It is discrimination against Aborigines and other minority groups to say that the study of mother tongues at school is a waste of resources, an academic said on Friday in response to Lee Chia-fen (李佳芬), the wife of Kaohsiung Mayor and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), who called the Ministry of Education’s efforts to promote mother language learning at school “a waste of time.”
The Institute of Linguistics of Academia Sinica academic, who asked not to be named, said that from the perspective of linguistic research and academics, programs to study mother tongues can boost the self-confidence of ethnic groups and enhance self-identification with their own culture, while leaving it up to families would not produce the same results.
“Language diversity is a valuable part of Taiwan’s heritage as a multicultural society with diverse ethnic groups,” the academic said. “It is analogous to biodiversity, as all animals and plants, no matter how rare or common, have inherent worth.”
“With biodiversity, the health of an ecosystem can be conserved,” he said, adding that “the right to learn Aboriginal and other languages and the right to speak in their mother tongue are key human rights.”
“UNESCO has been promoting mother tongue-based bilingual and multilingual education globally,” he said.
In sociolinguistics, if a language is limited by government policy or societal factors, then its vocabulary will not increase, he said, adding: “Such a language’s vitality will decline and wither as it heads toward extinction.”
“Therefore, it is a form of discrimination to say that mother tongues are best taught in the home, because it restricts the use of Taiwan’s many languages,” he said.
The National Languages Development Act (國家語言發展法) stipulates that all of Taiwan’s ethnic groups with their own languages should be considered equal, and “there should be no discrimination, and no restriction on the use of all the national languages of Taiwan,” he said.
“Many people have no confidence speaking their mother tongues, as they believe they cannot adequately express their thoughts, or they are low-class languages,” he said. “However, these attitudes are the result of past government policies that restricted their use.”
Citing Hong Kong, where Cantonese is used at all levels of education, the academic said that the same model could be “used for Hoklo [commonly known as Taiwanese], Hakka and Aboriginal languages at our schools.”
“When Taiwan’s languages can put down roots and grow through education programs, self-confidence in ethnic identity will increase and the languages will expand in other environments, elevating identification with mother tongues,” he said. “Such results would not be achieved by learning at home only.”
“Fluency in a mother tongue can help with learning other languages and studying several languages at the same time does not cause confusion, nor diminish learning ability,” he said, adding that these issues are well understood among linguistic researchers globally.
“The cultural roots of an ethnic group are found in the mother tongue. If the language disappears, the culture also dies out,” he said.
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