Friday, July 17, 2009

Finding that it is Better to Speak more than just Mandarin

Notice how Scotland is dealing with its indigenous language that has been overshadowed by the dominant English. The video is actually subtitled in Basque, a minority language in northern Spain. The video was being shown to encourage what was happening in Scotland to happen in the Basque region of Spain. There are some lessons to be learned for Taiwan.

Being Bi-lingual is Better.

There is Great Inherent Worth in Language Regeneration.

"You have people who support the language and people who feel that too much money is being spent by the Scottish government to preserve a language that is maybe dying."
"The parents here are very focused. They believe in the cognitive development associated with bilingualism."
"Here I am in my fifties and I realize what an enriching experience it has been in my life to actually have been an ... indigenous monoglot Gaelic speaker at age five."
"Gaelic is not something you should put in your pocket; Gaelic is a badge that you should be proud of."

Taiwan should follow Scotland's example by starting schools whether private or public for the native languages of Taiwan.

You can put signs on different stores -- e.g. "Taiwanese is spoken here." "Hakka is spoken here." "Tayal is spoken here." -- Write it in Mandarin, and also in the actual language.

The following phrase was taught to a foreigner recently by Zengrur Valjakas, a seminary student in the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan's Jade Mountain Seminary in Hualian. He learned his mother tongue -- not at school which only teaches Mandarin -- but in a Paiwan Presbyterian Church in Pingtung. He learned to read and write from the Paiwan Bible. He learned because his parents taught him to value the language.

"I ni machaku tiaken ta kai nua kachalishian."
Not -- able to -- I -- language -- of -- mother tongue.
"I am not able to speak my mother tongue." - Paiwan language -- kai na Paiwan

Many think of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan as an ethnic Hoklo Taiwanese church. Everyone always says, "The Presbyterian Church -- they speak Taiwanese, right?"

Actually the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan values every language and culture in Taiwan. And they are taking steps to act on those values. In the April 2009 General Assembly meeting, a motion was passed that requires every pastor before becoming ordained to be able to: 1. Understand, 2. Speak, 3. Read, 4. Write using their mother-tongue (one of Taiwan's non-Mandarin languages.)

There is also a plan to provide teachers of each mother-tongue so classes are available in the churches of each language community in Taiwan.

At a recent symposium this summer, where there was a gathering of over 150 Presbyterian church pastors from many different languages and peoples of Taiwan, you could see that the respect was more than just words: Some of the prayers were in Amis, Tayal, Paiwan -- not just Taiwanese and Mandarin. Presumably if there were more opportunities, you would have heard prayers in Hakka and other Austronesian languages of Taiwan.

It would be good to see other institutions and businesses making the same effort to preserve Taiwan's rich cultures. Let's get other civic and community organizations to join in.

And if you wish to learn your mother tongue, perhaps you should take a walk to your nearby Taiwanese Presbyterian Church and they will put you into contact with a pastor who can speak it and teach it to you.

P.S. On this issue, another Christian group must be mentioned. The Roman Catholic Maryknoll Language Institute is to be commended. Their main campus is in Taichung, but they have a center in Taipei as well as online courses. They currently have text books for Hakka and Hoklo Taiwanese -- with the instructions and explanations in a number of languages -- including English, Korean and Mandarin. Some of the Maryknoll Priests are also fluent in some of the Austronesian languages and could serve as good contacts for any community organizations who wish to renew their community's mother tongue and develop curriculum to teach it in their local schools.


Another endangered language: the Northern Europe arctic Saami language -- "There are approximately 300 words to describe different types of snow and ice." "The authorities have been telling people through many many years through education, the schools, military, administration ... that the Saami language is no good. This is from the thinking that some races and countries are superior to others. This has been so strong that the parents have begun to believe that it might be dangerous, it might be no good, for the children to learn the language. And this is why the parents decided to stop teaching the children. ... now more and more people realize the wrongs -- and they are taking up to teaching the Saami language again."

See how it is being revitalized:


Anonymous said...

Although the Taiwan Presbyterian Church an other organizations have a long history of fighting for social justice in Taiwan, it must also be recognized that much of the work carried out by these organizations is missionary in nature.

Missionary projects are inherently colonial as they identify their object and assess their objects' level of advancement based on their own particular teaching. They then determine that the object can be transformed through the missionary project and transformed into something "better". There is always a gap between the learner and the teacher of the faith and thus an unbridgeable strata of inequality. The initiate is always in doubt as they had to be transformed from something "lesser".

Although many of these missionary projects recorded many indigenous and local customs and languages, they did so from the point of view as a civilizing power and destroyed as much as they saved in the transformational process.

Many plains Aborigine customs are being actively suppressed by the churches as they are regarded as blasphemy.

I would suggest a more objective eye toward these organizations.

Open Mind said...

One should be wary of embracing caricatures of different past historical happening to then become prejudiced against a religion.

The Taiwanese Presbyterian Church is an indigenous Taiwanese church. Its people make their own decisions about the teachings of the Bible and how to apply them in a cultural context. It is their right as surely as it is any culture's right to take new ideas and decide whether to embrace them or reject them. This is a universal human right. Presenting new ideas is a good thing.

The Roman Catholic church, of course, has more direct connection to Rome and one could argue that it is closer to "colonial" on that basis, but this argument is weak.

One must look at the actual practices of those priests, bishops, etc. in Taiwan.

My Roman Catholic Taiwanese language teacher told me -- that originally the leadership were trying to build churches that looked similar to Taiwanese temples, but the Taiwanese Roman Catholic Christians told these foreign leaders -- "We do not want our church buildings to look like the temples. We made the decision to leave those religions behind. We want our buildings to look different."

An outsider looking at the church buildings might judge them to have been "colonialist" in nature, but actually they leaders were following the wishes of the Taiwanese people.

Now if you look at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Austronesian church buildings, you will see that their own cultures have expanded: the people have added new ways to express their art and music and culture in the Christian setting.

If they give up worshipping a nature god -- because of their own choice -- if they give up cutting off the heads of enemies -- because of their own choice, these are good things.

Yes cultures change -- but they should change not from forced or prestige outside cultures but from a free (not forced) embrace of new ideas and analysis of past beliefs and practices.

Carlos said...

I’m half Spanish, half Taiwanese. Both of my parents grew up under similar linguistic circumstances, speaking the local language at home but being hit in school if they used it, usually accidentally (my dad speaks Valencian, a dialect of Catalan). The Valencians don’t have a particularly strong separatist streak like the Catalans, but like their language and have been using it more and more since Spain’s democratization.

I’m a big fan of the school system there. You can enroll your kids in the language track of your choice, so they can go to class in either Spanish or the local language. In either track they’ll have a class in the other language, at least 3 days a week and taught pretty seriously, nothing like the mother tongue “classes” in Taiwan. It’s taught like a foreign language, except by starting at a young age the methods are different (but there have been controversies like Catalan-track teachers teaching Spanish literature in Catalan, when they’re at a high enough level to use Spanish exclusively).

Valencian and Catalan were never as threatened as Taiwanese, probably because their suppression spanned two instead of three generations. But Euskera (Basque) was, and thanks to the new educational system it has a chance. (Basque isn’t at all related to languages derived from Latin, so it’s harder to learn, and the Basque region has a high percentage of immigrants from the rest of Spain because it industrialized earlier, perhaps not a dissimilar situation to Taipei’s.)

Aì Tâi-oân said...

Thanks Carlos.