In order to protect the languages of peoples and ethnic groups around the world, the UN has made Feb. 21 International Mother Language Day. Languages are a diversified and rich cultural asset belonging to all humanity.
Language was a precious gift to humanity from God the Creator. It made it possible for people to communicate their emotions and thoughts. Different peoples and ethnic groups have their own unique languages, and parents teach their children their own language. The mother language thus becomes a precious cultural asset that future generations must protect and pass on. This also helps consolidate ethnic identity and belonging.
The Christian church pays great attention to using mother languages when spreading the gospel and the truth. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, for example, currently has more than 1,230 congregations, and every Sunday they give sermons, reading from the Bible, singing, praying and preaching in more than a dozen different languages, such as Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), Hakka, Amis, Bunun, Atayal, Paiwan, Rukai, Truku, Tao, Tsou, Sediq, Puyuma, Saisiyat, Chinese, Japanese and English. In addition, the Bible Society of Taiwan currently publishes Bibles in 10 different local languages. Bible societies around the world have now published Bibles in 2,508 languages.
It is worrying that the languages of Taiwan’s ethnic groups are gradually disappearing. In public places such as the MRT in Taipei, for example, it is becoming increasingly rare to hear people speak using their mother language, as more and more people use Chinese. Hakka people even used to say that they would rather sell off their inheritance than forget their mother language. About a dozen years ago, I attended a demonstration in Taipei with more than 1,000 Hakka people chanting “Give us back our mother language,” but today fewer and fewer people speak Hakka.
Since the various mother languages were given to us by God, we Taiwanese must learn to respect the different languages. For example, many foreign housemaids and other workers as well as foreign spouses speak Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese and other languages. They also have their own unique songs, dances and plays that should all be admired and treated with respect, mutually shared and learned. This would make our culture richer and more diverse while at the same time testifying to the vast tolerance of Taiwanese.
To mark International Mother Language Day, the Li Kang-Khiok Taigi Cultural and Educational Foundation held a Hoklo and Hakka mother-language event at the Affiliated High School of National Taiwan Normal University last Sunday to promote the sustainability of all Taiwan’s different mother languages.
William J.K. Lo is president of the Taiwan United Nations Alliance.
Translated by Perry Svensson