Wed, Mar 13, 2002 - Page 2 News List

TSU expands language scheme

MULTILINGUAL In order to avoid offending ethnic groups, the party has proposed including Hakka and Aboriginal languages on its list of official national languages

By Lin Mei-chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

The TSU plans to amend its proposal to designate Hokkien as a national language to include Hakka and Aboriginal languages.

The party last week proposed making Hokkien a second national language alongside Mandarin.

But critics of the proposal said the measure overlooked other languages spoken in Taiwan and was culturally insensitive.

The TSU's Central Executive Committee yesterday amended the proposal, which was first raised by party lawmaker Cheng Chen-lung (程振隆).

Cheng's proposal was to elevate Hokkien to national-language status, but made no mention of other languages.

The lawmaker had originally put forth the idea to ease tensions between the nation's disparate ethnic groups by acknowledging Taiwan as a multicultural community.

Taiwan, as a democratic society, should follow the lead of countries such as Singapore, Switzerland and Canada by recognizing multiple languages, Cheng said.

Still, Cheng's proposal drew protests from opposition politicians, who said that the idea exacerbated ethnic tensions by failing to respect Hakka and Aboriginal languages.

"The public should view the language issue from a new and broader perspective," TSU lawmaker Mark Ho (何敏豪) said yesterday.

"There is no need to politicize the matter."

Ho said the party's goal was to seek equality for the different languages spoken in Taiwan.

Cheng said that the TSU would have to push for his initiative to become a part of government policy before it can become effective. No language has the government's imprimatur or is codified as the official language through law, he said.

Mandarin is the de-facto official language because the KMT ruled Taiwan for more than 50 years, Cheng said.

Taiwan, a country of 23 million, is made up of Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, Hakka and 10 Aboriginal tribes.

Cheng said that 75 percent of the people speak Hokkien, 10 percent speak Hakka and 1.7 percent speak an Aboriginal language.

Nearly everyone speaks Mandarin because the language was taught in schools for more than five decades of KMT rule. Government officials treated Hokkien as a vulgar tongue spoken by the nescient lower class.

Many adults in Taiwan remember being penalized for speaking Hokkien at schools, and speaking "flawless" Mandarin was considered the highest desideratum.

Until a few years ago, Taiwanese were ridiculed for speaking Mandarin with a Hokkien accent.

After the DPP took power in 2000, negative connotations associated with Hokkien began to subside. The majority of DPP members are Taiwanese. Hokkien is largely spoken by government officials, including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

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