Mon, Jan 25, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Demographic shift spells language decline

The Hakka language remains a daily form of communication for the elderly, but only 22.8 percent of Hakka between 19 and 29 speak it

By Rosalie Chan  /  Contributing reporter

KEEPING HAKKA CULTURE ALIVE

Although the number of Hakka language users is on the decline, some are delving into their culture through higher education.

Hsieh Ming-heng (謝名恒), 25, grew up in Hsinchu, a Hakka-speaking area, and became interested in learning about his background when he took ethnic studies courses in college.

Hsieh was also inspired by his mother, who encouraged him to speak Hakka, and she was supportive when he decided to pursue a Hakka studies graduate degree at National Central University, the first school in Taiwan with a Hakka studies program.

According to Chang Han-bi (張翰璧), a professor in the university’s Graduate Institute of Hakka Social and Cultural Studies, the undergraduate and graduate programs combined have about 50 students.

Chang, who teaches sociology, said many of her students are Hakka or come from Hakka areas, but hopes that Hakka culture can reach beyond that demographic.

“We don’t want Hakka research to be done only for Hakka people,” Chang said.

Hsieh agrees.

“A culture’s development, change and growth needs new blood,” he said. He added that students should study the language for learning and communication, not only for the sake of its preservation.

But it is not all bad news. According to a Hakka Affairs Council survey, from 2011 to 2014, there was a 6.6 percent increase in people who voluntarily identify as Hakka.

“If you don’t have the a sense of identity,” Liang said, “you won’t think it’s important.”

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