Local language preservation activists demonstrated outside the legislature yesterday, criticizing the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for deleting a NT$40 million (US$1.1 million) budget for proficiency tests in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) earlier this month.
“Hakka and Aboriginal languages are in a critical situation at this moment, and Hoklo is not far from it either — so we need to save it now,” said Tainan City Councilor Lee Wen-cheng (李文正) of the Democratic Progressive Party, who led the demonstration.
“What the KMT is doing right now is trying to murder our language and destroy our culture,” he told the crowd.
KMT Legislator Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) initiated the motion to delete the NT$40 million budget submitted by the Ministry of Education to hold Hoklo proficiency tests this year. The motion was backed by the KMT caucus and quickly passed. Hung said at the time that she was only trying to save taxpayers’ money.
“I’m not against preserving languages, but the education ministry has other budgets related to languages and cultures,” she said. “Besides, we don’t have enough good teachers and there are too many different versions of materials.”
The legislators’ move upset local language preservation activists.
“There are language proficiency tests for Aboriginal and Hakka languages — we even have an English proficiency test in this country, where English is not a native language,” Taiwan Romanization Association chairman Ho Sin-han (何信翰) said yesterday. “Why can’t we have a Hoklo proficiency test?”
The Council of Indigenous Peoples spent more than NT$110 million on Aboriginal language proficiency tests, Ho said.
“Is NT$40 million really too much for KMT?” he said.
Tiunn Hak-khiam (張學謙), a professor of Chinese language and literature at National Taitung University, agreed with Ho.
“If saving money is really so important, why does the government want to spend more than NT$1 billion to change the Romanization on road signs to Hanyu Pinyin? We could just use 10 percent of that NT$1 billion for the Hoklo proficiency tests,” he said.
Li Khin-huann (李勤岸), a cofounder of the Global Coalition for Taiwanese Languages, said he was concerned about the quality of Hoklo language education without the proficiency tests.
“If we want a well-established Hoklo language education, we need certified teachers, and a proficiency test would be a good measurement for the teachers,” Li said.
“I’m worried how far a quality Hoklo language education can go without a well-established proficiency test,” Li said.
The ministry originally planned to require all Hoklo teachers to pass the proficiency test by 2011.
No one from the KMT caucus came out to take the demonstrators’ petition.
However, Deputy Minister of Education Wu Tsai-shun (吳財順) met with them and promised the ministry would still try to organize a Hoklo proficiency test on a smaller scale by getting money from different departments.