Friday, April 17, 2009

Ethnic equality can only come through Language equality

Taiwan is a diverse nation. The homeland of the Austronesian peoples, it still can claim the greatest diversity of Austronesian languages around the world. But native speakers are dwindling fast with the relentless onslaught of a China-focussed Chinese Nationalist Party that has always ruled the legislature since it seized power in Taiwan in 1945. It organized the educations system to promote a "Greater China" ideology that sought to erase any loyalty to local cultures in Taiwan -- basically any non-Mandarin cultures -- whether Hakka, Hoklo, or any of the 13 14 government-recognized Austronesian people groups in Taiwan. The school systems around the nation are still functionally restricted to Mandarin-only instruction through both momentum of the education culture of the "prestige" Mandarin environment, and also through the culpable neglect or even suppression of any attempts to expand a non-Mandarin learning environment.

A recent example in the legislature where the ruling party was confronted for its elitist dismissive attitude towards Taiwan's non-Mandarin languages

Under the Tân Chúi-píⁿ (Chen Shui-bian) administration (2000-2008), a one-hour per week mother-tongue class was added in the elementary school. But that is not enough. Information and knowledge must be taught in other languages. Works must be written and read in other languages for the languages to be preserved in this era.

"What are the most important factors in the survival and spread of a language? The crucial point is to sustain and grow the speaker community. This may be done by natural growth in a fertile environment -- which may be quite an exploitative and objectively ruthless process, if the environment has been obtained through conquest and dispossession. But it may also be achieved through taking over another advanced community, as French spread in the 18-19th-century Russian high society; there, competence in a new language, symbolic of interest in new developments, was no threat to the substrate language, Russian. Provided that their speaker populations stay physically robust, the only threat to a language comes from a decline in speaker attitudes toward it: speakers must associate it with a least some of their daily needs or higher aspirations..." (emphasis added) - Nicholas Ostler in an interview with the California Literary Review, 6/1/2005

Ethnic equality will only come through language equality. Until that happens, there will be an inexorable degradation and exponentially decreasing population of any cultures other than the current prestige language and culture in Taiwan.

Chi Chun-chieh, Associate Professor at the Institute of Ethnic Relations at National Dong Hwa University write on the issue in a recent opinion editorial.

What can be done since the KMT-controlled legislature is intransigent on this issue?

* Use non-government organizations to give respect, honor and prestige to the non-Mandarin language teachers in Taiwan.

* Encourage each non-Mandarin language-community to develop their own wikipedia language encyclopedia. There is already one for Hoklo Taiwanese.

* Organize students in mother-tongue classes and societies in upper elementary, middle, and high school to regularly add entries to both wikipedias and wiktionaries. (As these students see a result and a value, they will continue to pursues studies in their mother-tongues.)

* Develop video production student organizations to produce Youtube reports and video pieces in their non-Mandarin mother tongues. (N.G.O's could award prizes such as computers and video cameras and editing software to poor communities specifically for student-produced video material in the non-Mandarin mother-tongues of Taiwan.)

* Set-up publishing funds and prizes for non-Mandarin literature in Taiwan.

* Create non-Mandarin bloggers associations to cross link and encourage weekly blogging articles in the non-Mandarin languages of Taiwan.

* Set up joint non-profit mother-tongue language and cultural promotion offices around Taiwan. Have these offices to be provide libraries and also the available purchase of non-Mandarin mother-tongue language material -- video, audio, and printed matter. However large or small these offices are, special attention should be paid to the interior design to instill a high class, high culture, prestige to these languages that they will be valued.

* Create a nation-wide catalogue and online ordering center for non-Mandarin mother-tongue works.

* Christian churches need to also take responsibility, because they are one element of community-level organization. For the Christian population in Taiwan, translate the children's catechism (question & answer) from Mandarin and English into the non-Mandarin languages, In non-Mandarin churches around the nation, have part of the curriculum for the children to be catechism drills. They will learn both language and Bible teachings. For the youth, help them learn and encourage singing and Bible reading in the mother-tongue.



Formosan at Heart said...

14 recognized tribes
I like your posts, especially today's about language. Something I have been exploring too

David said...

Your suggestions are very good. Civil society really does need to engage more and take responsibility for this issue.

It is interesting to note that the DPP has English and Japanese versions of its website, but no romanised Hoklo.

Mark S. said...

"Ethnic equality can only come through Language equality" has an evil twin: everybody speaking Mandarin. But if the languages other than Mandarin are left to decline more (as they most certainly are, including Hoklo) and Mandarin eventually takes over, I think it's unlikely that ethnic equality would be achieved.

Groups supporting Hoklo and additional languages other than Mandarin need to stop approaching the topic as if those languages were limited to something to communicate with agong and ama and people in the countryside. Those languages have the potential to be just as relevent to city life, astrophysics, poetry, the high-tech industry, etc., as any other language. People need to stop limiting the spheres for them.

Richard said...

I think you hit the main point here: The school systems around the nation are still functionally restricted to Mandarin-only instruction through both momentum of the education culture of the "prestige" Mandarin environment, and also through the culpable neglect or even suppression of any attempts to expand a non-Mandarin learning environment.

