The Council of Indigenous Peoples yesterday asked for more money to preserve endangered languages during a routine Cabinet meeting, but the request was not given an answer immediately.
“Even so, we will not relent in our efforts to preserve our languages, because all dialects of [Taiwan’s] 14 Aboriginal tribes are facing extinction,” Council of Indigenous Peoples Minister Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) said by telephone.
In a briefing presented to the Cabinet meeting, the council said that its efforts to revive endangered languages were subject to funding constraints, because 70 percent of an annual budget of NT$120 million (US$4 million) is spent on language certification exams, subsidies for local governments and the compilation of textbooks and dictionaries.
The council requested more funding to be used in creating Aboriginal language learning environments, training Aboriginal language teachers and promoting the use of Aboriginal languages in the upcoming second stage of the six-year language recovery program scheduled to start in 2014, Sun said.
According to the council, Taiwan’s 14 officially recognized Aboriginal peoples speak about 42 languages and dialects, with 16 of them listed by the UN Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) as endangered or vulnerable in 2009.
UNESCO has designated Atayal, Puyuma, Bunun, Amis, Tsou, Rukai, Paiwan, Da-wu, and Taroko as “definitely endangered” languages, meaning that children no longer learn them as their mother tongue at home.
Saisiyat was classified a “severely endangered language,” meaning that the language is spoken by grandparents and older generations and while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves.
Kavalan and Sakizaya were listed as “critically endangered” because the language is only spoken by grandparents and older generations, and they only speak the language partially and infrequently.
If the budget is not increased, the council will examine the way the current budget is used and make necessary adjustments to “really revitalize the languages,” Sun said.
At a press conference following the Cabinet meeting, Executive Yuan spokesperson Hu Yu-wei (胡幼偉) said that Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) had emphasized the importance of preserving Aboriginal languages and agreed to the view expressed by the council that revitalization of Aboriginal languages is “a constitutional obligation of the nation.”
Chen instructed government agencies to step up coordination efforts to facilitate the learning of Aboriginal languages by Aboriginal children at a young age, Hu said.