Taiwanese-language programs overseas

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.)


4 thoughts on “Taiwanese-language programs overseas

  1. The first postgraduate-level Taiwan Literature program (offering an MS degree) wasn’t established until 2000, at the National Chen-Kung Univeristy. Undergrad and PhD programs didn’t materialize until two years later. There were some political stumbleblocks on the way. Since the focus was (and still is) on literature and not language, one could graduate from these programs without acquiring much knowledge in the local languages.

    As for the first Department of Taiwan(ese) Languages (??????), that claim appears to go to the Màdoú campus of the Aletheia University (the so-called “Chenli University” mentioned in the news article). Interestingly, according to its website, the program wasn’t approved by the MOE until 2002 and didn’t start recruiting students until 2003. It should not come as a surprise that there’s a scarcity of qualified teachers for non-Mandarin courses in primary and secondary education.

    Note that contrary to what the article states, there’s no such thing as a “Minnan language department”. That would not be politically acceptable here in Taiwan.

    Also, I doubt most of these new departments offer more than a few Austronesian Formosan languages, if any.

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