Taiwan gov’t to subsidize ‘mother-tongue’ education in kindergartens

“Mother-tongue language education” is a phrase used to mean the languages of Taiwan’s tribes and the Sinitic languages of Taiwan other than Mandarin.

The Ministry of Education is now offering subsidies for kindergartens to promote mother-tongue language education nationwide. The ministry is now accepting applications from up to 50 kindergartens for subsidies worth NT$70,000 (US$2,188) each. Ministry officials said they hoped that mother-tongue language learning would start at a younger age so that kids in kindergarten could learn to listen to and speak native languages through stories, songs and other activities. They would also learn to appreciate Taiwanese culture at a younger age, officials said. The ministry will offer subsidies for Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) and Aboriginal languages, while Hakka subsidies will be given according to Council of Hakka Affairs rules. The plan is expected to be carried out starting in the fall semester of this year, officials said.

source: Language funds offered, Taipei Times, April 11, 2006

11 thoughts on “Taiwan gov’t to subsidize ‘mother-tongue’ education in kindergartens

  1. Seen this?

    Simplified characters

    An opposition Kuomintang lawmaker urged the Ministry of Education yesterday to ditch a policy proposal under which students using simplified Chinese characters in examinations will have their marks deducted.

    Legislator Wang Yu-ting (???) said the policy should not be implemented until the MOE updates its list of commonly accepted simplified characters to serve as the criteria for mark deductions.

    Wang pointed out that according to a list of standard characters published by the MOE, there are 57 commonly seen simplified characters that are now considered standard characters.

  2. I am somewhat concerned that a few kindergardtens will put in token mother tongue programs just to earn this subsidy. I’d like to hear more details on how programs will be screened.

  3. If you have to learn your “mother tongue”, then by definition it isn’t. I wish they’d stop calling it that. Also, did you know that some professor came up with the word “Hoklo”? It’s not a word in Minnan, aka “Taiwanese”. In Minnan you could say Ho-lo-oe, but not Hoklo, unless it’s Minnan for “Fulaohua”, which nobody uses anyway. No, the term is actually an invention for media/political uses because to call it “Minnan” would betray the secret that it comes from China.

  4. Hi, TC. I agree that “mother tongue” isn’t perhaps the best choice. That’s why I put it in quotes.

    Calling Taiwanese “Minnan,” however, would be not unlike telling people in Britain, the United States, etc., to refer to English as “anglais.” Why should the majority of people in Taiwan have to refer to their own native language by using a term from a foreign language (Mandarin) — and one viewed by many, rightly or wrongly, as “the language of the oppressors” to boot?

    I’d be interested in hearing more about the “some professor” story. It must not be too recent, though, because people have been using “Hoklo” in writings in English for more than 140 years.

  5. TC, may I ask which professor came up with the “Hoklo” word for the sake of hiding the language’s Minnan origin (as you say)?

    To be sure, many Taiwanese (or if you will, Taiwanese Minnan) users are not happy with calling their language (or if you will, “dialect”) either “Hoklo” or “Holo” (i.e. “Ho-lo-oe”). Both have an alien sound to it; the latter is found only in some dictionaries. Some also assert, not without evidence, that “Hoklo” has its origin in Guangdong and has (had?) pejorative connotations, perhaps akin to that Anglo Saxon word for their nearest Celtic neighbors (“Welsh”, for foreigners). Stll, “Hoklo” remains the main word by which Hakka speakers (at least in Taiwan) refer to Minnan speakers. As far as I can tell, in normal Hakka usage it doesn’t have any negative connotation.

    As for why some Hoklo speakers put up with such an unusual word: in part it is to avoid the rather common accusation of “Hoklocentrism”, in part to avoid the geographically and politically awkward term “Minnan”. The latter is largely an academic construction to encompass a number of related dialects (some not so mutually intelligible), and was enthusiastically promoted by the KMT as part of its post-“retrocession” (re)Sinitization program. Historically speakers referred to their dialects by the names of nearest locales of signifcance. e.g. (in Mandarin) Xiamenhua to those living in Amoy (Xiamen), Quanzhouhua to those in Quanzhou, Chaozhouhua to those in Chaozhouhua, Taiwanhua to those in Taiwan, etc.

