Beijing’s reaction to Taiwan’s language-education moves

China’s unofficial propaganda machine has come up with a predictable response to Taiwan’s recent approval of an official romanization for Hoklo/Taiwanese, calling it an attempt at wenhua Tai-Du (“cultural Taiwanese independence”). And Beijing doesn’t much care for earlier developments, either:

Lìngwài jù bàodào, z?o zài 2002 nián Táiw?n d?ngjú “Jiàoyùbù” jiù zuòch? juéyì, Táiw?n xuésheng cóng xi?oxué s?nniánjí k?ish? tíqián shísh? xi?ngt? y?yán M?nnány?, Kèji?y? de “y?nbi?o fúhào” xìt?ng ji?oxué, y? tú jìny?bù qi?duàn Táiw?n y? z?guó dàlù de wénhuà ni?dài. Rúj?n yòu zài Táiw?n gè zh?ng-xi?oxué tu?xíng “Táiw?n M?nnány? Luóm?zì p?ny?n f?ng’àn”, q?tú y?c? ruòhuà y? P?t?nghuà ji?jìn de “Guóy?” zài Táiw?n de dìwèi. Zhèizh?ng kèyì zài wénhuà shàng zhìzào Táiw?n y? z?guó dàlù de ch?yì y? q?f?n, shì Táiw?n d?ngjú chìlu?lu? de “wénhuà Tái-Dú” t?xiàn.


Blah, blah, blah.

source: “Wénhuà Tái-Dú” — M?nnány? p?ny?n xìt?ng ch?lú (??????“????” ?????????), October 17, 2006,

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.

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source: xi?ngt?y? jiàocái yào xiàn sh?n — bùnéng yòng qíguài Hànzì (??????? ?????), August 27, 2006

Aborigine legislators should use original names: activist

Aborigine politicians should use their original names, not Han Chinese names, or explain to their constituents why they don’t, the head of an aboriginal group called the Vine Cultural Association stated on Tuesday.

All eight of Taiwan’s legislators holding the seats reserved for Aborigines — Chen Ying, Liao Kuo-tung, Lin Cheng-er, Yang Jen-fu, Kao Chin Su-mei, Kung Wen-chi, Lin Chung-te, Tseng Hua-te — currently officially use “Chinese” names rather than Aborigine ones.

The head of Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples, however, does use his original name: Walis Pelin.

I’m waiting for someone to get on TV and talk about how few legislators who are Hoklo use Taiwanese rather than Mandarin forms for the romanizations of their names. (I could probably count them all on one hand, even though Taiwan has some 225 legislators.) Same thing for legislators who are Hakka but who don’t use the Hakka forms of their names in romanization.


early ‘universal’ romanization system

No-Sword brings up Karl Richard Lepsius’s early, IPA-like system, with Matt linking to Google Print’s online edition of Standard Alphabet for Reducing Unwritten Languages and Foreign Graphic Systems to a Uniform Orthography in European Letters.

The book groups Taiwanese, Hakka, and Mandarin — or Hok-lo, Hak-ka, and Mandarinic (my favorite), as it refers to them — under “monosyllabic languages” (grr). OTOH, Tibetan is given as an “isolated language.” Interestingly, Mandarin pronunciation is given following the practice of Nanjing, not Beijing; a similar choice made a couple of hundred years ealier is also part of what’s behind the “Peking” spelling for what is now referred to as Beijing (1 MB PDF).

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

Taipei mayor calls for more Mandarin, less English and Taiwanese in primary schools

According to one of the stories on this, the Taipei City Government’s Department of Education did a study comparing the amount of time sixth-graders spent on Mandarin classes in several countries. In Taiwan the figure is between 80 and 133 hours. In China the figure is 172 hours. And in Singapore the number is between 80 and 200 hours. As a percentage of the population, however, I would expect Taiwan to have the highest number of fluent or native speakers of Mandarin. On the other hand, Chinese characters are difficult for everyone.

Ma’s call is probably aimed not just at boosting Mandarin but at edging out the teaching of Taiwanese and Hakka (which may not be able to be reduced without eliminating their teaching altogether). This also sounds like another move to increase the amount of Literary Sinitic (Classical Chinese) in the classroom, which would certainly be a move in the wrong direction.

