Monday, February 23, 2009

International Mother-Tongue Day


Saturday, February 21 was United Nations designated International Mother-Tongue Day. The Ministry of Education held an event to give out awards for those who worked to advance the cause of Local Languages -- Hoklo Taiwanese, Hakfa and the Austronesian languages of Taiwan. It felt a little bit strange that an event was held in a building on Heping East Road in Taipei where formerly much energy devoted to the suppression or even eradication of languages other than Mandarin.

13 Hoklo Taiwanese language award recipients included Tīⁿ Ji-gio̍k 鄭兒玉 author of many poems and songs. Among the most famous are (1) Taiwan's as of yet unofficial national anthem: "Tâi-ôan Chhùi-chhiⁿ" or "Verdant Taiwan" set to music by the most famous Taiwanese composer of his generation -- Siau, Thài-jiân 蕭泰然 . [This national anthem has versions in Hoklo Taiwanese, Hakka, Amis and Mandarin] and also (2) "Lán sī Tâi-oân Chú-lâng" or "We the People are the Sovereigns of Taiwan" now with versions in Hoklo Taiwanese, Hakka, Paiwan, Tayal, Amis and Mandarin

10 Hakka received awards -- the majority, elementary school teachers.

Only 3 Austronesian teachers received awards -- all of them from the Tayal Austronesian people. A Tayal teacher and pastor from the mountain villages of I-Lan as well as a Tayal teacher from the mountains in Taoyuan both told me how they were very disappointed that there were not others from other Austronesian language groups present. They each told me -- there should be thirteen people up there from every single Austronesian people group in Taiwan.

Every award recipient with whom I spoke -- Hoklo, Hakka and Tayal alike -- told me that the Ministry of Education's policy of having a mother-tongue language class once per week for one hour at each elementary school was insufficient. They agreed that the next generation of children need to learn to read and write the mother-tongue and that different school subjects and classes should be taught using the mother-tongue for it to not disappear as an extant language within a few generations.

Several quite excellent music and culture groups performed in between award presentations. I was particularly happy to see young children very expertly performing with puppets, voice and instrumentation classical Hoklo Taiwanese puppet theater. Additionally a Rukai female vocal artist accompanied by a guitarist sang one Rukai song and one of her own Mandarin-language composition. The Rukai song was a traditional one. It does not seem many new songs are being composed in the language. An entire team of young men and women Tayal dancers and percussionists performed some traditional Tayal chants. One cutesy bubble-gum pop-princess-type young Hakka woman sang a Hakka song for children, but she kept using a lot of Mandarin to explain things and lead the singing. It says a lot about the failure of the current system if in order to get Hakka children to sing a Hakka song properly, they must be instructed in Mandarin.

There is very little incentive in society for young people to learn any languages other than Mandarin so long as the government continues to elevate Mandarin as the prestige and "national" language and does not accord these other languages respect and equal treatment. How to do so? • Declare all Taiwan's languages "national" languages. • Increase the pay of "local-language" teachers • Implement a policy that at least half the instruction in elementary schools be done in the local language instead of Mandarin. • Rename roads and parks. Encourage the posting of street signs and naming of roads in the local language. Get rid of all those Chung-Shan roads or San-Min roads or Chung-Cheng road-names and let them be replaced in each township with a word or name of a person from their own mother-tongue -- or even the name of the mother-tongue itself. As Taipei has a Ketagalan Boulevard, we should see Kavalan and Tayal Boulevards in I-Lan, etc. What is more, we should be commemorated the names of all of the plains-Austronesian people groups who took on Han surnames and Manchu dress customs and were absorbed -- like the Siraya, Babuza, Pazeh, etc. And in Austronesian areas, roads and parks should be named after historical or famous Austronesian people. • Established endowed professorships at universities for research, study, preservation, and renewal of Austronesian language and culture. • Encourage the writing and publishing of these languages.

The blog, sia-taiwan.blogspot.com was founded precisely to encourage writing in Taiwan's languages other than Mandarin. Here is an article on written Hoklo Taiwanese literature. I myself have begun tackling the great philosophical work of scholar and patriot Chhòa Pôe-hóe 蔡培火 from 1925 Cha'p-hāng Koán-kiàn, "An Opinion on Ten Matters." It was recently republished by the Taiwan Church Press in November of 2008. The entire work is in romanized Taiwanese. Not a single Han Character can be found in its 150 pages.

If you would like to devote resources and time to supporting these non-Mandarin languages in Taiwan, one place you could start would be to contact the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church's General Assembly Headquarters in Taipei. [article on some of its language-promotion work.] Some of the primary work especially among the Austronesian languages is done by Austronesian Presbyterian pastors. Though you might not see them for sale on the first floor bookstore, entire Bibles translated into Austronesian languages can be purchased if asked. I am aware of an Amis Bible and a Tayal Bible, but there is probably access to others. Also, on the 7th floor library, you can get access to the longest running Hoklo Taiwanese newspaper called the Taiwan Church News which until the 1970's was published in the POJ Taiwanese Romanization.

And of course, you can learn to speak one of these local non-"national" languages. With a friendly manner, greet other people and use the local language that you have learned first in conversation. Then if the other person cannot understand, switch to Mandarin. That will show a priority and a prestige and make others feel a lack of knowledge and maybe develop a desire themselves to go learn. (If the world-over all recognize the word "Aloha" from Hawaii, we in Taiwan (Hawaiiki) should at least learn how to give a word of greeting in each and every non-Mandarin language of Taiwan.)

The Maryknoll Language Institute provides one-on-one instruction and publishes Hakka and Hoklo Taiwanese language learning textbooks as well as Taiwanese-English and English Taiwanese dictionaries. The Taipei Language Institute publishes a Taiwanese-English dictionary. These can be found at the Taiwan Shop in Taipei as well as SMC Publishing. Both stores within a short block of each other carry a large selection of works in non-Mandarin languages. You can even find works and dictionaries there of extinct languages of the assimilated Austronesian plains-tribes.

As I compile more links or resources, I'll put them up here.

On the whole we can no longer trust or rely on the government to remedy the situation. We must push them as much as possible, but we need to set up completely separate and distinct non-government bodies to carry the load of promoting the language. We must organize local organizations and especially local communities to make changes themselves in their own schools and daily lives. And in our individual lives, we can take steps each day that might create ripples that grow exponentially in this society to effect change.

- Joel Linton

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Here is an example that the current KMT government is really only concerned with promoting Mandarin and will do only as much as is politically necessary with regard to other languages. "Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) yesterday ... his remark that children should learn mother tongues other than Mandarin at home “instead of taking up too many hours at school.”

1 comment:

Joanna Tân said...

Thanks for your post, Joel. I did not know that the UN had established such a day. Yes, I remember being punished as a child in grammar school in Taiwan for speaking Taiwanese. We all had to speak Mandarin or we would receive demerits. However, when we moved to the States, my parents made a conscious choice to speak Taiwanese at home. It has truly helped me in being able to communicate in Taiwanese. When we went back to Taiwan for the first time, I was 14 years old. I spoke better Taiwanese than pretty much all of my cousins, who lived in Taiwan! It's changed a bit, and now many Taiwanese people are beginning to see the value of preserving Taiwanese as a language and teaching their children Taiwanese.