The main problem I see with Taiwanese gaining ground is that there is still a sense of bias against speaking Taiwanese, as if it makes you a lesser person or of lower class. Like you mentioned, Mandarin is perceived as language used in businesses, education, or upper-class, prestige, etc. Only when we lose this misconception can Taiwanese start to gain ground. Over the past few months, I've come to realize there are actually quite a bit of people in Taipei who can speak Taiwanese, but they will still respond back in Mandarin, even when I speak to them in Taiwanese. Even though it is true that we mainly used Taiwanese growing up in our house, or maybe at the markets, I think we need to stop giving these reasons as to why one is able to speak Taiwanese. Yes, I can speak Taiwanese because that's what I spoke growing up, but even now, I'm still learning new Taiwanese vocabulary on my own.

Aì Tâi-oân said...

Thanks for your comments. I hope we (bloggers, civic groups, concerned citizens, non-profits, wealthy businessmen, people in local, regional and national government to the extent they have influence) can move from discussion to implementation.

Aì Tâi-oân said...

The blog Sia Tai-oan e Oe is attempting to encourage the writing of non-Mandarin languages. You'll note the links to other blogs that actually blog in those languages -- the most are in Hoklo Taiwanese, but there are also some Hakka posts. I have seen almost no new writing in Austronesian languages except for some song-writers and also some language resources produced by Austronesian Taiwanese Presbyterian Church pastors, and a few academics.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "equality"? Nothing is likely to topple Mandarin's position at the top of the totem pole...and the notion that the various aboriginal tongues can achieve some sort of parity with Mandarin and Taiwanese is fantasy. At best, they might manage to eek out a marginal survival somewhere.

A Taiwanese-medium university might be do-able, but is there really a demand for that? If so, then tell the political types to go for it and organize one. Hakka seems to subsists mainly on handouts from the government.

Either an Independent nation or cultural death. said...

The note of disdain and dismissal from Anonymous, while seemingly pragmatic, is actually an attitude that will impoverish all humanity. Seriously. This kind of pragmatism is never found to be pragmatic when calculating the complete picture of unintended consequences and lost human culture and expression.

This kind of attitude is the same as -- let's all be pragmatic and only produce one paint color for all the houses in a new housing development like they do in massive 40,000-unit home developments in suburbs southeast of Chicago. And use the same housing style for every unit. Yes, cheaper in the short run, but the quality of life, the effect on a degradation of creativity, and the psychological toll on those residents was not calculated in the sale price.

Compare the Japanese era to the KMT era. Compare the architecture, the planning, the development. The KMT trashed Taiwan with their "pragmatism." In Taiwan, we've already lost so much of the beauty and urban design of the Japanese era to corrupt land deals, squatter camps, etc.

And the average citizen was affected. Under the Japanese compared to the KMT era, the Taiwanese were more sophisticated, clean, diligent, advanced. Under KMT rule, Cha-bu-dwo-ism became the norm.

All I can say is that at least Taiwan escaped the disgusting cultural, environmental, societal, moral, and developmental degradation caused by Communist rule in our neighbor nation of China.

All those communist concrete developments in Moscow that spread south to China. Foreigners visit Taiwan, and think it is a bit dirty. Then they go to China. And in comparison, Taiwan seems so clean, and they miss it so much. You want to live there among the communists? It's pragmatic, is it not?

The very reason that many people -- who are more comfortable with Mandarin because of their schooling -- will still switch into Taiwanese to express certain things is that Mandarin does not serve the purpose for expressing deep emotions, vivid thoughts, or capturing the right description or mood for the expression.

In fact, I think the only reason Mandarin can compete as a language is that it has had government backing for fifty years, that created a stunted development of the other languages when dealing with new concepts of the modern world.

Every language is valuable because it is different and it carries cultural elements lacking in other languages. Though effective in some areas, Mandarin is a very impoverished language in many other areas.

It is certainly workable to have communities learn two languages all the way up from elementary school through college. Taiwan would be a better nation if it were so.

And actually it is certain that the other languages of Taiwan are more capable of handling certain kinds of thought and realms of creativity than Mandarin.

There is no fantasy in this article. There is a consideration of what would be best for Taiwan, and then a will to begin the process.

American Independence would have been considered fantasy in 1750, yet it was reality but a few decades later. The Continental Congress did not even have an army or any money or any national government system with which to fight the largest military naval power in the world at the time, yet they considered it. It was not fantasy to them, but simply necessity where the problems of the situation would have to be worked out by an people full of ingenuity.

If you love Mandarin's ascendency, move to China. There are enough Mandarin speakers there. It would be much better for Taiwan to only have Mandarin as a secondary or tertiary language in a multi-lingual society.

If you actually are just trying to think through the details, that is welcome. Please present the problems to be solved without the dismissive tone, and then that will contribute to a discussion that will lead to solving the problems on the path to ethnic equality and linguistic equality.

Taiwan could become much more culturally rich. And its beauty and quality of life could be the gem of Asia. Not fantasy -- but a workable reality. If only we could remove those currently in power, those who cling to that insane China-focus that will relegate Taiwan to a backwater neglected place where all the action happens in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

Taiwan truly can be a leader, a center culture with an outward focus, not an edge culture or vassal state of the Self-centered Middle Kingdom.

Taiwan is Hawaiiki, the original homeland of the Austronesian peoples. And it has within it to become their leader and heartland.

Taiwan is the leader of Hakka and Hoklo culture, the one place where it may not only be preserved but has a potential to thrive.

I'm proud to be a part of this nation.

I'll be more happy when it uses its rightful name and replaces a party flag with a new national flag, and a party anthem with a new national multi-language anthem like Verdant Taiwan.

That's one of two futures awaiting Taiwan at an nearing crossroads.

Anonymous said...

Very beautifully put, "Either an Independent nation or cultural death". Please write some more, if you can.