Sun, Dec 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Resolving the nation's linguistic disharmony

By Chen Lung-chu 陳隆志

The greatest value of language lies in the fact that it serves as a tool by which human beings can communicate and understand each other.

Effective communication not only consolidates Taiwanese consciousness and strengthens national identity but can also stimulate and tap into the power of citizens to realize the goal of normalizing Taiwan's status as a country.

On Nov. 21, in an article entitled "A little generosity in exchange for a lot of votes" published in the Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times) Chang Shih-hsien (張世賢), a board member of the Association for Hakka Studies, argued that we should make good use of language as it is the tool for building domestic consensus.

Chang also added that we must give serious thought to how we use language to push for a change of the nation's title, the creation of a new constitution and when seeking UN membership.

This approach to expanding Taiwanese identity is very important.

After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retreated to Taiwan in 1949, it emphasized Mandarin as the official language and suppressed the development of the languages spoken by other ethnic groups.

This resulted in the younger generations of Hoklo, Hakka and Aboriginal groups having no choice but to use Mandarin as their primary spoken language when communicating with others.

This has affected the potential for all ethnic groups to learn each other's languages and made it difficult for them to understand each other.

Therefore, knowing how to promote mutual understanding through effective communication has become crucial in terms of consolidating internal consensus on the question of national identity.

In the short term, the focus should be on the question of how to build consensus. Until Mandarin can be replaced, it should be temporarily accepted as the primary language of communication.

In the meantime, we should take every single opportunity at our disposal to build the idea of a common Taiwanese identity to win further public support and strengthen a national identity focused on Taiwan consciousness.

In the long term, we should focus on expanding the meaning of the "Taiwanese language" while ensuring the equality of other languages.

In addition to promoting native language education, the languages of the different ethnic groups that make up the fabric of Taiwan should be given protection under the Constitution by defining Hoklo as "Hoklo Taiwanese," Hakka as "Hakka Taiwanese," Aboriginal languages as "Aboriginal Taiwanese" and the language of the new inhabitants as "New Taiwanese" and in the end officially recognizing all these languages as "Taiwanese."

We should also guarantee the right of every individual to publicly and freely express his or her opinion in the native language of their choice.

Translation services should also be provided based on actual needs to avoid the creation of language barriers and miscommunication resulting from language differences.

Adjusting the nation's policies to accommodate the Taiwanese ethnic environment, respecting language differences and forming a multilingual society should contribute to a feeling of unity among Taiwanese.

Chen Lung-chu is chairman of the New Century Foundation and director of the Taiwan United Nations Alliance.

Translated by Lin Ya-ti

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