Archive for December, 2007

E-mng (Xiamen) moves to protect Southern Min

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

xiamen-uni.jpgIn Ho̍k-kiàn (Fujian Province), the ancestral home of Southern Min (of which Taiwanese is one form), the local language is under pressure from the growth of Mandarin. In the past few decades the People’s Republic of China has pursued an aggressive campaign of Mandarinization, resulting in many areas which were formerly bastions of other Chinese languages (Min, Wu, Gan, Cantonese and more) becoming progressively stronger in Putonghua (Mandarin) and weaker in the local language.

A recent China News article raises some points which will seem very familiar to those who follow the demographics and trends of the Southern Min-speaking population in Taiwan.


In Xiamen City in the past few days a committee named the “Southern Min Language and Literature Academic Discussion Forum” has been convened by the Xiamen City Language Committee; the experts suggest a “tiered exam” system to help preserve Southern Min.

据香港大公报报 道,闽南话历史悠久,文化底蕴深厚,是东南部最早的汉语方言之一,被称为“古汉语活化石”,广泛的分布在闽南、台湾、潮汕、海南等地区。

According to Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao newspaper Southern Min has a long established history, bringing together a profound culture and South-Eastern China’s oldest Chinese topolect, which has been dubbed a “living fossil of Ancient Chinese” and is spoken in Southern Fujian, Taiwan, Chaoshan and Hainan, amongst other places.

随着普通话的推广 普及,越来越多的家庭关注新一代青少年的普通话教育,作为本土语言的闽南话逐渐被普通话所替代。

As a consequence of the proliferation of Putonghua more and more families are emphasising Putonghua education for youngsters, meaning that the language is gradually replacing Southern Min in the Min heartlands.

(My English translation is rough and ready, as always)

China’s record in protecting minority Chinese languages is just as poor as Taiwan’s and it remains to be seen whether this initiative will bear any fruit (and what exactly is a tiered system of testing supposed to do anyway?). It is both heartening that the problem is being recognised and worrying that Southern Min is under threat on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Photo: Xiamen University at night, by Miaobz.

¿Habla taiwanés? No problem for this costaricana…

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

costa-rican.jpgMost Taiwanese are surprised when a non-local speaks in decent Mandarin, so the shock when a foreigner opens their mouth and Taiwanese comes out is palpable. The United Daily News yesterday featured an article about a Costa Rican woman who married a Taiwanese man from Lâm-tâu (Nantou) and learned to speak the language.


Ten years ago Melissa came from Costa Rica with her husband to Lo̍k-kok [a town in Lâm-tâu County]. Now she has not only integrated in to local life, but also sells tea in fluent Taiwanese, confounding visitors who often remark, “How come this foreigner speaks better Taiwanese than me?”

The article also mentions that she has “little opportunity” to practice Mandarin, but that her ability in that language is improving too. In many small towns and villages in the countryside Taiwanese remains the language of preference, with most inhabitants being able to speak Mandarin to some degree as a result of formal education, but preferring to speak their native tongue.

Actually Taiwanese-speaking foreigners are not all that unusual, but the majority are South-East Asian spouses (particularly from Vietnam) who live outside the major cities and are therefore less visible both by virtue of their ethnicity and their location. In general they are expected to integrate, whereas “Westerners” are not. Most of the Westerners I have met who have a command of the language are current or former missionaries – an occupation in which speaking to people in the “language of their heart” is very important.

Incidentally Costa Rica was until this year one of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies, a fact which helped citizens of that country with regards to visas and immigration in to Taiwan.

Classic Taiwanese Film Festivals

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

taiwanese-film.jpgWork commitments mean I’m a bit behind on the news – one example being the recent Classic Taiwanese Film Festivals held in Tâi-pak (Taipei), Tâi-lâm (Tainan), Sin-tek (Xinzhu) and Phêⁿ-ô͘ (Penghu). The history of Taiwanese-language film is one marked by a long hiatus during the latter half of the martial law period (1945-1987) when the authorities decided to crack down on native language media (in favour of the National Language of the Republic of China, i.e. Mandarin).

When people talk of “classic” Taiwanese films, generally what is meant is the early part of Chinese Nationalist (KMT) rule in Taiwan, before the restrictive measures came in to place. Films produced towards the end of military rule are generally regarded as “modern”, possibly starting with Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s 1989 masterpiece “City of Sadness“, which was also the first major film to challenge the KMT’s version of history and openly discuss the events surrounding the 2-28 Incident.

Films on display at the recent festivals included 王哥柳哥遊台灣 (Wang and Liu Wander Taiwan), 舊情綿綿 (Neverending Memory) and 再見台北 (Goodbye Taipei), all from the late fifties or early sixties. Southern residents can still pick up DVDs of some of these classics at the National Taiwan Literature Museum (台文館) in Môa-tāu (Madou), Tâi-lâm (Tainan) County.

For those interested in finding out more about the impact of literature and moving pictures on Taiwan’s post-war cultural and political experience, June Yip’s Envisioning Taiwan: Fiction, Cinema, and the Nation in the Cultural Imaginary is highly recommended.

Sources: United Daily News and ETToday.