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Feb 15, 2008

MOE replaces Guoyu with Huayu

The Ministry of Education announced the day before yesterday that it will no longer use the phrase National Language (國語 guoyu) when refering to Standard Chinese or Mandarin Chinese, and instead will use the word 華語 huayu, which can more or less be fairly translated as Chinese Language (the word 華 hua in this context is a geographic reference to the central plains of China -- the same meaning we see in the ROC 中華民國 and PRC 中華人民共和國. You can see hua is now defined as just meaning 'Chinese' in most dictionaries).

Replacing 國語 with 華語 will not be done on elementary school textbooks, though, the place where most kids are first introduced to this phrase by the government.

The MOE will also use 漢字 in place of 中國文字 when refering to Chinese characters.

Now I worked with scholar Robert Cheng when he was chair of the Mandarin Promotion Council. At that time, his group was planning (1) government publication of a new dictionary with Mandarin, Hakka and Holo Taiwanese readings (this project has now been split into various dictionaries as far as I can tell) (2) a draft law to give all of Taiwan's languages protection -- not just Mandarin, Hakka, Holo and the various aboriginal languages, but also those other Chinese languages living on in old military neighborhoods and even the languages of Taiwan's newer immigrant communities.

Key to part (2) was a language equality law which would define the rights of communities to protect their language and give them some resources to do so. The draft law I was discussing with Cheng back in 2002-2003 was innovative in two key respects -- it declined to label any language as 國語, or the national language, and also declined to label any language as 台語, or Taiwanese. Instead, 華語 was used in the draft I translated because it is already a widely used and acceptable term for Mandarin, while 河洛(語) Holo Language -- or was it 福佬 (語)? -- was used for the language commonly used to refer to Taiwanese. This was specifically done to prevent any official termonology from implying that one language represented the country, or that one specific language represented Taiwan.

Also note that this draft bill -- still behing held up by the KMT legislature -- called every language XX語 and not XX話 -- giving all of them the status of a language and none the status of a dialect or vernacular.

I really agreed with these changes, and so I'm not the least bit surprised by the MOE's move. But man, did it ever piss off the UDN, which ran stories about it on page one explaining it and framing it as a De-Sinofication move; a page three lead, saying how pissed the Mandarin teachers are; another page three story about how scholars think it's a dumb move; and an editorial slamming the Ministry of Education. The sister paper, the China Post, was hardly kinder, leading with the headline DPP moves to 'rectify' Chinese language.

These changes will be incorporated into school courses starting from 2010.

But MOE officials said the official subject name of the "national language course" (國語課) in all elementary school curricula will remain unchanged to avoid drastic changes that could be controversial.

But the plan has already invited strong protest from many teachers of the Chinese language. They claimed this was another attempt by the pro-independence DPP to mix education with political ideologies.

MOE officials clarified that these decisions were made by a panel of scholars and experts on Chinese language and literature.

The panel's decision was later endorsed and approved unanimously by a curricula screening committee comprising 47 members, including professors, teachers, and representatives of parents' associations....

Yet most scholars in humanities, including Chinese literature, said "Hua language" is a term used by foreigners referring to the Chinese language used by residents living in Taiwan.

It is unnecessary for residents here to adopt a term used by foreigners, they said.

Wow , I didn't realise the China Post interviewed most scholars in humanities about this topic.

The Liberty Times carried a few articles too, and generally portrayed the DPP move as anti-ideological and in line with globalized trends.

I applaud the MOE's decision, but note they can't do much but change their own use of terminology. It may be some time before the use in social circles changes.

Note: Tim Maddog already covered this topic, specifically the Reuters treatement of it.


Prince Roy said...

of course, if Ma wins, all bets are off.

Sebastian said...

I just started reading your blog this morning, somehow stumbling upon it from Johan Gijsen’s Talking Taiwanese blog I think. I am writing a thesis on the changing role of Holo in Taiwan where I also analyse recent language policies. I am also referring to this entry that you wrote:
So then I read that you helped translating the national language development law. I assume you know a lot about it and its backgrounds then? Back in 2002 the name was 语言平等法 right? It’s a bit confusing, I just knew it under the name language equality law. Anyway, the draft has never been passed which I find really interesting because if you listen to what DPP politicians say about language equality and pluralism you would think, that they are really interested in implementing it. But then, the problem could be that the DPP never really had a legislative majority so they would have to win some KMT support for that law, am I right? I am not terribly knowledgeable when it comes to Taiwanese politics… Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to travel to Taiwan yet so I have to rely on books, the internet and personal contacts. I really want to analyze the political debate surrounding that law, as I’m trying to find out more about language ideologies that are underlying the whole discourse around Holo. Replacing Guoyu with Huayu for example, seems more like a symbolic gesture, whereas substantial changes are few and far between (the national mother languages day would be a more substantial policy but I heard it was only implemented due to pressure from language activists and language NGOs).
I wanted to ask you if you know of any public debates about the NLDL as I haven’t found a whole lot yet. This transcript of a radio show is quite interesting but extremely biased (the radio station is owned by the KMT I believe):
Ideally I would want to analyze a single political debate and look at the different arguments brought forward by the DPP and KMT (and possibly others). If you know anything about that, I would be really grateful for any pointers.
Also, you write in an entry of March 2nd 2007 that you have talked to the Mandarin Promotion Council. Hadn’t the name been changed to National Languages Committee by then? I haven’t really found out whether there was an official date for the changing of the translation but it would be interesting to know.
Finally, Robert Cheng, the former head of the NLC, do you know if he is a member of 台湾南社? I am currently in contact with Babuza a language activist based in Kaohsiung and I think he might have told me about him. Would you mind asking him, if I can contact him with a few questions?
Alright, looking forward to your reply, my email is, maybe it’s more convenient than over the comment system that way.

Best regards,