Since 2000, Feb. 21 has been observed as International Mother Language Day as proclaimed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). On this day every year, UNESCO announces the current status of mother tongues worldwide and makes an urgent call to all countries to preserve language assets.
The 2001 UNESCO report on mother languages around the world noted that languages in Taiwan, except for Mandarin, are dying. Although these languages, including Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Hakka and the many indigenous languages, continue to be widely spoken in some cases, they are all in need of preservation efforts.
They are languages of Taiwan, but are also a common asset shared by all people. We do not have the right to harm or destroy them.
It is a great shame that this year, Taiwan has witnessed the oppression of Hoklo on the eve of International Mother Language Day.
We all thought that Taiwan had become a democratic state full of cultural diversity and multilingualism. The savage neglect of language and oppression of mother tongues should have passed into history.
Who would have thought that several days before Lunar New Year, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) would propose scrapping the entire budget of NT$40 million (US$1.2 million) allotted to the Ministry of Education’s National Languages Committee for developing a Hoklo language proficiency certification system.
Did the NT$40 million make up a substantial part of the national budget of NT$1.8 trillion or the budget of NT$60 billion allocated to the ministry?
The committee asked the legislature not to cancel its budget or at least not entirely because the proficiency test has been in preparation for a year, and said the government should leave some money for completing the project.
But in the end, the entire budget was cut.
What does this mean for the Hoklo-speaking population? It means that although they are the largest group in the country, they are now in a most disadvantageous situation and exert no influence.
Taiwan has a proficiency certification system for every language, including Mandarin, Hakka and indigenous languages, but not Hoklo. What message does this send? That Taiwan has a barbarous government that is trying to eliminate Hoklo.
The government has the obligation to protect humanity’s linguistic assets. Previously, the KMT government failed to complete its mission of annihilating Taiwan’s mother tongues. Now that it is back in power, it intends to finish the job.
Hasn’t the government bullied the public enough?
We must take action on International Mother Language Day.
Li Khin-huann is chair of the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Culture, Language and Literature at National Taiwan Normal University and chair of the World Coalition for Taiwan Languages.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG