The Missionary Romanization System
Used for Certain Southern Min Dialects

The following charts show the missionary romanization system (MRS) that is widely used to transcribe the dialect of Xiamen and other closely related dialects, such as those of Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, Tongan, and Taiwan. This group of dialects is often referred to collectively as Hokkien or Holo. I'll use the term "Hokkien" here, since "Holo" seems to be limited to Taiwanese.

Hokkien is a major sub-group of the Southern Min (Minnan) language family that is spoken in southern Fujian Province, the southeast coast of Guangdong Province, and Hainan Island. It is also very common in Overseas Chinese communities in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The purpose of these charts is to provide a reference for anyone who may have occasion to transliterate between the MRSand the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The charts include not only the standard IPA symbols, but also ASCII IPA symbols, which are more suited for e-mail and newsgroups. The IPA and ASCII IPA symbols are phonemic equivalents of the various MRS symbols, many of which have more than one phonetic realizations in various environments.

There are three charts:
Initials: The initial consonants are listed in an order that is similar to the National Phonetic Alphabet. In the ASCII IPA column, I have used the recommended "<h>" to represent the "superscript h" of the IPA, which is used to show aspiration. This may be a bit clunky in large blocks of text, so I recommend using either the apostrophe or just a plain "h". In the context of Hokkien, neither of these alternatives is likely to cause any misunderstanding.

Finals: The finals (also known as "rimes" or "rhymes") are more or less in alphabetical order. The <'> of the <o'> digraph  is treated as though it came before <a>. Nasalized syllables, shown by a final superscript <n>, follow un-nasalized syllables. As with the initials, there is one clunky aspect to the ASCII IPA shown for the finals. In nasalized syllables, all the vowels are nasalized, so I have shown a tilde (~) following each vowel. Frankly, this looks a little silly, so I normally write a tilde only after the last vowel in a syllable. Again, this is not likely to cause any misunderstanding when writing for an audience that is familiar with the phonology of Hokkien.

Tones: The tones are numbered in the order that is used in Chiang Ker Chiu's A Practical English-Hokkien Dictionary, with the <yin1> series tones all grouped together, followed by the <yang2> series tones. For each tone, I show:

1. The tone mark used in the MRS is shown over the letter "o", and with an added "h" to indicate the entering tones. When writing e-mail messages or newsgroup posts, it is not yet possible to show the actual tone marks, so it is best to substitute the tone number (which should follow the syllable, not the vowel that would normally take the tone mark). The use of tone marks and tone numbers is most appropriate when discussing only Hokkien for an audience that is familiar with the tone numbers.

2. The original tone contour is shown using a five-level scale, with 1 as the lowest and 5 as the highest. Tone contours are indicated using both graphic symbols and numbers. The tone contour is particularly suited to phonetic transcriptions.

3. The contour of a syllable that has undergone tone sandhi is shown using the same five-level system. When appropriate, and when writing in ASCII IPA, I write the original tone contour numbers, then a colon, then the sandhi tone.

4. The traditional Chinese tone name is shown in romanized Mandarin. When comparing Hokkien to other dialects, the tone numbers are not particularly useful. The traditional names provide a clear cross-language standard for identifying tones.

5. An abbreviation of the traditional tone name is also given. This is very useful when writing ASCII IPA transcriptions. This abbreviation system was worked out by several individuals on the sci.lang newsgroup, and it has proven quite useful. It is common to combine both the numeric tone contour and the abbreviated tone name. Of course, the abbreviated tone name is appropriate for any Chinese language/dialect, not just for Hokkien.

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p p
ph p<h>
b b
m m
t t
th t<h>
l l
n n
k k
kh k<h>
g g
ng N
h h
s s
ch ts
chh ts<h>
j dz

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a a
an a~
ah a?
ahn a~?
ai ai
ain a~i~
aih ai?
aihn a~i~?
ak ak
am am
an an
ang aN
ap ap
at at
au au
aun a~u~
auh au?
auhn a~u~?
e e
en e~
eh e?
ehn e~?
ek ik
eng iN
i i
in i~
ia ia
ian i~a~
iah ia?
iahn i~a~?
iak iak
iam iam
ian ian
iang iaN
iap iap
iat iat
iau iau
iaun i~a~u~
iauh iau?
iauhn i~a~u~?
ih i?
ihn i~?
im im
in in
io io
ioh io?
iok iOk
iong iON
ip ip
it it
iu iu
iun i~u~
iuh iu?
iuhn i~u~?
m m-
mh m-?
ng N-
ngh N-?
o o
o' O
o'n O~
o'h O?
oa ua
oan u~a~
oah ua?
oai uai
oain u~a~i~
oaihn u~a~i~?
oak uak
oan uan
oang uaN
oat uat
oe ue
oeh ue?
oh o?
ohn O~?
ok Ok
ong ON
u u
uh u?
ui ui
uin u~i~
uih ui?
uihn u~i~?
un un
ut ut

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Tone Name
1 55 33 yin1ping2 =p
2 51 55 shang3sheng1 +=s
3 11 51 yin1qu4 =q
4 32 5 yin1ru4 =r
5 24 33 yang2ping2 +p
6 51 55 shang3sheng1 +=s
7 33 11 yang2qu4 +q
8 5 32 yang2ru4 +r

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