Taiwanese and Old Norse words for "homestead, village"

Language Log 2019-09-10

[This is a guest post by Chau Wu]

Tai Po District 大埔區 is one of the 18 districts of Hong Kong whereas 大埔县 (Dabu xian) in Guangdong is a Hakka culture center bordering on Southern Fujian. In Taiwan the term 大埔 (Tōa-po·) is found in about 40 place names such as 大埔鄉 Tōa-po·-hiong, 大埔村 Tōa-po·-chhun, 大埔里 Tōa-po·-lí, etc.

In fact, Tw 埔 (po·) 'homestead, village' is the most popular Taiwanese word in place names (Sino-Platonic Papers, No. 262, p. 123). The lexicographer 陳修 (Tân Siu) states in his 台灣話大詞典 (The Great Dictionary of Taiwanese, page 1379) that, "我們台灣以埔po· 為地名者特別多 (In Taiwan we use 埔po· in place names especially plentifully)."

Its corresponding word in Old Norse, bær 'homestead, village', is also the most popular word for naming places by the Vikings. Examples are: Sjöbo in Sweden, Maribo and Rødby in Denmark, Valebø in Norway, and Fellabær in Iceland. Its loan to English becomes -by as in Hornby, Gatsby, and the "by" in "bylaw".           Pointing to its popularity, Cleasby and Vigfusson state that, "wherever the Scandinavian tribes settled, the name by or bö went along with them." (An Icelandic-English Dictionary, page 92). It appears that this unique Nordic custom of using bær/bo/by in place names is carried on in Taiwan.

In a recent sporting event, the Ironman 7.3 World Championship race, held in Nice, France, the winner was Gustav Iden from Norway.  He wore a cap from a temple 順澤宮 (Sūn-tek-kiong) in 埔鹽 (Po·-iâm) of Changhua 彰化, Taiwan (see this article).

A descendant of Vikings whose word bær went along wherever they migrated was wearing a cap with the word 埔 (po·) stamped on it and won the championship title. He said he liked to wear it in competition because it looks cool.  The temple is now swamped with orders for the cap, as described in this article.

It is interesting to note that, if Tw 埔 po· is indeed related to the ON word bær, then it has come full circle — with a hidden linguistic secret advertised on the champion's cap.


23-year-old Gustav Iden raced his heart out today – hats off to the new IRONMAN 70.3 World Champion! 🇳🇴🏆 #IM703WC pic.twitter.com/wdUtVyKNj8

— IRONMAN Triathlon (@IRONMANtri) September 8, 2019

"Norwegian athlete's Taiwan 'lucky hat' goes viral:  Ironman Gustav Iden won his event in France but received international attention for his hat, which name checked a Taiwan temple", by George Liao, Taiwan News (9/9/19)

…[T]he hat he wore bore the legend: "Puyan Shunze Temple" (埔鹽順澤宮).

…The 300-year-old temple in Puyan Township (埔鹽鄉), Changhua County (彰化縣), honors the god Hsuan Tien Shang Ti. It has a mud statue of the god from when the temple was rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1948, the Puyan Township Office website confirms.

According to the CNA report, Iden noticed the hat lying on the ground when he took part in an Ironman competition in Tokyo. He picked it up, and took good care of it in the hope it would bring him luck – which it did, as he won the event in Nice, France….


Philological and phonological notes by Diana S. Zhang

Indeed 埔 is a late character and dialectal word. It is not even included in 韻鏡 that was attributed to the Five Dynasties Period. It should be indigenous to the Southern Min as a variant of 埠 "flat open land," but the Wu dialect also uses it as a variant of 浦 "river bank, estuary." The earliest written attestation in a Classical work should be two articles by 歸有光 (1507-1571), who was native to 昆山 (in modern Jiangsu), in which he recounted his maternal grandmother, Ms. Zhou's hometown:

"去縣城東南三十裏,由千墩埔而南直橋,並小港以東,居人環聚,盡周氏也。" ——《先妣事略》

"余外家世居吳淞江南千墩埔上。" —— 《悠然亭記》

When I looked at how 埔 was used as a 通假 for 浦 in Gui Youguang's time, I looked up the gazetteer of 昆山 during the 嘉靖 reign (1522-1566), right in the middle of Gui's lifetime. I found this: "相傳其北三十里,地名木瓜,有墩九百九十有九,與此合為千墩,因名。其下為千墩浦。澱山湖水由此入吳淞江。" (昆山縣志 vol. 3)

So this may be a borrowing from the Southern Min to the Wu. In any case, 埔 is a topolect word and no attestations are found in the Northern and Southern Dynasties written records to my own knowledge so far. But its entrance to Sinitic seems cleared up with this borrowing process: 埠——埔 (Min) and 埔——浦 (Wu). Then, in the Ming, with Gui's work, it entered the 漢文言 realm (I suppose).

Since neither 埠 or 埔 is contained in 韻鏡, and 1) the MC for 阜 buH and 甫 puX only contrast by initial voicing and tones; 2) both 埠 and 埔 are /pu:/ in the Min, I believe that it was natural for them to be variants for the Min native speakers.


"Green box deep male shrine" (8/31/19) — for a discussion of tourist sites around in Baihou Town 百侯镇, Tai Po 大埔, Guangdong Province

"An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China" (1/25/19)