  6. Re “If you have to learn your ‘mother tongue’, then by definition it isn’t.” Technically you are right. In practice, though, a mother tongue need not be one’s strongest language. I have friends who brought up their kids strictly in Hoklo, with the expectation that they’d sooner or later soak up Mandarin once exposed to the larger environment. In Taiwan, even in so-called rural areas, this Mandarin exposure occurs quite early even for those whose mother tongue is truly not Mandarin. Well, guess what? They’ve observed stagnation, even decline, in their kids’ Hoklo proficiency in spite of maintaining a Hoklo environment at home. For this reason mother tongue programs are not necessarily programs by which one “learns” the language, but also one which develops it further, be it as a first or second language. Call this affirmative action, if you will, but the fact is one state or another has been intervening in local languages for more than a century. We can discuss how such programs ought to be designed and carried out, what kinds of students would benefit most (or least), or even how parents could better leverage home and community resources to save the state trouble, etc. — but I doubt the state can entirely wash its hands of responsibility. For this reason I cannot support Mayor Ma’s elitist calls to prop up Mandarin and/or English at the expense of the local vernaculars.

  7. I don’t recall the name of the professor. I researched the term with some of my co-workers and found it after seeing the term and not being able to match it with what people who speak the language, both here and in Fujian, call the language in their own language. I suppose, then, we should call it “Holo-oe” (he luo yu in Mandarin). As far as “local languages” go, I suppose that only aboriginal languages would apply to that term, or not, if you consider the fact that those groups also came to Taiwan from other places. If you consider Holo-oe a local language, so is Mandarin, as over a generation of people have been born and raised speaking it here.

  8. Re “Hoklo”: Taipei Language Institute’s A Dictionary of Southern Min (Taiwanese-English Dictionary) (1970s) does list a version of “Hoklo”. The entry “Hok-ló-lâng” gives “Fukienese (col H?-ló-lâng)”.

    Now, just to be clear, what people have invented (or depending on your perspectives, discovered) are Chinese characters to match the word. Some of these inventions have been ported to Mandarin via the print media. The most commonly cited ones are ?? (TC’s “he luo”), ?? (Fulao), ?? (Helao), and ??. All are associated with some kind of historico-political narrative. Thus, ?? paints a history of an ancient group who came from the Chinese heartland, whose language was once the tongue of emperors. The less ambitious ?? reminds people of their Fujian origin. ??, on the other hand, cautions against its use, seeing that the term describes wild beast-like barbarians. Finally, ?? is an admission that perhaps we just don’t know which characters to use and might as well just pick reasonably elegant, phonetically accurates stubs for the sake of easing the anxiety of those who must have them (this also suggests — horror of horrors — a possibly non-Chinese origin). An as-yet small group of sane people stick with romanizations, i.e. “H?-ló”.

  9. Re: “If you consider Holo-oe a local language, so is Mandarin, as over a generation of people have been born and raised speaking it here.” Sure, and so is Japanese, which is still being spoken (particularly by the indigenous Taiwanese elderly) and has been around for over a century.

    But of course I meant “local non-Mandarin (non-English, non-Spanish, non-Vietnamese, etc.) languages”. That is, traditional ethnic and/or tribal languages which are currently being replaced by Mandarin among the younger generations.

  10. “Ethnic languages”? Are you suggesting that people who came to Taiwan a couple of generations ago are a different ethnicity than those who came here a couple more generations ago?

    As far as Japanese goes, it is by no means widely spoken in Taiwan. I recall when assisting a Japanese film crew filming here, they found that the Japanese used by some older people they met wasn’t even intelligible to the Japanese.

  11. TC, for Japanese (or its Taiwanese dialect) to be considered a “local language” (by your rough definition), it only needs to have been used on the island for (according to you) a generation. It is, of course, quite widespread. What you mean is that its user population is limited to a subset of the elderly. That it may be an older form of Japanese is not relevant at all; many elderly Japanese are as baffled by the language of their grandchildren. One might even argue that the Taiwanese dialect is “unique” and therefore deserving of some kind of recognition.

    No, I am not suggesting what you suggest regarding ethnic languages.

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