Tue, Sep 03, 2019 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTER ]

Speaking Taiwanese is pride

As a foreigner who has studied in Taipei, lived and worked in New Taipei City and Taichung, I am shocked to see a spite toward the language of Taiwan, as evidenced by the editorial about the use of Hoklo during a college meeting (“Speaking Hoklo not the new smoking,” Aug. 21, page 8).

It is not the first such contempt I have witnessed of certain Taiwanese over the years. Hoklo or Southern Hokkien or Taiwanese or Minnan or however you would like to refer to this language, is the soul of Taiwan. It is this language that constituted the largest group of Chinese settlers four centuries ago and it is this language that has evolved together with Taiwan, throughout different times.

As a Dutch citizen, I am very well aware of the contribution of my ancestors to this historic reality. Where in the Western Hemisphere black slaves were transported from Africa to America as a source of cheap labor, the same pattern occurred in China, where the Dutch East India Company used Chinese people for labor in Dutch Formosa. Had not it been for this historical occurrence, perhaps “Taiwanese” would not have been a language that, to a certain degree, can be considered as a dialect of Mandarin.

During Japanese colonization, Japanese became the official language on the island and speaking Taiwanese was considered an offense. After World War II, Japan relinquished sovereignty over all its overseas territories and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) installed the Republic of China on Taiwan. The return of Chinese control paradoxically did not improve the situation of the Taiwanese language.

Throughout the White Terror era, speaking Taiwanese was a criminal offense and penalties were inflicted upon violators. The Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime was morbidly afraid of a Taiwanese independence movement that could jeopardize chances of retaking the mainland, and silencing the language of the Taiwanese was the most logical way to achieve that result.

The damage caused to the Taiwanese language during the past 40 years is almost irreversible, but luckily for Taiwan, times have changed.

It took Taiwanese a gigantic political metamorphosis in the past 30 years to achieve democracy, freedom of speech and the right to speak their own language.

The Taiwanese language has beautiful sounds and it carries some quite interesting history about the island. It is a shame that there are still people on this island that compare it to smoking and other shameful habits.

When I first arrived in central Taiwan in the town of Shalu (沙鹿), I noticed that almost everybody aged 40 or older spoke Taiwanese. Speaking only Mandarin at that time, this prompted me to get conversational in Taiwanese. This process has allowed me to see a remarkable side of Taiwan that arguably very few expats get to see. The reward of being able to speak Taiwanese cannot be expressed in words.

Taiwanese should take pride in their culture, history and language and should not let anyone belittle that, for it is the soul of the island.

Nobody — not the Mainlanders, not the Japanese, not the foreigners and not the other Taiwanese — should look down on this linguistic variation.

Personally, I am happy to see the focus on Taiwan’s cultures, also the Aboriginal ones, flourish again. There cannot be enough songs and literature in the native language of the Taiwanese.

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