I suspect, though, that calls from parents, who often place more value on English than on other courses, will put an end to this. And anyway, in Taiwan it’s the central government that sets educational policy.


sad state of ‘native-language education’ in Taiwan

Today’s Taipei Times has an interesting article on the state of teaching Taiwan’s “native languages.” (This means Taiwanese (a.k.a. Hokkien, Minnan, etc.), Hakka, and the languages of Taiwan’s tribes, but not Mandarin.) From the look of things, the government has basically botched the situation, despite having thrown twice as much money toward these languages as is being spent on English.

Although some of the problems and expenses are to be expected, given how new this is and how much resistance there has been from conservative forces, I’d say that things are still far from acceptable. A large part of the problem is that the government can’t even decide on a script for these languages: sometimes romanization (various systems), sometimes Chinese characters, sometimes zhuyin. It’s a mess.

No progress in native-language education has been made in schools despite the central government promising to encourage local culture and language education three years ago, native-language teachers said yesterday.

Liu Feng-chi (???), director of the Taiwan Association of Mother Language Teachers and a teacher of Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), said he felt cheated that the government had “not taken in any of our suggestions to improve native-language education in school” over the past three years.

Liu said the Ministry of Education had not put much effort into reform nor native-language education. Classes in schools were not being planned carefully and lack continuity, he said.

“Classes [for native languages] should continue after elementary school so that students can keep learning the languages in junior high,” Liu said.

Association executive director Huang Hsiu-jen (???) said teachers of Hoklo are being “reselected” every year and must undergo a “disrespectful” selection process.

Huang said the selection committee was sometimes composed of teachers who did not speak Hoklo themselves.

“The selection team tends to choose young Hoklo teachers who can sing and dance in class, while older teachers like us end up with no job,” Huang said.

Liu also said that the salary for teachers was based on the number of hours worked in a week and that the hourly wage was a mere NT$320.

Furthermore, native language teachers are called “assistant teachers,” and schools do not provide them with health insurance, Liu added.

The association also expressed concern that many schools were using the time reserved for language classes to teach other subjects, and that many language teachers were required to teach mathematics or science as well.

Meanwhile, Perng Fuh-yuan (???), section chief at the ministry’s Department of Elementary Education, said there are more than 300,000 children learning native languages in the country.

Perng said the selection process applied not only to language teachers but to teachers in general, and that former language teachers were added to the selection committee to provide specialist advice.

“It is hard for students to continue native-language classes in junior high school under all of the exam pressure,” he said. “However, schools have tried to incorporate these languages into extracurricular activities connected to the school, such as Hoklo language clubs.”

The ministry spends NT$400 million (US$11.9 million) annually on native-language courses, while English classes have NT$200 million per year in funding. Elementary school students are required to take at least one period of native-tongue classes per week.

Taiwan’s native tongues include Hoklo, Hakka and a variety of Aboriginal languages.

source: Native-language teachers lash ‘disrespectful’ ministry, Taipei Times, November 18, 2005.

Using Hakka in Taiwan’s legislature

After the head of Taiwan’s Cabinet-level Council of Hakka Affairs gave a report in Hakka last week in the Legislature, KMT Legislator Zhū Fèngzhī (朱鳳芝) complained, saying this was a “self-abasing action” showing a “lack of confidence,” according to a report in the Taipei Times. This led to harsh words from representatives and organizations from the Hakka community.

According to Peter Lo (羅能平), the secretary-general of the Taiwanese Hakka Association of the World, Chu’s comment indicated that many Taiwanese politicians do not respect different ethnic groups and minorities.

“Chu’s comment was disrespectful and degrading to the Hakka people, and we want her to give an open apology to our people,” Lo said.

Yang Chang-chen (楊長鎮), director of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Department of Ethnic Affairs, spoke of the discrimination he had received as a schoolboy for speaking Hakka, adding that Mandarin should not be imposed on everybody.

Yang said the opposition paid lip service to diversity, but in reality practiced “fake” diversity and imposed a “cultural quarantine,” in which Hakka rights were suppressed.

The department is pushing to establish a language equality law, and has encouraged Aboriginal legislators to give their official reports in their mother languages.

Former DPP chairman Lin Yi-hsiung (林義雄) said that the Legislative Yuan had “no class,” and that politicians were causing racial segregation and discrimination in Taiwan.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that conservative legislators have complained about the use in the Legislature of languages other than Mandarin.