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Mar 20, 2007

National Language Development Law

I'm rather upset about the way the press is talking about the new law on languages the cabinet wants to pass. Like this UDN article. (GOD that's annoying. And how can he complain about the law not setting a clear 'official language' [inherently political] while saying language should not be a political topic?)

The law does nothing to reduce or discourage the use of Mandarin. It merely says the government may no longer compel people to use any one language over another and that all languages are considered equal.

This takes away the official position of Mandarin as the "national language" and recognizes the diversity of Taiwan and its language scene. It's sort of a formal correction for the absurd idea that a language which was native to 15% of the population should be the only "official" language in Taiwan, while Taiwanese, spoken by 70-80% (not to mention Hakka or aboriginal languages) was oppressed.

You can read an official explanation of the new draft law here (.doc format).

This law has been under consideration and draft since 2002. I personally was volunteering for Professor Robert Cheng, head of the Ministry of Education's Mandarin Promotion Council, and translated a draft of the law at that time. At that time, it was called the language equality draft law. It is now the national language development draft law (國家語言發展法草案).

The most important thing the law does is elevate all languages used by the people in Taiwan (本國族群或地方使用之自然語言及手語) to the status of "national language" 國家語言. Mandarin will be called Huayu 華語 in official documents. What is often called is officially Southern Min (not just "Taiwanese," since calling one "Taiwanese" woudl be as useless as calling on the "national language," right? You don't see China Times mentioning that).

The bill says people have the right to use their language unimpeded, both in their private lives and in broadcasts. It says the government should help promote the languages (which they are doing for Hakka and aboriginal languages a lot lately). It says the government should establish prizes to promote use and make sure students can study their language in school. The Ministry of Education said today that the language kids understand will be used in class, but made no move to back away from Mandarin as the defacto class language. And if some places start having more classroom discussion in another language, what's the harm?

While the bill says people have a right to receive government services in their language, it makes no demand that the government publish documents in anything but Mandarin, but also does not limit the government's options to mandarin only. From a practical perspective, it would be some time before anything would be published in another script.

So in any case, screw the reports of "getting rid of Mandarin" and all the other sort of nonsense coming from the blue camp. The Liberty Times had a more friendly report (of course). And Taipei Times did a good job too.

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