Wed, Dec 26, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Hoklo TV must not be political battle

Taiwan has Hakka and Aboriginal-language TV stations and is looking at making English an official language — but somehow, despite being relatively widely spoken compared with the aforementioned tongues, Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) is still being suppressed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the very group that imposed Mandarin on Taiwanese, leading to the rapid demise of various local languages that had already seen a decline under Japanese rule.

In August, it was announced that a public Hoklo-language TV channel would be established by the middle of next year, with a budget of NT$400 million (US$12.98 million) from the Ministry of Culture. While there is room to debate whether there is true practical use for a channel that broadcasts exclusively in Hoklo, especially as many channels already provide significant Hoklo programming, there is no doubt that the language is in decline and as much effort as possible is needed to keep children learning it.

Although it survived better due to a larger number of speakers, Hoklo was suppressed just as much as Hakka and the Aboriginal tongues during the Martial Law era, and there is no reason that it should not have a channel of its own. As Taiwan tries to promote and save its dying languages, it is only fair that all of them be treated equally.

It makes less sense given that Hakka TV has been in operation since 2003 and the Aboriginal channel since 2014. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had earmarked NT$3.45 billion for a Hoklo TV headquarters in Kaohsiung, but the project was shelved after the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took over the presidency in 2008.

At last it seemed like the station would finally be established, but last week during the current legislative session, KMT and Non-Partisan Solidarity Union lawmakers attempted to cut or even eliminate the budget.

The good news is that after several delays, a national languages development act passed its third reading at the Legislative Yuan yesterday, which should provide legal backing for the channel’s creation and hopefully silence its critics.

However, it is beyond ironic that KMT lawmakers even attempted to block the channel, as it is the party’s Mandarin-only policies that led to today’s linguistic situation in Taiwan. Even today, more than 31 years after martial law was lifted, in a climate where KMT politicians such as Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) often have to speak broken Hoklo and sing Hoklo songs to appeal to voters, the language is still being opposed for what seem to be political reasons.

Their rationale makes absolutely no sense, especially the arguments coming from Non-Partisan Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin (高金素梅), who, as an Aboriginal, is herself a victim of the government’s past language policies. Would she object if someone said that there was no need for Taiwan Indigenous Television and that Aboriginal-language programs could just be shown on existing channels?

She also expressed problems with the commonly used term “Taiwanese” for Hoklo, saying that the real “Taiwanese” should be Aboriginal languages. While logically that could be true, it is essentially nothing but semantic nitpicking to further her platform, using the common tactic of ethnic division that has plagued this nation’s political scene.

Taiwan has witnessed linguistic extinction firsthand with the disappearance of a number of Aboriginal languages, and not letting any more die out should be a shared vision for all politicians, regardless of political affiliation.

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