departing
Yang entering
High rising
Neutral tone
IPA a˥˧ a˨˩ ap˩
a˧˥ ap˥
Pe̍h-ōe-jī a á à ap
â ā a̍p
a1 a2 a3 ap4
a5 a6 a7 ap8
a9 a0
BP ā ǎ à āp
á â áp
af ar ax ab
aa aar a ap
DT a à â āp
ǎ ā ap
á å
Taiwanese kana
(normal vowels)
アア アアTaiwanese kana normal tone 2.png アアTaiwanese kana normal tone 3.png アㇷ゚Taiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アッTaiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アㇰTaiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アァTaiwanese kana normal tone 4.png
アアTaiwanese kana normal tone 5.png アアTaiwanese kana normal tone 7.png アㇷ゚Taiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
アッTaiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
アㇰTaiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
アァTaiwanese kana normal tone 8.png
Taiwanese kana
(nasal vowels)
アアTaiwanese kana nasal tone 1.png アアTaiwanese kana nasal tone 2.png アアTaiwanese kana nasal tone 3.png アㇷ゚Taiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アッTaiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アㇰTaiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アァTaiwanese kana nasal tone 4.png
アアTaiwanese kana nasal tone 5.png アアTaiwanese kana nasal tone 7.png アㇷ゚Taiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
アッTaiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
アㇰTaiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
アァTaiwanese kana nasal tone 8.png
Extended bopomofo ㄚˋ ㄚ˪ ㄚㆴ
ㄚˊ ㄚ˫ ㄚㆴ˙
Tâi-lô a á à ah â ǎ ā a̍h --ah
(traditional Chinese)

(simplified Chinese)


History of MLT

The Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) system, introduced in the 19th century, provides a basis for phonetic transcription of the Taiwanese language using the Latin alphabet. It initially developed a significant user base, but the number of users declined during the period of Japanese colonization of Taiwan, when the use of POJ was suppressed in preference to katakana, and also during the era of martial law, during which Mandarin Chinese was promoted.

Prof. Liim Keahioong, formerly of the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, pioneered the Taiwanese Modern Spelling System (TMSS) in 1943, with the intent to avoid the diacritical markings of POJ as well as the cumbersome difficulty of inputting Chinese characters with the available technology. TMSS served as the basis for Modern Literal Taiwanese (MLT), also known as Modern Taiwanese Language (MTL).[3] Other variants of MLT exist, such as Phofsit Daibuun and Simplified MLT (SMLT).[4]

Notes and references

  1. ^ IPA: Pulmonic Archived 2009-03-16 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ IPA: Vowels Archived 2009-03-13 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Lin, A. (1999). "Writing Taiwanese: The Development of Modern Written Taiwanese" (PDF). Sino-Platonic Papers (89). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2016-06-06.
  4. ^ (in Chinese) Simplified Modern Literal Taiwanese(簡式台語現代文)-SMLT Homepage [1] Archived 2011-07-28 at the Wayback Machine, Sep. 30th, 2009.

External links

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