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Dec 17, 2011

I'll believe it when I see it

I was surprised by Su Jia-chyuan's comment about the DPP's plans to classify Hakka, Holo Taiwanese and aboriginal languages into 'national languages' if elected.

I was always thrilled about how much the DPP did much to advance the treatment of these previously repressed languages (a policy which, by the way, the KMT did continue by developing input methods for both Holo Taiwanese and Hakka). And the DPP not only established the Hakka television station but also made Holo Taiwanese respectable in public settings in a way the KMT never did.

Still,  I can't see how the DPP's latest gesture is much more than lip service.

I've often contended you can't revive Hakka and Holo Taiwanese by making them an elective class kids take twice a week. You can't even do it by making it a mandatory class  for every year of students'  education. The only way to make people competently fluent again is to force them to use it in a wide array of situations. The best way to do this would be to teach one or two core subjects in a non-Mandarin language every year -- and rotate that so that kids are exposed to all core subjects in multiple languages over the course of their education. I don't see how else you solve the problem of these languages disappearing.  And this argument of mine, rather well founded in the experiences of other multilingual countries, is universally rejected in Taiwan. So either I'm completely wrong or everyone else is blind.

Some people don't even realize these languages are disappearing, and for no language is this more true than Holo Taiwanese . Native Holo Taiwanese speakers in their thirties will laugh at the idea of Holo Taiwanese disappearing, because they still speak it all the time -- all while their own children forget how to speak after their first weeks in kindergarten. And to make matters worse, they're largely indifferent to the loss of their mother tongue. "Eh, it won't help you make money," seems to be the most common sentiment. Is money the point of life, of education, of culture? Golden calf, anyone?

In any case, we'll see just how much more the DPP is willing to strengthen Hakka, Holo and aboriginal languages. We already have the television networks for Hakka and aboriginal languages; how much farther will they go? My guess is they won't manage to make more than the most shallow, symbolic gesture. And that pains me greatly. 


Anonymous said...

If the young don't want to speak it, why force them to?

Repression is of course wrong, but I see nothing bad in the rise of post-modern values that stop people defining themselves via tribe, ethnicity, language, etc.

Carlos said...

I agree.

In Spain, parents can send their kids to school either on the Castillian (Spanish) track or their local language track. Most classes are taught in that language of choice - the other one is introduced as a second language, and after a couple of years a few classes are taught completely in that language. It works.

I'm surprised about Taiwan. Spain was similar - until Franco's death in 1975, teachers would hit you if you used the local language in class. You couldn't use it in public. Everyone still held onto it in private though, and after democratization they kept those languages healthy. In Taiwan, I'd guess a much smaller proportion of parents would pick the local language track for their kids.

And when I say "it works," I mean it in every way. Kids don't get off to a slow start because they grew up with the "wrong" language. The languages re preserved. And here's one that few people think about - the kids grow up speaking the national language BETTER. By learning two languages formally and in separate contexts, they keep them apart. Not perfectly so, but a lot better than the wholesale mixing that goes on in Taiwan. That also happens here in California with Spanish and English, and I blame it on the rejection of bilingual education.

Taiwan Echo said...

"I'm surprised about Taiwan. Spain was similar"

Carlos, is Spain like Taiwan, that the elite and media think that they belong to a country other than Spain?

The conflict between Chinese and Taiwanese identifications is a key factor determining how things work (or not work) in Taiwan. Knowing that, you won't be surprised.

In the case of languages, those pro-China people in Taiwan insist that Chinese is the sole national language. Anything other than that is seen by them as a threat to cut their root.

Carlos said...

Well sure, but it isn't that different in the regions that have a language and identity of their own. Many Catalans or Basques would find the Taiwanese situation very familiar (I.e. they don't feel Spanish, and resent being forced to use an outside language in official matters). The difference is that even pro-Spain Catalans don't shed their language as easily as Hoklo Taiwanese, green or blue.

Anonymous said...

Hi, great posts! Would Carlos or anyone else be able to describe (in a nutshell) how the Spanish "local language tracks" work? I didn't know this existed before reading Carlos' post and I can't seem to find anything in Wikipedia that explains the program in Spain. Also, in cases where students are enrolled in (for example) Basque do these students find themselves at a disadvantage in society when they finish college because they might not know Castillian as well as Basque?

Carlos said...

