“Taiwanese dialect”: a Dangerous Tool of Taiwanese Nationalism?

The New York Times recently had an article entitled “Taiwan’s Independence Movement Likely To Wane” on the forthcoming presidential elections in Taiwan. Leaving aside the political assertions made by the writer, which are more than capably dealt with by other writers (see the end of this post) – one sentence right at the end is troubling from a linguistic point of view:

In Mr. Chen’s tenure, the government, besides pushing for controversial foreign policies, also carried out domestic policies centered on Taiwanese nationalism, such as promoting a Taiwanese dialect.

Quite apart from the misrepresentation of the language, demoting it to a “dialect” (a common misdemeanour among non-linguists), there is the worrying association of the Taiwanese language with Taiwanese nationalism. While I would not seek to deny the obvious links in the past and present of language/independence activism, but to many people the promotion of Taiwanese (and other native languages, like Hakka and the aboriginal tongues, which Chen’s administration has also supported) is something completely separate from any goals of Taiwanese independence. Mandarin, like Japanese before it, is an imposed language, enforced by the Kuomintang after the flight to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War. Is promoting the native languages which many on the island speak tantamount to promoting independence?

Michael Turton (possibly Taiwan’s most prolific English-language blogger) has a piece, focused on the political, which tears apart the NYT article, as does A-gu of “That’s Impossible…”, who also mentions the linguistic issues involved.

2 Responses to ““Taiwanese dialect”: a Dangerous Tool of Taiwanese Nationalism?”

  1. Mark S. says:

    That’s the same author who, less than two weeks ago, wrote about the oracle bones in the National Palace Museum. He described these as having “the first known written Chinese ideograms.”

    I wrote him about his misuse of “ideograms” and the redundancy of the word “written” but have not received a response.

  2. Mark S. says:

    A couple hours after I wrote the above response, I received a message from Wong, who said he’d take a look at the DeFrancis work on the ideographic myth, to which I had referred him. So I’ll give him credit for that, at least.

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