Cabbie on a mission to promote native languages

By Hung Ting-hung and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 - Page 3

A taxi driver working in Greater Kaohsiung, worried that the Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), Hakka and Aboriginal languages are gradually dying off, has been giving out flyers to customers urging parents to respect their children’s right to inherit their native language by using it with them.

He also thinks the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) may owe Taiwanese compensation for enforcing a Mandarin-first policy for decades.

Pan Ching-hsiung (潘清雄), 65, who was born in Pingtung County’s Yanpu Township (鹽埔), has been driving a cab since he was 34. He said that in many conversations with his passengers, he found that although they knew how to speak Hoklo, they chose not to.

Curious about such reluctance, Pan began his very own survey of passengers 13 years ago. To reduce awkwardness and lessen chances of conflict, Pan said he often started by asking his passengers, in Hoklo, why they didn’t talk to their children in Hoklo.

Although most replied that it was because teaching Hoklo is difficult, Pan said he suspected that the real reason was that they deemed it classier to use Mandarin.

Once he met a mother who used English to talk to her child and Pan said he took the opportunity to suggest to her that her child was still young and could learn English later and that every-day conversation should be conducted in native languages.

“Once you learn how to speak a native language when you are young, it is with you forever,” he said. “Therefore the sequence of language learning should be be oral fluency in native languages, then Mandarin and then a foreign language.”

To promote the importance of a balance in learning three languages — a native language, Mandarin and a foreign language — Pan registered a trademark with the Intellectual Property Office last year under the Tungling Tri-language Balanced Learning Kindergarten.

Pan’s intent was not to found a kindergarten, but to promote the idea that parents should be required to speak in their native language with their children in order to preserve the native languages.

Pan said the promotion of Mandarin by the former KMT administration during the Martial Law era (from May 20, 1949, to July 15, 1987) was an erroneous policy that has ended up threatening the viability of native languages.

Pan said he has asked the Taiwanese Mother Language League to consider establishing a committee to seek compensation from the KMT for the Taiwanese who have lost the right to speak or inherit their native languages.