Fri, Aug 09, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Banning Hoklo in public settings

By Koeh Ian-lim 郭燕霖

On July 30, the National Taiwan University (NTU) Cooperative Shop convened a board of directors’ meeting. Board director Sun Phok-ju spoke in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) during the meeting, but was ordered to stop by chairperson Shih Hsiu-hui (施秀惠).

Shih cited a resolution passed by the board in the previous meeting on June 14, when director Jerome Geaun (官俊榮), an NTU professor, proposed that board meetings be conducted in Mandarin.

At the July 30 meeting, Geaun compared speaking Hoklo to smoking cigarettes, saying: “You have the liberty to smoke, but you cannot infringe on other people’s liberty, which is why the government set up the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法) and non-smoking areas.”

Geaun said that although he opposes speaking Hoklo in public settings, he does not oppose Sun speaking Hoklo in private.

This raises the question of whether comparing speaking Hoklo to smoking cigarettes is reasonable or a matter of comparing apples and oranges.

If Geaun is right, should the Legislative Yuan, following Geaun’s logic, pass a “Hoklo prevention act” designating Hoklo-prohibited areas in the same way that there are areas where smoking is prohibited, for example, Public Television Service’s (PTS) Hoklo channel, which is using state power to showcase Hoklo culture?

It also raises the question of why Mandarin is allowed when speaking in public, but not Hoklo.

How would Geaun feel if Sun had proposed that board meetings should be conducted in Hoklo, and if the resolution were passed, he would no longer be allowed to speak Mandarin in public?

Article 3 of the National Languages Development Act (國家語言發展法), passed on Dec. 25 last year, states that “national languages” refer to the “natural languages” used by all Taiwanese ethnic groups and peoples — Hoklo, Hakka and the Aboriginal languages — as well as sign language.

Article 4 states that all national languages are equal, and Article 11 stipulates that Taiwanese can use the national language of their choice when participating in administrative, legislative and judicial procedures in government agencies and institutes.

Geaun’s proposal is a serious contravention of the aforementioned articles, but the act does not stipulate punishments. This means that the act of using Mandarin to suppress Hoklo — as Shih and Geaun did — is not controlled by the law.

This creates a legal loophole that someone with an ulterior motive could use to suppress local languages.

Apart from verbal condemnations, the nation needs additional measures to curb such cultural bullying. For example, Article 19 of the Environmental Education Act (環境教育法) stipulates that all public employees, teachers and high-school students, must take at least four hours of environmental education each year.

How about following this example and formulating an article in the national languages act that demands at least four hours of national language education every year?

Or consider the punishment for contraventions of the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act, which states that offenders shall be fined “repeatedly and continuously for every single violation” until the contravention is corrected.

Perhaps the government should follow this example and set up a regulation to punish offenders of the national languages act.

Koeh Ian-lim is vice chairman of the Taiwan Teachers’ Union.

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