Don’t use rare characters in teaching Taiwanese: official

It looks like some standardization might slowly be coming to the teaching in Taiwan of Taiwanese and Hakka. Beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, material from publishing companies for teaching “local languages” (i.e., Taiwanese, Hakka, and, sometimes, the languages of Taiwan’s tribes) must first pass inspection by the Ministry of Education. The ministry should have its own teaching materials ready by the 2009-2010 school year. Schools will be free to choose among textbooks from publishers or from the ministry.

Specifically, publishers should by all means avoid dredging up obscure Chinese characters to use for Taiwanese morphemes, Pan Wen-zhong, a high-ranking official with the ministry, said on Monday. There are easier ways to read and write the language than with such characters, especially when teaching elementary school students, he noted.

As much as I agree with this, it is still probably a case of too little, too late.

國小鄉土語言教材怪字連篇、拼音混亂的情況,很多家長教起孩子既頭痛、又氣 憤。教育部國教司長潘文忠表示,96學年度起,民間編印的鄉土語言教材,一律要 先經過審查,才能選用,一些罕見的怪字可望從教材中消失。

教育部國語推行委員會也已經著手編印閩南語、客家語教材,預計98學年度開始, 學校教閩南語或客語,就可以選用部編本教材。

在審定本和部編本教材還沒有出來之前,潘文忠呼籲老師使用既有教材教鄉土語言 時,盡量不要教、不要用罕見漢字。尤其是小學生,他強調應該使用「老師教過、 學生學過」的字辭,像蟑螂就用蟑螂,不必刻意教閩南語發音的新辭,更不要用罕 見字。

國小民編本鄉土語言教材怪字連篇的情況,多年來在立法院和地方議會經常被批 評,連官員都被考倒,家長更是苦不堪言。光是蟑螂、蒼蠅這些日常生活中常用 辭,不同教材,蟑螂就有「虼」、「假裁縫」等不同寫法,蒼蠅也有「真司公」、 「呼神」、「胡蠅」、「互蠅」等用法。

source: xiāngtǔyǔ jiàocái yào xiàn shěn — bùnéng yòng qíguài Hànzì (鄉語教材要先審 不能用怪字), August 27, 2006

10 thoughts on “Don’t use rare characters in teaching Taiwanese: official

  1. There are easier ways to read and write the language than with such characters, especially when teaching elementary school students, he noted.

    I agree. There is something as easy as ABC! Elementary school students already have to invest so much time in learning standard Chinese of course they should not also have to learn non-standard characters for Taiwanese or Hakka. Abandoning Chinese characters and just using romanisation would be so much more efficient and effective though.

  2. A friend of mine who was using characters to trascribe Taiwanese speech for her dissertation, resorted to renting KTV videos to figure out which character to use. Perhaps the MOE could adopt the same policy for textbooks? If it isn’t at your local KTV don’t use it!

  3. I’m gonna rant about this one: This UDN article is yet another of the many similarly low-quality pseudo-journalistic news reports flooding the market. If only things could be as simple as “don’t use rare characters” in teaching Taiwanese.

    Some issues to consider:

    – Rare characters: rare for whom? For those accustomed to Mandarin characters? For those familiar with specifically Minnan or Hakka characters? As an example, this article quotes an official urging “??????” (“just write ?? when you mean cockroach”). While that sounds reasonable, it is problematic: the Taiwanese word for cockroach (ka-choa?h) is not a cognate of Mandarin zhanglang. So simply telling people to write it as if it were Mandarin makes me wonder if Mandarinization is not the goal here. Of course, Japanese takes this approach all the time, but Japanese is not Sinitic. As an alternative, I’d advocate simply forgoing Hanzi, as least at the elementary school level. This avoid muddying the issue by presenting Taiwanese as if it were just Mandarin.

    – “Rare” vs. “strange characters”: Mark talks about rare characters, some of which are indeed difficult if not impossible to print, others are down right annoying. The UDN article, however, also resorts to hyperboles about “pages of weird characters” (????). It correctly notes that the (alleged) awful characters have been a favorite target of legislators. Well, we all know the quality of those, and these clowns who self-importantly “quiz” ministry officials on supposedly bad Taiwanese run across party lines. Again, the article gives examples that contradict itself: while “?” may be said to a weird character, surely the characters contained in ???, ???, ??, ??, ?? are all extremely common ones, in Mandarin no less. A native Taiwanese speaker such as myself readily recognizes that ??/??/?? are all (desperate) attempts to come up with Chinese characters for hô?-sîn (or the common fly). Clearly a standard is lacking here (and for good historical reasons), but the problem is not that the characters are weird or even rare. I can testify that most articles on the subject contain similarly outrageous examples of “wrongness”.

    I am afraid the way this mainstream discourse has been constructed has been to serve one purpose only: to ensure Mandarin’s continuing position of power. The techniques may be sloppy but the effects so far have been more than adequate. End rant.

  4. Kerim, good luck to your friend. Or she could use this. It takes a conservative approach: rather than wildly guessing at which Hanzi to use, it simply gives the romanization.

    (Here we go again) But of course, quite a few people can’t stomach such pragmatic hybridization (or romanization of any kind, for that matter). Insistence on Hanzi then is the driving force behind some of the Weird Characters. It boils down to use Hanzi, and you are labeled “weird” (????); use romanization, and you are writing a Heaven’s Book (??, i.e. gibberish no mere mortal can possibly comprehend); use both, and you are the weirdest of the weird even when you are merely being pragmatic. No one wants to say that perhaps they are just uneducated or under-educated when it comes to Holo or Hakka.

  5. Kerim, you’re right — there was nothing nearly as useful on the Web then. According to this, a prototype did exist in 2000 but it wasn’t till 2002 that a friendly interface was installed.

  6. I agree with aGiau, The public, official use of Holo? Some people fear it, some people curl their lip at it, some people just don’t think it’s really appropriate. Look at the postings on Taigubang, home of the radical Holo speaker. Why do so many of these people romanize their last names in Mandarin? Nothing stops them from switching to Holo. Why don’t people name their kids using morphemes that don’t have Chinese cognates? What are they waiting for?

    Not to advance a theory, but an interesting study would be to go throughout the Holo-speaking communities of southeastern Asia (including Hokkian and Taioan) and look into whether the percentage of (a) Mandarin and (b) “book Chinese” cognates used in daily Holo speech correlates with money and power.

  7. I take back the part about Mandarin last names on Taigubang. I was thinking of some of the Taioanese functions I’ve been to here in L.A.

  8. The official advice (or order?) to echo “chang-lang”, i.e., “fly” in Mandarin, as “chang-lang” in Taiwanese is the best example of what a Giau calls “a complete Mandarization of Taiwanese”. To simplify the matter, we can just call it “Changlangnization”! This simply goes to show how much the MOE officials know or care to know about what Taiwanese is. But we can’t afford to alienate them. Instead, “how to make them become our allies” will be an important project for us all, I think.

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