Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Pan Wei-kang’s (潘維剛) recent comments that forcing students to learn “local languages” such as Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Hakka and other Aboriginal languages would “only cause friction among ethnic groups” has been criticized by the opposition, who accused Pan of being discriminatory toward mother tongues.
Pan made the comments at a meeting of the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee on Wednesday last week when she questioned whether the Ministry of Education’s policy regarding mother tongue promotion was misguided.
Pan was of the mind the nation should focus more on teaching English to better students’ competitive edge, adding that having a unified national language benefits the nation as a whole.
Pan used Chinese historical figures Qin Shihhuang (秦始皇), who unified the language and methods of measurement after conquering six other nations at the end of the Warring States Period, as an example of how a unified language made China stronger, adding that her native tongue is Mandarin Chinese.
Her remarks riled opposition legislators, with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Ho Hsin-chun (何欣純) saying Pan’s statements made it seem that speaking in Hoklo is degrading, adding that her statements also implied that people who speak Hoklo do not have any class.
“The ministry should support multi-language learning and continue the development of mother tongue courses,” Ho said.
While it is true that state oppression had limited the number of people who can speak Hoklo, to force students to learn the language based on a rectification policy or transitional justice is unacceptable, Pan said, adding that in so doing the policy would only cause friction among ethnic groups
DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) criticized Pan’s response as openly discriminatory, adding that Pan had the wrong concept of mother tongues.
Local languages have always been defined as Hoklo, Hakka and other Aboriginal languages, but the education of these languages has not been given due importance, Chen said.
Former minister of education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) said that local languages were to be made mandatory for junior-high students and that promise must be upheld, even if there is a new minister, Chen added.
DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君) said there must be respect for varying definitions of the concept of “mother tongue,” adding that each definition must be given equal weight.
Cheng said no nation has ever attempted to make its own mother tongue extinct.
Without the languages being taught in school, students would not have enough motivation to learn them, Cheng said, adding that with local languages rarely used in daily interactions, the languages may slowly die off.
Minister of Education Wu Ssu-hua (吳思華) said that implementation of local language courses in elementary schools would be difficult, with the ministry seeking to increase the number of certified teachers who are able to teach local languages and other cultural courses.
Despite the decision by the course evaluation committee to make local language classes optional for junior-high students, the ministry said it would seek to push for the classes to be included in holiday courses.