Retired teacher Hung Wei-jen (洪惟仁) received an award from the Ministry of Education yesterday for outstanding contribution to Taiwanese native languages in light of his nearly three-decade-long effort to map the nation’s linguistic diversity.
Hung, 67, has nearly completed a project to produce the first comprehensive language map of Taiwan.
He said his work on the project is into its 29th year and is now entering its final phase: preparation for publication sometime next year.
The award represented an about-face by the government as during the Martial Law era, Hung was jailed for six years as a political prisoner.
While in graduate school, he had campaigned for freedom and democracy, and advocated the overthrow of the repressive Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government, Hung said.
“For that kind of talk, I got arrested and thrown in jail. So I was on Green Island (綠島) for six years,” he said.
“As a political prisoner, I could not get a job when later released from prison. So I began to study the nation’s native languages, which was my passion. Later I studied for a doctorate at National Tsing Hua University when I was 50. At 57, I obtained my doctorate,” he said.
He took up teaching at National Taichung University of Education and remained there until his retirement.
“While working at Academia Sinica, I initiated a project to produce the world’s very first language map of Taiwan. My research team and I traveled throughout the country, from the northern tip to the southern tip. Field research and actual household visits are needed to study the linguistic and geographic distribution of Taiwanese [also known as Hoklo], Hakka and Aboriginal languages,” Hung said.
His team made extensive and detailed surveys to record the languages spoken by people in villages and townships throughout the nation. Through the process, the retired teacher said the team uncovered many interesting things.
“For example, in past records, Hsinchu County’s Sinfong Township (新豐) resident’s were said to speak the Hakka’s Sihsian dialect (四縣). However, our field visits found people there spoke Hakka’s new Hailu dialect (海陸). For supporting evidence, we went to the local cemeteries to verify the chronology of family records,” Huang said.
He also found that Yunlin County’s Siluo Township (西螺) had many Hakka speakers in the past, but the language is seldom heard there nowadays.