Wed, Sep 04, 2019 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Long way to go on mother tongues

When Public Television Service’s Taigi channel began broadcasting on July 1, it became the latest Taiwanese mother-language TV station, following the establishments of Hakka TV and Taiwan Indigenous Television.

The newly established Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) channel is a milestone on the road toward promoting and reinvigorating Taiwanese languages and cultures.

Now Taiwanese can watch programs broadcast in their own tongue, which will hopefully help integrate these languages into daily life; allow the public to better understand and appreciate Taiwan’s culture, history and arts; and cultivate a collective affinity for the land and its people.

Taiwan is a multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural society. The Aboriginal languages, given their ancient origins and diversity, are considered a valuable cultural asset for the world’s Austronesian peoples.

Taiwanese languages such as Hoklo, Hakka and the Aboriginal languages have been suppressed by foreign regimes and become minority languages, gradually withering away. Some of these languages are even classified by UNESCO as extinct.

Language is the root of culture. When one becomes extinct, a culture loses its roots and there will be nothing to be passed down to future generations, making it difficult for people to understand, appreciate and inherit the wisdom of their ancestors. It is a truism that when a language dies out, a culture dies with it.

This problem involves more than just Aboriginal languages. Hakka and Hoklo are also in crisis. A survey found that young people generally cannot understand or use their mother tongues; half of schoolchildren in Taipei, in particular, are unable to speak Hoklo.

In the Internet age, the ability to use an extra language brings an edge and there is no reason for people not be fluent in their own mother tongue.

In addition, English proficiency among young people is deteriorating and the vast majority of young Taiwanese can only use Mandarin to communicate and understand the outside world.

People who grew up during the Japanese colonial era — also known as the “Doosan” generation (多桑世代) — are generally fluent in their mother languages, Japanese and Mandarin. It is evident that Taiwanese young people do not perform as well in general language competence.

Ongoing anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong are food for thought for Taiwanese. Footage shows young Hong Kongers taking to the streets and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) giving their opinions in Cantonese or in English.

Which Taiwanese politician can use their mother tongue to communicate with the public without mingling in Mandarin phrases in front of cameras?

Twenty-two years have passed since Hong Kong’s sovereignty was “returned” to China, but Hong Kongers have not forgotten their mother language, even as they continue to make the territory more international. Taiwan should take a page out of Hong Kongers’ book.

Education is a crucial factor in this. Taiwanese languages survived 50 years of Japanese colonial rule, despite a “national language movement” promoting Japanese.

The foreign Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime that ruled Taiwan after World War II forcefully implemented a policy of prioritizing only Mandarin. During the years when Sinicization dominated the nation’s education and culture, speaking a mother tongue became taboo in school. Whenever schoolchildren were found speaking the languages of their places of birth or non-Mandarin dialects, they would receive demerits, be fined or forced to wear a sign around their necks with the phrase: “I must speak Chinese.”

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