Save Aboriginal languages

Sat, Feb 03, 2001 - Page 8

Paul Li's (李壬癸) plea for the survival of Aboriginal languages (We must fight to save Taiwan's languages, Feb. 2, page 12) was no doubt sincere, but his article did not provide a single practical suggestion to that end. This might be because there aren't any.

How do Aboriginal languages stand a chance when the majority of Aboriginal parents are reluctant to actively teach their children what they know? Or when those languages and cultures are passed over by children attracted to the benefits of fluency in Mandarin or Hokkien? What does Li suggest be done to counter these obstacles in the case of Taiwan? But we shouldn't consider compli-city in language loss to be the preserve of indigenous people themselves. Let it not be forgotten that while the KMT promoted the denigration and destruction of Aboriginal languages for around 40 years -- even to the extent of banning translated Bibles -- the Academia Sinica's capable linguists and ethnologists, handsomely compensated by state (ie, the KMT) money and given privileged access to restricted mountain areas, carefully studied those languages and cultures and recorded them for posterity. But when it came to opposing destructive government policy or pushing concrete programs to save the objects of their research from extinction, in practical terms academic personnel maintained a rather deafening silence. Forgive me, but all I see now is crocodile tears.

Martin Williams

Sydney, Australia