Sun, Aug 06, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Language hegemony threatens identity

By Chou Ping 周平

Before we learn how to use language properly for communication, it is like an umbilical cord, connecting us to the world as we develop a relationship with our surroundings. This begins with the baby and its main caretaker calling each other.

Language is not only a tool for communication and identification, it is also loaded with emotions related to our experience of the world, including trust, emotions, a sense of identity and of reality.

In a community, a shared mother language is the vessel of shared experience. A shared language not only facilitates communication, mutual understanding and reaching agreement when we work together, it also gives us a basic sense of security thanks to the community’s concern, embrace and comfort.

In modern history, many governments have tried to make the native language of a socially dominant group the national language. When that is the case, the language can help bring about cultural hegemony. Without protection of cultural diversity and language equality, the national language could serve the vested interests of the dominant group.

In multilingual and multi-ethnic countries, the need for a common national language to allow citizens to communicate with each other must not be the only consideration: Consideration must also be given to the continued existence of the languages that other groups use for emotional, identity, recognition and security reasons.

This is not a matter of which language is more widely used, but about promoting social justice.

For these reasons, there should be laws in multiethnic nations to ensure that the native language of each group — including sign language for the hearing impaired — is given the same status and official recognition as a national language.

However, a look at language politics shows that in reality, hegemonic languages gain dominance over minority languages in daily interactions; languages are not given the same opportunity in communication, broadcasting or education, and can also be systemically excluded.

This is why governments must intervene and, for example, introduce national language laws to protect minority languages to improve language equality.

In the spirit of language equality and cultural diversity, Taiwan’s national languages should include Taiwanese Mandarin, Hoklo, Hakka and the languages of all the Aboriginal peoples.

Languages on the verge of extinction due to their disadvantaged position in daily interactions and the exchange of social information must be preserved, revived and promoted through reallocation of resources, more cultural representation and legislation.

Taiwan should also promote the learning of other Asian languages and especially Southeast Asian languages, not only because it would facilitate exchanges with neighboring countries, but also because it is a source of identity and recognition among Southeast Asian immigrants and their children.

As a result of globalization, English has become an essential skill. However, Taiwanese must not forget that English has become more than just a tool for communication and it is establishing potential cultural hegemony.

In a way, this threatens Taiwanese’s sense of identity by creating a polarized framework in which you either speak English or you do not.

This creates an imaginary relationship between master and slave, as many Taiwanese do not realize that by worshiping the English language and identifying with the “English empire” they have become willing victims of a kind of colonialism by placing themselves in a marginalized position from the English center, which gives them a false emotional solace and sense of recognition.

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