A university in France has begun to offer courses in Taiwanese (a.k.a. Hoklo, Hokkien, Minnan, etc.). This is the first school in Europe to offer for-credit courses in the language. Some universities in the United States and Japan have already been teaching the language.
Li Chin-an, a professor of Taiwanese culture and language studies at Taipei Teachers College, says that the University of Hawaii’s East Asian Studies institute set up Minnan courses in 1990. It was not until six years ago that Chenli University set up the first Minnan language department in Taiwan, marking the first formal Minnan language courses at the university level. In just a few short years, there has been great development in Taiwan studies, and today Taiwan can point to more than 20 such programs….
(emphasis added) Can that be true? Universities didn’t offer courses in the mother tongue of most of Taiwan’s inhabitants until a mere six years ago? I’m certainly glad of the progress that has been made recently, though.
Li taught Minnan for four years at Harvard’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and says that he taught all levels of the language during that time. Each semester, the course attracted over 30 students. By the fourth year, Li had taught over 100 students, of which more than 90 percent were of Taiwanese descent. Only a small number of Ph.D. candidates in Linguistics or Chinese students chose to take the classes, but quite a few researchers chose to audit.
Harvard began offering Minnan classes in 2001. Li was the first scholar hired to teach there, but later, because of the establishment of a Department of Taiwanese at Taipei Teachers College, he returned to Taiwan. But Harvard’s Minnan classes are still going strong today. Li says that Harvard’s classes are primarily taken by students of Taiwanese descent, who request them. He believes that those of Americans of Taiwanese descent in the U.S. who only speak English and know no Minnan may experience an identity crises.
According to the Liberty Times/Taiwan Headlines article, most overseas classes in Taiwanese use Church romanization.
See the Taipei Times article (link below) for a list of the schools, provided by professors Li KhinhoaN (李勤岸, the same person identified above as Li Chin-an) and Liu Kuang-neng. Li KhinhoaN’s Web site offers a large selection of writings in and about Taiwanese, as well as useful links. (The site also has some technical problems that sometimes result in Chinese characters being scrambled. But it’s possible to navigate the site despite this.)
- French University teaches Minnan language, Taiwan Headlines, March 20, 2006 (English translation of article from the Liberty Times)
- Fǎguó dàxué xué Táiyǔ rènshi Táiwān (法國大學學台語認識台灣), Liberty Times, March 20, 2006 (original of the above)
- Hoklo courses proving popular overseas, Taipei Times, March 21, 2006