My first-hand experience is limited to Valencia (the region), but the linguistic situation there is very similar to in Catalonia (even if the political situation is not – Catalonia is more pro-independence while Valencia isn’t, due to different beginnings). Basque is another story… that language is not as healthy. They received large waves of immigrants from other regions, who never learned it (due to pre-’75 law and difficulty, since it’s not a Romance language).

Anyway, if your parents put you in the Spanish track, you only take a class or two in Valencian – a language class, and maybe a literature class. The opposite is true in the Valencian track. I don’t think it carries over into university (at least that isn’t in Latin anymore!). I think it’s only through high school. K-12 education is like in Taiwan, where kids have an assigned classroom and the teachers come to them, so it’s easy for schools to make it work. I searched Google in
English, Spanish, and Valencian and how odd… I can’t find anything about it!

In the end everyone learns Spanish pretty well, whether in class or outside of it. The reverse isn’t necessarily true – some kids in the Spanish track end up understanding basic Valencian but not speaking it. That can be an economic disadvantage in certain jobs. But the Valencian classes really help kids who already grew up with it, by standardizing the language. Like Taiwanese, it was kind of a mess with a lot of Spanish mixed into it and variations even between adjacent towns. Most people still speak “hometown” Valencian with friends and family, but can speak (and especially write) in standard.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Carlos for explaining the Valencia language track! Like I said before, I never knew about this. I guess you learn something new everyday. In your personal experience, do you think that fewer and fewer parents are enrolling their children in the Valencia language track in favor of the Castillian track or has it stayed pretty stable over the past few decade(s)? I wonder if this is any indicator whether or not a language is "dying." Also, I'm guessing since the University is taught in Castillian, do you find that most people who go on towards the University and beyond tend to use the Valencia language less?

Carlos said...

I only have anecdotal evidence, but I'd say Valencian is healthier than it has been since the Spanish Civil War, largely thanks to its standardization (more books available).

Unlike Taiwanese, there’s a long tradition of writing in it, which helps. But more importantly, it doesn’t have a negative connotation like Taiwanese does. Even my mom thinks that way (she says she sounds “like a peasant”) even though she’s a proud Hoklo Taiwanese. That didn’t happen in Spain. There was linguistic repression, but no social devaluation of those languages. (In Catalonia it’s quite the opposite – they think they’re too modern for the rest of Spain.)

Anonymous said...

That's very interesting insight. Never thought I would learn about Spain from a Taiwan website. Thank you!

I think that would be awesome if Taiwan implemented a local language tract like Spain. Although I kind of doubt that will ever happen. Like A-Gu said, the common sentiment is that learning Hokkien won't help you to "make money." I agree with you that Hoklo speakers tend to shed their language a little too easily. I think these trains of thoughts are a pity.

Your mom said that Hokkien sounded a little "peasant" like? Perhaps. My dad said that "high-educated" Hokkien was spoken more in the urban cities. Unfortunately, these are the very places that it was suppressed the most. When restrictions loosened in the early 1990s and people started to pay attention to learning Hokkien, the only people left to learn from were the countryside and outlying farmers or "peasants." But that's my dad's opinion. Personally, I think the best sounding Hokkien from a politician I've heard so far is from Lee Teng-Hui. His pronounciation and choice of words are so clear. But I suppose that's because he's almost 90.

I believe that formal instruction in Hokkien (or other local languages) didn't begin until after 2000? In contrast, I believe that Spain started loosening restrictions after Franco 1936-1975? Maybe if Taiwan had started back in 1975, the situation would be a little bit better now.

I've read there's a place in France called Alsace where the speakers are originally a dialect of German, but the official language is French. Their situation is similar in which the older generation grew up speaking German, but the kids all speak French, since it's the official language. If you've lived on the Continent, perhaps you have more insight into the situation than I? Again, thanks Carlos for teaching me about Spain. I've visited overseas Taiwanese in Japan, Brazil and the US, but I never knew there were overseas Taiwanese in Spain.

Carlos said...

I'm American actually, but my dad's from a small city near Valencia, and my mom is from Kaohsiung. They met here in the 'States. Lots in common between the two countries until 1975... but when Spain turned democratic, it changed completely (socially and politically), while Taiwan's transition was more limited.

I don't think it's just that Taiwanese "won't earn money". In fact, nowadays I've heard it's a business disadvantage if you don't speak it. My wife's dad (they're waishengren, and very blue) has learned Taiwanese really, really well. But it definitely has a lower-class, unsophisticated stigma which discourages passing it on. And hardly anyone writes or reads in Taiwanese. That could doom all the other Sinitic languages.