白話字 (pronounced Peh-oe-ji in Hoklo) is the script of vernacular speech, in contrast to the formal, stylized and far more condensed WenYen Wen 文言文 in Chinese writing. Because the Hoklo spoken language often lacks corresponding Han characters 漢字, one of the ways of writing it is to use phonetics, for example, the Roman alphabet. This, however, never really gained wide acceptance in Taiwan except in the churches.
The Bible used in Danshui Presbyterian Church is printed in Romanized Hoklo, for example.
[Top left]: This is the first church monthly and the first ever newspaper written in Peh-oe-ji published by Rev Thomas Barclay (1849-1935). Barclay, the 5th missionary from the Presbyterian Church of England, arrived in Tainan in 1875 from Glasgow. He oversaw the translation of the Bible into Hoklo using the Poe-oe-ji alphabet - first the New Testament in 1916 and then the Old Testament in 1932. Both are still in use today.
The news monthly headings read as follows:
Taiwan Prefecture-City Church Newspaper
GuanXu Year 17, the 3rd Month
and the article title Siau-sit = news or 消息.
The use of Taiwanese dialects方言was discouraged during the Japanese colonial rule, a policy that ironically had continued after Taiwan was returned to China in 1945. In 1957, the government decreed that all preaching must be conducted in Mandarin Chinese. Sin Iok新約, the Romanized Hoklo New Testament was even seized at one point. Political reforms have since reversed the mono-linguistic policy.
Over the years, while the national language policy was quite effectively enforced through the education systems, the ban on the mother tongue was never successful. The Presbyterian Church in Danshui in fact has an uninterrupted history of Hoklo Bible use, for instance.