When Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, visited Yining Aboriginal community in Taitung County last week, he reiterated that children would study their native languages at home and that only Chinese and English should be taught in schools.
This clearly contravenes the National Languages Development Act (國家語言發展法) and infringes on students’ rights to learn their native language.
As one’s native tongue is a resource for language learning, and because a lack of native language education in schools would cause these languages to die out, the Ministry of Education long ago implemented a policy focused on native languages, Mandarin and English, in that order.
Han is clearly standing things on their head when he asks that students hang their native languages at the door when in school. He ignores students’ rights to native language education and native language as an important learning resource.
A more important issue is that Han is ignoring Aboriginal peoples’ willingness to demand native language education.
A 2004 social perception survey by Academia Sinica found that 65 percent of respondents supported native language education in schools. The strongest support was found among the Hakka community, where support reached 74 percent.
In 1992, a report by the same institution showed that among Aboriginal communities, 68 percent felt that the ban on speaking an Aboriginal language at school was unreasonable, and three quarters approved of native language education in schools.
When native language education for the indigenous community was abolished at Hawaii University, the community rose up in protest, carrying banners that read “You cannot cut off our tongues” and demanding that their right to learn their native language be restored.
Taiwan’s indigenous communities should follow their example and become native language warriors fighting for their right to learn their native tongues.
Tiun Hak-khiam is a professor in the Chinese literature department at National Taitung University and a member of the board of the Taiwan Languages and Literature Society.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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