Mother tongues in danger
After reading the letter “Two lessons from Sri Lanka” (Letter, July 31, page 8), my heart was filled with sadness. This feeling was caused by the words: “Why don’t you talk to each other in your mother tongue, since there are no foreigners joining in your conversation?”
These words reminded me of our own situation in Taiwan. Taiwanese have become used to talking to each other in Mandarin Chinese, instead of our mother tongues.
I am a member of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT). Within our church community, our mother tongue is used extensively: The Bible and hymn books in our church are in our mother tongue and sermons are delivered in our mother language. It seems common sense in this religious community to use the worshipers’ mother tongue.
However, this is not the case in the Mandarin-speaking churches.
Thanks to the PCT, I can speak my mother tongue very fluently and freely. I am very fortunate.
However, even though Taiwanese society has been opening up, the Mandarin Chinese language still holds a monopoly in our daily lives. This is because we have been ruled mostly by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which forced us to subject to the policy of “no mother tongue use” (我不說方言) for several decades. This policy has had a huge influence on the way we view and value our native languages.
People still do not dare speak their mother tongues, or fear that they will be ridiculed for being part of an “inferior” culture and not identifying with the “higher” Chinese culture.
Even though the government has in recent years pushed ahead with the movement to preserve our mother tongues, a sense of inferiority is still deeply instilled in our hearts.
Someone once said that in Taiwan, “Taiwanese is an outpatient, Hakka has been hospitalized and Aboriginal languages are in the ICU.”
If we do not take care, our native languages risk slowly disappearing.